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The CCC, or the Civilian Conservation Corps, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In 1933 during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt found a unique way to combat the country’s unemployment crisis. The Civilian Conservation Corps was created on March 21, 1933 and today is one of the best known results of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Even if young people today have never heard of the Corps, it is likely that they have benefited from the Corps’ work, for it was active in every state and left a valuable “footprint” behind.

CCC members were recruited through local welfare boards. To join, a young man had to be between the ages of 18-25 and be unemployed or have an unemployed father. War veterans of any age could also join. The men committed to a six-month enrollment that could be extended for up to two years. CCC workers were housed and fed on-site at campsites, and they earned about $30 per month – with the requirement that $25 be sent home to their family. The camps were run by the Army, but it was a civilian organization.

Besides benefiting young unemployed men and their families, the CCC had a great impact on the country that is still felt today. They built roads, planted trees, strung telephone lines, and improved state and national parks by building campsites and trails. By 1935, over a half million men were members of the Corps. The CCC was disbanded in 1942, mostly because of America’s entry in the war and the ongoing draft.

Did your ancestor serve in the CCC?

If your grandfather or other relative served in the CCC, you may be able to find his enlistment papers. The records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. These records are not available online. For more information on writing to NARA, please see the CCC Alumni site guidelines or the James F. Justin CCC Museum guidelines.

Some information sites indicate that you will need to have your ancestor’s company number and year served in order to obtain the records. However, the name and state may be enough to locate the record. You will also need to know the person’s birth date and proof of death. Available records include the person’s enlistment form, record of physical examination, and discharge information. From these, there is enough information to determine where the person worked, and there are many sites available in each state about the CCC from which you can determine what the person may have actually worked on during their service. Who knows…the trees your grandfather once planted are likely still providing shade in the nearby state park today!

I remember learning about the CCC in history class, and even then I thought it was a great idea. With the current economy, unemployment, and “green” movement, I think the CCC should be re-instated as a means to give young disadvantaged men meaningful work. When I learned about the CCC, I didn’t have any personal connection to the organization…or did I? Stayed tuned for “Part 2: My Grandfather Served in the CCC…Sort Of” for a description of my grandfather’s rather brief experience with the CCC and what I discovered in his records.

For more information:

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FamilySearchLabs has made Philadelphia Marriage Indexes available for 1885-1951.  This is great news for those of us searching our roots in Philadelphia!  It should be noted that these are the indexes only, not the actual marriage licenses.  Also, you are not yet able to search the records with the name search since they have not completed the indexing, but you can browse the collection.

The collection is divided into several groupings:

  • 1885-1916
  • 1917-1938
  • 1939-1942
  • 1943-1946
  • 1947-1951

If you are researching the years 1885-1938, you’re in luck – the record groupings that span those years are alphabetical (and typed, so they are easy to read).  Simply to to the first letter of the surname you want to search and click on the number of images available and the records will appear on screen.  Then, jump forward in the alphabet until you find the name you are looking for.

What information will you see?  Simply the last name and first name of either the bride or groom, the last name of the spouse in parentheses, the year, and the license number.  You can then cross-reference the spouse’s name to get a first name for that person.  While this may not seem like a lot of information, it did help me track down some maiden names and the year of marriage for quite a few couples.  Of course, you can find out much more information by getting a copy of the actual marriage license, and now that you have the names, year, and license number it should not be too difficult.  See the Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau for more information.  For older marriages (pre-1915), you can obtain copies at the Philadelphia City Archives where the records are available on microfilm.  Some of the older records are available at LDS Family History Centers as well.

For the indexes from 1939-1951, the records are not strictly alphabetical, and they are printed instead of typed (printed very neatly, I might add).  They are grouped by year, then by the first letter of the last name, then by the first letter of the first name.  So, you’ll find all of the Pinto’s, Pater’s, Parker’s, Petruzzelli’s, and Portnoy’s jumbled together, but if you know the person’s first name, you can jump right to the section for that letter (so all of the Joseph’s, John’s, and Jacob’s with a last name beginning with “P” are together).  Because of this, the indexes for these years will take more time to look through.  But, the fact that they go all the way up to 1951 means that I should be able to find the marriage records for many cousins to help fill in some bare branches on the tree.

My only “pet peeve” is that I can not seem to access one record group.  For the years 1917-1938, the surnames beginning with X-Y-Z simply will not come up.  I can’t access the records for Zawodny!  I’ve sent a message via the “Feedback” form, so I’m sure the smart folks at Family Search Labs will fix the link soon. Update: As of 25 July 2008, this problem has been fixed on the site and the X-Y-Z records can now be accessed!

One word of caution: if you can’t find a couple listed in the index, try elsewhere.  All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Philadelphia, yet both couples got married – and therefore got their marriage licenses – in Media, PA (the county seat for Delaware County).  My only great-grandparents to be married in the U.S. chose Camden, NJ – despite the fact they both lived in Philadelphia.  Also, one of the most popular “marriage destinations” back then was Elkton, MD – apparently the legal age for marriage was younger here, so you didn’t need your parents’ permission as you would in PA!

You never know who you might find in these records – and you may not even realize it’s someone famous!  I already have this particular marriage record, but I looked the groom up in the index anyway.  It’s also a good example of what the 1939-1951 indexes look like:

Future Famous Couple

Future Famous Couple

Did you know that actor Gene Kelly was married in Philadelphia?  He and Betsy Blair (that’s her “stage name”) chose a spot “in the middle” for her New Jersey family and his Pittsburgh family.  They were literally on their way to Hollywood where Gene would begin his career (bonus points if any readers know which film was his first…without snooping on the net).  At least I finally found a way to combine my two GENE hobbies!

Related articles: When You Can’t Find Grampa’s Marriage Record (alternate locations) and More on Philadelphia Marriage Records (pre-1885 records)

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Today I decided to try my luck with FamilySearch Labs latest offering, Philadelphia City Death Certificates 1803-1915.  There isn’t much available online for Philadelphia, especially post-1900 when my families were living here, so I was pleased I’d at least have a few years worth of records to search.  I entered in the usual surnames, and I quickly found death certificates for siblings of both of my grandmothers.

In the Bergmeister family, there were five children.  The first four were all born within 2-4 years of each other, but the gap between my grandmother, Margaret, and her next oldest brother, Julius, was 6 years.  I found death records for two children born in between Julius in 1907 and Margaret in 1913.  The first was a boy, Charles, who lived for 15 hours on 17 July 1909 and was listed as a premature birth.  A sister, Laura, was also born premature on 05 November 1911 and died the same day.

The Zawodny family had six children, and again there is about 2 years between each child until a 5 year gap between my grandmother’s siblings Kazimierz (known as Charley) in 1911 and Zofia (known as Dorothy) in 1916.  My grandmother used to say that she had two brothers who died as infants, and I confirmed that with the records.  Bolesław was born on 04 August 1912 and died six months later on 08 March 1913.  The cause of death is listed as acute gastroenteritis, although my grandmother seemed to remember her father slipping on an icy sidewalk while holding the baby, who then fell and died later of a head injury.  Another son,  Władysław, was born on 18 January 1914.  He died just over a year later on 27 March 1915. This time the cause of death coincided with my grandmother’s memory.  He developed infections in his mouth caused by his teeth not developing and growing properly.  My grandmother called the boys William and Walter, which roughly correspond to common English names used for those Polish names.

I’ve looked at many records in my genealogical research, and I’ve seen numerous deaths of babies in those records, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But these four records were different, and I was saddened to view them.  These children’s deaths were closer to me because they would have been my grandmothers’ siblings, my parents’ aunt and uncles.  How difficult it must have been for my great-grandparents to suffer these losses.  In both cases, the children died one after the other.  Also in both cases, each family then had one more child, a girl in both cases. The next generations would occasionally have miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths, so living in “modern” times is no guarantee of a healthy baby.  But I’m glad I found these records so their very short lives are not forgotten.

FamilySearch Labs appears to be a wonderful site.  It is easy to use, and the records were mostly transcribed correctly (my one great-grandmother’s maiden name was incorrect both times).  Another benefit is that it is FREE for all to use.  For folks that can’t afford Ancestry, this is a good alternative for a small group of records.  My only complaint is that there aren’t enough records available yet!  If enough genealogists volunteer to transcribe records, this could truly be the future of online genealogy.  I’m very excited to see that another project in the works is Philadelphia Marriage Records from 1916-1951 – I’m sure this will help me fill in even more gaps on my tree.  If you’ve tried this site and had success filling in your family’s gaps, be sure to leave a comment.

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Religion and Genealogy

Today Craig at Geneablogie posted about a new the crisis with Catholics, Mormons at Odds Over Genealogical Records?  In his post, Craig mentions the news report about Catholic dioceses forbidding LDS access to church records for fear of the Mormon practice often referred to as baptizing the dead.  Craig notes that several of us genea-bloggers are Catholic, so I’d like to offer my thoughts as well.

I saw the story on some Catholic blogs I read before it made it to the genealogy blogs, and I struggled with how to address it here.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long for this to happen – I was surprised that records were made available at all after I learned that the Mormons use them for their faith, so to speak, in addition to their genealogy.  Other faith groups have often complained about the “re-baptism” of deceased ancestors into the Mormon faith, most especially Jews, who were greatly (and rightly) offended by this practice. 

As a genealogist, I am saddened to think that one day records may not be available – for without them, I would know very little about my ancestors.  That is to say, without the Mormons taking those records, microfilming them, and making them available for me to look at. 

As a Catholic, I can sort of understand why the Church, or why other faith groups, find offense in the Mormon tenent that they can baptize any deceased person into their faith.  When I first heard of this, I was somewhat taken aback.  What?  They can make my great-grandfather Mormon?  He’d “roll over” as the expression goes.  I think my great-grandmother was Protestant, but I haven’t prayed to “make” her accept my faith today!  It was her life to live, and I respect her choices and her life.

I say I “sort of” understand because I find it more humorous than offensive.  To me, my faith is very important.  I love being Catholic, and I love the Church.  Because I have accepted this particular faith as “my” faith, I obviously think it’s better – at least for me – than other faiths.  If you can’t believe in your particular faith all the way, what’s the point of believing it?  As such, it doesn’t matter to me if some other faith decides to make me one of their own long after I’m gone.  Why?  Because my faith is chosen by me and nothing will change that unless it’s my decision.  If any Jew, Muslim, Mormon, or Protestant wants to pray for me or if they want to pray to convert me, okay!  I doubt I’ll be leaving my faith any time soon, but I’ll accept your prayers on my behalf.  I respect other religions, but they can’t change me or my faith whethere through prayer, re-baptism, or any other practice.  

As Kimberly Powell points out, the Mormom re-baptism isn’t “valid” in the sense of the Catholic faith – so denying them access to the records to prevent this is only hurting those of us who use them to enrich our understanding of our family history.  Can’t we all just get along and respect that we all believe different things?  I think the Mormons need to separate their religion from their genealogical efforts…for them, the two may be intertwined, but for others it is confusing.  As Craig said, we all need each other.  And we’re likely all related, too. 

On a completely unrelated note, this is my first-ever post written remotely on a laptop.  And I like it!  I think I have to get one of these…

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MapMy Bavarian great-grandparents’ hometown was Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, just north of Munich. Only my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister, was born in the town and her family had lived there for centuries. My great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, was born nearby and went there to work for his uncle. Pfaffenhofen was the site of the couple’s wedding in 1897 and the birth of their first child a year later, a daughter. He left home in 1900 to immigrate to America, and mother and daughter joined him there in 1902. Did they ever miss their hometown? What was Pfaffenhofen like?

Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is located in the Hallertau region of Bavaria, which is the largest hop producing area in the world. The region is in Oberbayern, or Upper Bavaria, and it has a long history. The area was likely first settled by monks from the Benedictine monastery in Ilmmünster in the 8th Century. Their estate was called Pfaffenhöfe or Priests’ station and was located north of the current town. Four centuries later, Duke Ludwig I, called Ludwig the Kelheimer, founded the market town of Pfaffenhofen where the Ilm and Gerolsbach rivers meet. The town was mentioned by name as early as 1140, and by 1197 it was called a “market town”. By 1318, Pfaffenhofen was referred to as a fortified settlement.

Pfaffenhofen ad Ilm Coat of ArmsFrom 1387-1389, the Städtekrieg, a war between Swabian towns and Bavarian dukes, was fought throughout Southern Germany. Pfaffenhofen became one of the war’s victims when it was nearly completely destroyed by fire in 1388. When the town was reconstructed, it was surrounded by a circular wall with four gates and 17 towers. The Pfänderturm is one of the original 17 towers and the only one still standing today. By 1438, Pfaffenhofen officially received recognition as a “town”.

Engraving of Pfaffenhofen, 1687

[This is an engraving of Pfaffenhofen by Anton W. Ertl in 1687. The town’s wall, two of the gates, and many of the towers are clearly visible.]

Another war left a significant mark on the town. In 1632, soldiers fighting in the Thirty Years’ War were billeted to houses in town. One of the soldiers had the plague and the disease quickly spread. Of the 1,800 inhabitants, only 700 survived the outbreak. It would take Pfaffenhofen another 200 years to reach the same population.

Population growth was never a problem after that time. The town continued to attract residents. While the population was about 4,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is now closer to 23,000.

The town square, or hauptplatz, has existed on roughly the same site since the town was founded centuries ago. The square has many unique and beautiful buildings. Standing majestically at one end of the square is the town’s church, St. Johannes Baptist. The church was built in 1393 in the Gothic style to replace the Romanesque style church destroyed by the 1388 fire. After The Thirty Years’ War, the interior was renovated in the Baroque style. The steeple, about 253 feet high, was first built in 1531. Destroyed by a lightening strike in June, 1768, it was immediately rebuilt. Most important for descendents of Pfaffenhofen’s Catholic residents is the existence of parish baptismal, marriage, and death records dating back to 1597.

Hauptplatz, St. John's

[Two views of St. John’s Church in the Hauptplatz. The left photo is from 1875, the right from 1998.]

Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is in front of the church in the square. Erecting a white and blue painted maypole became a tradition in Bavaria in the 16th Century. In the 18th century, symbols and shields of different worker’s guilds were added to the pole, and this is how Pfaffenhofen’s maypole is decorated today.

Interior of St. John\'s church, Altar

You will also see evidence of the former worker’s guilds inside the parish church. Each guild had some church obligations as a part of the guild’s rules. Once a year each guilds celebrated their own special Mass, with special times for each guild. For example, the brewers’ Mass was celebrated on Monday after New Year’s while the tailors’ was on the Monday after Easter week.

Because of the guilds close association with the church, when the church was remodeled in 1671, the artist Johann Bellandt of Wessobrunn carved a number of apostle statues honoring the guilds: Mathew for the butchers, Phillip for the bakers, John for the brewers, Bartholomew for the leather artisans, Jacob for the weavers, and Simon for the tailors.

Because I do not read German very well, information about famous residents of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is difficult to find. Two individuals seem to have made a difference in the town and are worth a mention here. When I first visited Pfaffenhofen, I was surprised to see a street named after Joseph Bergmeister. They named a street after my great-grandfather? No, but they named a street after someone with the same name – his first cousin. Cousin Joseph was born on 11 August 1874, a year and a half after my great-grandfather. Unlike his older cousin, Joseph never left Pfaffenhofen. He became instrumental in introducing electricity to the town in the early 1900s. In recognition for his work, he received a medal from the town in 1934 and an honorary doctorate from the Technical College of Aachen. He died on 31 October 1950. I’m not sure when a street was named in his honor, but you can drive down Dr-Bergmeister-Strasse today! (The first name Joseph is still valued in the Bergmeister family today – you will find Joseph Bergmeisters on both sides of the ocean who are related, whether they know it or not, as 3rd and 4th cousins. In my own family there are five generations of Joseph Bergmeister’s so far.)

Another more famous Joseph from Pfaffenhofen is the poet Joseph Maria Lutz (1893-1972). He was born in Pfaffenhofen, gained recognition as a poet, and today there is a museum in his honor in town. He is also known for adding a verse to the Bavarian anthem in 1946. As there is no longer a king of Bavaria, Lutz wrote a new verse to replace the stanza about the king.

One of Joseph Maria Lutz’s poems is entitled “Hometown.” Written in 1965, the poem shares his feelings about Pfaffenhofen. The following translation was provided by Mr. Robert Wilkinson:

Hometown

The houses line themselves cuddle cozily after a fashion,

Intermittently broad and proud, intermittently narrow and aged,

The church spire points to heaven on high,

And the people are loudly singing to the chiming tower bells.

And country lanes stream in from adjacent forest and field

To become streets of prominence in both name and importance,

And in Time’s own passage finally come to stillness.

The bemused places of childhood are rekindled yet again with laughter,

And even the old fountains cascade in a trance of stillness,

as the swirling eddies made rush, silently

like life’s Insignificant Other, just as only Love can know.

And somehow even the Wind takes on a life,

Blowing in gust after gust, through the years,

And through the days, back to childhood’s Home,

As in fairy tale nights and imagined lands.

From the squares and tedious narrow alleys echo the familiar sounds,

the rolling wagon wheels, the clip-clop of stout mares,

the staccato of the blacksmith’s hammer,

or as in years of yore, the rolling barrels and the rooster’s crow.

And all that appears Close once again, is yet so Far,

And Life itself avoiding yet the grave;

strives for heavy-hearted Contentment much like a halting

song of Greeting or Return.

You, my little Town,

even if I have forgotten much,

I behold you precious still,

I, forever at Home in you.

I had the opportunity to visit my ancestors’ hometown in 1998 and 2006. I’m sure my great-grandparents would be amazed at some of the changes that have taken place. But, in many ways, they would find a lot of things the same. The apartment they lived in before coming to the US is still there, and it probably looks much the same. They might be surprised by all of the cars though!

Last Tower Standing

[This is the last tower still standing. The “Pfänderturm” or debt-tower, was built between 1388 to 1438.]

Sources for this article:

Related Posts:

[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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Zyrardow on the mapMy immigrant ancestors came from many different places. Some came from large capital cities that had very old beginnings and long histories (Warsaw, Poland). Other hometowns were not as large as a city, but they were large market towns born in the 1300’s that continue to have vibrant communities today (Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany and Mszczonów, Poland). Some of my ancestors came from much smaller places, centuries-old farmlands that evolved from feudal lands to modern villages (Puch, Germany and Komorowo, Poland). But of all the hometowns of my ancestors, the one that first captured my heart isn’t very old at all. In fact, compared to the ancient histories of these other places, it is modern in comparison. Although it lacks a history as long as other European towns, it makes up for it with the interesting way in which it was born. The town is Żyrardów, Poland.

The biography of Żyrardów begins in France. In 1810, the French government had a competition for inventors to create a mechanical linen spinning mill. The prize to the successful inventor was 1 million francs. One enterprising engineer, Philippe de Girard (1775-1845) from Lourmarin, succeeded. But with the fall of Napoleon, France could not pay the prize. Girard’s luck went from bad to worse as he endured debt, business failures, and bankruptcy. But his luck turned in 1825, when the government of the Kingdom of Poland invited him to help create a textile industry in Poland based on his invention.

Zyrardow coat of armsGirard originally opened a factory in Marymont, 2 miles outside of Warsaw, in 1831. For unknown reasons, Girard moved the operation two years later to a small farming village and forested area called Ruda Guzowska, approximately 27 miles WSW of Warsaw. This factory was very successful. More and more workers came to the area, and the settlement grew larger. In Girard’s honor, Ruda Guzowska was renamed Żyrardów. In the Polish language, the letter “ż” is pronounced similarly to the letter “g” in the French language: Żyrardów means “of Girard”. Girard was not able to see the success of his namesake town, however; he died in 1845, a year after returning to France to open more linen factories.

Arial View

Żyrardów continued to thrive in Girard’s absence. The factory was taken over by a pair of German industrialists, and by 1880 they employed 5,600 workers. The town literally grew around the factory building, and today it is one of the best preserved towns to see 19th Century architecture. It resembles a university town, with nearly every building – from the factory, to the apartment-style homes, to the churches and hospital – made from the same red brick. The area grew from a small farming village to an industrial settlement of approximately 175 acres. By 1880 the factory had 16,000 spindles with over 1,650 mechanical looms, and the value of their annual production (in 1880) was 2.2 million Silver Rubles. The former forest and farmland became responsible for the majority of linen production for the Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Workers in ZyrardowOne unique aspect of the town is that it was multi-cultural. The majority of workers were Poles, but there were also a large number of ethnic Germans working there as well. The factory itself had German managers, and there were also a number of Czechs, Scots, and Irish. The town itself had both a Roman Catholic church and an Evangelical Lutheran church, and there was a thriving Jewish community as well. The Słownik Geograficzny entry from 1895 indicates that the town had 7,126 registered inhabitants by 1880, including 5,134 Catholics, 1,541 Protestants, 244 Jews, and 207 belonging to other denominations.

The town was not without discord, however. Rather than ethnic disputes, there were employment disagreements. The government did not allow unions, but the workers were concerned about working conditions and low wages. There were many strikes at the factory throughout its history, beginning with the first in 1883.

Naturalization for Louis Pater

My Pater family immigrated from this town from 1905-1909; it was the place they called home. They were all weavers, which means they all worked in the factory. I don’t know why they left, but maybe they thought they could earn better wages in the United States. All of them became weavers in Philadelphia’s textile industry. My great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his father, my 2nd great-grandfather Józef Pater, were born in Żyrardów (Louis in 1893, and Józef in 1864). Józef’s father, Jan, was born in Ruda Guzowska around 1834. Jan’s father Hilary pre-dates Żyrardów’s history and was born in a small village nearby.

RC Church, WiskitkiI had the opportunity to visit Żyrardów in 2001. It was a sudden visit with not enough advance planning, but I was grateful to see the town. My Pater ancestors were baptized and married in the nearby village of Wiskitki, and I was thrilled when my guide was able to sweet-talk the young priest into opening the church for me. My family probably attended this church because the main Catholic church in Żyrardów was not built until 1903. Wiskitki is a settlement that dates from 1221, with the first mention of “town” status in 1349. Over the centuries, the town declined and became smaller. After World War II, Wiskitki and Żyrardów were combined as one district, but in 1975 Wiskitki once again received rights as an independent town.

My Miller / Müller family also immigrated from Żyrardów; however, I have not yet found a birth certificate as proof that anyone was actually born in the town. My research indicates that the Miller family may be among the ethnic Germans from Bohemia that emigrated to the area to work in the textile industry. My great-grandmother’s brother, Emil, immigrated to the United States. In 1910, he and his family returned to Żyrardów – perhaps because of the death of his father. When the first World War broke out, the family could not return. Emil died in Żyrardów. His wife and American-born son later returned to the US, but his Polish-born daughter and American-born daughter remained.

Besides my ancestors, Żyrardów was the birthplace of some more famous citizens, including the Polish writer Paweł Hulka-Laskowski (1881-1946) and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller (b. 1946).

Sources for this article:

[This post was written for the 47th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Place Called Home.]

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Death of Jacob Zinsmeister

This is a rather unusual death record from my genealogical “collection” with an odd reason for the death. I wish they had newspapers back then – this would have made a rather interesting obituary! The record source is the Kirchenbuch records from the Catholic church in Puch, Bavaria, Germany and details the death of Jacob Zinsmeister in 1796.

Because of the unusual nature of the death, I’m not entirely certain of the Latin translation. I think it translates as follows: “On May 9 by a tree suddenly dropped from a cart in the forest of the Puch community, was killed and here buried the honest Jacob Zinsmeister, farmer, aged 56.” Either that or he died after falling from a tree. I’m also not certain of the word in the last line that seems to say “Lori” after “colonus“. Colonus is farmer, his occupation, and usually the record will indicate “hic” afterward the occupation to indicate “he lives here”, or it will name the town if it differs than the church’s town. As the town name was Puch, I am uncertain if this word is “Lori” or not and what it refers to. If there are any Latin scholars out there, feel free to chime in! I only had some high school Latin and we weren’t exactly looking at death records!

At any rate, poor Jacob died “subito” or suddenly at the age of 56. Back in 1796 he was probably considered “old” but I’ve found many others living well beyond their 50s during that same timeframe. Jacob Zinsmeister is one of my 5th great-grandfathers. He was born about 1740 presumably in Puch, which is a very small town today and must have consisted of just a few farms back then. His wife’s name was Josepha and that is all I know about her. They had a daughter named Kreszens who was born around 1777, and at least two sons. Unfortunately he died before his daughter got married. Kreszens married Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) in 1800. Joseph was a miller in Puch, and she bore at least twelve children! Several died as babies or young children, but at least two sons lived to adulthood and had children of their own. Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister died on 8 June 1852 at the age of 75 – a much longer life than her poor dad who was killed by a falling tree!

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For several months I’ve been corresponding with the Polish State Archives [Archiwum Państwowego] to obtain a copy of a birth/baptismal record for my grandfather’s brother. Why go through the trouble for a collateral ancestor? Because my grandfather was born in Philadelphia and his older brother and sister were born in Warsaw. My finding one of their baptismal records, I hoped to pinpoint exactly where the parents came from more than just the city name.

I knew “Uncle Joe’s” birthdate from two sources: his death record (not always a reliable source) and his father’s naturalization papers. Since I’m from Philadelphia, I’m aware of how difficult “big city” research can be when you don’t know a specific address or the name of a church. But, I placed my faith in the archives and paid my fees — and his record was found! Here is a copy of the record:

Jozef Piontkowski Baptismal Record

Translated from Russian, it reads:

434. Warsaw. This happened in Wola parish on the 8th (21st) of February, 1903, at three p.m. Jan Piontkowski appeared, a tanner, age 32, and – in the presence of Jozef Kizoweter and Ludwik Czajkowski, [both] of age, day laborers from Warsaw — he showed us a child of the male gender, stating that it was born at number 2 Karolska Street on the 21st of October (3rd of November) of last year, at 5 p.m. to his wife, Rozalia nee Kizoweter, age 35. At Holy Baptism performed on this day, the child was given the name Jozef, and the godparents were Jozef Kizoweter and Zofia Kizoweter. This document was read aloud to those present, who are illiterate, and signed by Us. [Signature illegible]

Note: Two dates are given because Russia used the Julian calendar at that time. The second date is the Gregorian calendar in use in Poland (and much of the rest of the world) then and now.

Aside from the obvious facts, I’ve also learned a few key points from this record that will aid in my future research on this family. First, the record came from św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca w Warszawie (Wola), or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence of Warsaw, Wola. I can now check to see if Jan and Rozalia were married in this parish. As there are quite a few churches in Warsaw, it will be much easier to check one first rather than randomly search many.

I also have the family’s address which may also prove useful. Hopefully they did not move as often as they did once they came to the US! I’d like to find their marriage record and it would be quite easy if they were married in the same parish. Unfortunately, they seem to have a different address for each census and/or other event in the US, so anything goes. I am interested in finding out more about Wola, which is the section of the city of Warsaw in which they lived. Here is a brief history from Wikipedia and Wola’s website in Polish.

I finally have a confirmation of my great-grandmother’s surname, Kizoweter. My grandfather said that it was her name, but since it is not of Polish origin I wanted to see confirmation in a Polish record source. According to German Names by Hans Bahlow as well as an email from the Polish surname expert William “Fred” Hoffman, it is a variation of the German name Kiesewetter, which means “Check the weather” or “weather watcher”. Are the godparents her brother and his wife? Or her brother and sister?

As always, one record found leads to more questions. But, for me this was a step in the right direction. While I have gone back many generations for other “sides” in my family, I am still searching for the origins of my Piontkowski great-grandparents. Once you dedicate some time to the search, success is possible. Stay tuned for more information once I (hopefully) find their marriage record.

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An oft-repeated phrase when one enters an old house is “if these walls could speak, the stories they’d tell.” In Germany, it is possible for the walls to speak about the families that lived there for centuries in the form of a book called a häuserchronik.

What would you say if I told you there might be a book that is like a City Directory, only it is listed by street addresses and also records deed transactions of the houses? And, the book also contains some personal information about the residents, including occupations, marriage information, and more? Well, if your ancestors came from Germany, there really may be such a book!

When I first visited the town my Bavarian ancestors came from, I was given a “häuserchronik” as a gift. The full title of the book, published in 1982, is Häuserchronik der Stadt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm by Heinrich Streidel. It provided tons of genealogical information that was later verified by researching decades of church records. I couldn’t believe that such things existed…and that you don’t hear more about them!

Here is an example of one entry found in the book. The house is currently known in the town as Löwenstraße 14, formerly Judengasse 11. Before that, the house had a number assigned to it. Beginning in 1676, it was 67 II District. From 1810-1861, it was house #55. And from 1862-1927, it was house #79. In old towns such as Pfaffenhofen, houses were numbered as they were built. So, house #10 was not necessarily in between houses #9 and #11 – it could be on the other side of town! Occasionally, the houses were renumbered, probably because by then it became too difficult to find an address! At this particular house, the record begins back in 1614! My ancestors appear in the house’s record in 1746 as follows [translated to English, with my comments in brackets]:

1746, 4 Jan
Eger, Bernhard, shoemaker – purchased (Kaufsumme or “sum”) for “280 fl”
[According to the book’s preface, in 1982 the “fl” or gulden was equal to about 1.71 Marks. Today, that’s roughly 236 Euros! He was about 25 years old at the time.]

1746, 21 Jun
The above marries Arnold, Maria Anna, from Jägern/Edlmünster
[She’s not my ancestor…she dies in April, 1761 at age 35 during childbirth.]

1761, 30 Oct
Eggerer (Eger), Bernhard, widower, shoemaker, marries Stainer, Maria Margarete, from Freising
[Note the changing spelling of the surname, which will change one more time in a later entry before “stabilizing” – it was common for names to change over time as spelling became more formal and/or more people became literate. Unfortunately, he dies 17 years later in June, 1778 after they’ve had many children, including my ancestor Ignaz.]

1778, 18 Jul   Eggerer, Maria Margarete, shoemaker’s widow
[This entry shows that changes were made to the records for events such as the husband’s death.]

1797, 10 Jan
Echerer (Eggerer), Ignaz, son, and Maria Anna, born Kaillinger, glassmaker’s daughter
[He was 32 years old; they married on 22 Jan 1797]

1844, 13 Feb
Echerer, Ignaz, son, marries Nigg, Magdalena
[He was 41 years old; they married on 19 Feb 1844]

1847, 12 Jun
He sells to a new family for 1400 fl, or 1200 Euros in 1982 money. Interestingly enough, the new owner sells it three years later for 2400 fl, proving that “house flipping” isn’t such a modern concept.

So, where did the family go? The house had been in the family for 100 years. The answer was also in the book. They moved to a different house, the current address of which is Schulstrasse 5. This house is even older than the previous one, as the records begin back in 1511! What is interesting is the immediate history prior to the purchase by Ignaz. Before I had done research with the church records, I would have only looked for his surname and ignored the rest. But, after complete research, I know the full story of the family relationships, so I will back up a bit in the house’s history.

1784, bought for 420 fl by Höck, Johann, master carpenter

1794, 12 Apr, daughter Therese marries

1794, 26 Apr, Nick, Karl, Town Master Carpenter

1844, 02 May, Nick, Rosalie, daughter, marries Aicher, Christian, master carpenter

It is from this couple that Ignaz and Magdalena buy the house for 3,980 fl. We saw from the previous entry that Nigg is Magdalena’s maiden name. Rosalie is her sister, Karl is her father (so she was born in this house), and the owner back in 1784 was her grandfather! After the couple purchases the house, it remains in the family until 1899. My great-grandmother, Maria Echerer, was born there in 1875 to Karl Echerer, son of Ignaz and Magdalena, and Margarethe Fischer. It appears that the house was owned by my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl, from 1896 to 1899 when he sold it for 10,800 Marks.

As you can see from the above example, there is an extraordinary amount of genealogical data to be found in such books. Other entries were less detailed, but nearly every house’s history had some information on marriages, including where the spouse may have come from if the town was not the same, and occupations. It appears based on the above that a new entry was made after the death of a spouse, a marriage, or the passing of the house to a son or daughter, which is why this sort of history has more in common with deed records than what Americans would call “city directories”.

But, where do you find such a treasure if it exists for your town? Well, it’s not easy. What makes the search even more complicated are the different names that Germans use. For my town of Pfaffenhofen, the book is called a häuserchronik. But similar information might be found in a heimatbuch, or town history. Some towns even have something called a ortssippenbuch or ortsfamilienbücher, which are books containing the genealogical data of an entire town or village. None of these useful resources are maintained in one place, so they are difficult to find.

First, I would try a search at www.familysearch.org for your family’s town – there are some of the above resources that would be listed if they are microfilmed.

Next, simply search on www.google.com for your town name, plus one of the above words.

You can also find success at German bookstores. One useful site that seems to have many “historical” books – and also has an English search page – is www.zvab.de. Put the town name in the subject search and see what you find!

Did you know that there are foreign versions of E-bay? You’re more likely to find a German book on Germany’s E-bay at www.ebay.de. Search for the town name, or even a surname. I found many heimatbucher waiting to be found by genealogists. It does help if you speak the language, though. While ordering via E-bay isn’t that difficult in any language, once you get the book it helps to be able to decipher the contents! I have several German books, but I don’t read German. If I did, or if I tried a little harder with a dictionary, I might know a lot more about my ancestors’ towns by now.

Finally, there is a database available at www.ortsfamilienbuecher.de that has listings of some “town heritage books”. I have not found an online resource that lists “häuserchronik” books specifically, but a local heritage book may also have genealogical information. You may have better luck contacting town or local archives to determine if any exist for your town.

Good luck, and I hope you all find similar genealogical treasures from your ancestors’ towns.

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When I first got started in genealogy, I thought the Soundex was an amazing thing. It helped me find many incorrectly written names, often simply mis-pronounced by the foreign speaker or mis-understood by the American census taker. But, the Soundex only gets you so far…some errors are just too much to overcome. For example, the Soundex assumes that the first letter of the surname is correct, but what if it’s not? Thanks to computers and indexing, finding someone on the census is a lot easier than it used to be.

Zawodny Census Names

An example of a family that was hard to locate in the census is my Zawodny ancestors. As Polish surnames go, the name of Zawodny isn’t all that hard or unreasonable! But if you try to find them in census records, good luck. You’ll find three different names! The family first arrived in 1902, so the first census year is 1910. This is how the family’s entry compares for 1910, 1920, and 1930:

1910 – Savonia, Joseph, age 28. Wife Mary, age 20.

1920 – Cawodny, Joseph, age 39. Wife Laura, age 36.

1930 – Zavodny, Joseph, age 50. “Sister” Laura, age 44.

As you can see, only the 1930 surname would have been found using a Soundex search. The wife’s name changes, most likely because her Polish first name Wacława doesn’t really translate into an English name, at least not the same way that Jozef becomes Joseph.

Another favorite family in census records is my Piontkowski ancestors. While the 1920 entry of “Pontdowke” and 1930’s “Peontkowski” show up in the Soundex, the family’s whereabouts in 1910 had me stumped. Finally, I found them – listed under “Kilkuskie”.  Not really an intuitive search, but the first names, ages, neighborhood, and other information all matched. The best part about their entries are the ages – while the husband’s age is or at least close to what it actually was for those census years, or ages 39-49-59, the wife seems to grow younger each decade. Perhaps it was unfashionable back then for a wife to be five years older than her husband, but her ages show up as 37-52-54 while her actual age was 44-54-64!

So, how do you find someone when the surname isn’t right and Soundex searches fail you? The old standby prior to computers was to search for the known address. In the case of these two families, they each had a different address for each census year. If a family moved frequently, even though they stayed in the same neighborhood, they’ll be difficult to find unless you know through some other means, such as a city directory, what their actual address was during the census year.

One method that I used to find these records when “last name” searches failed was to search with a combination of the first name, approximate age, and country of birth. It helps if you know at least the county or city where the family lived, because you may get over a hundred men named “Joseph” born in “Poland” or “Russia” around 1879. But, by carefully checking the other family members, you will find the family if they are there. You can also combine a search using these elements with a spouse’s first name, or a parent’s first name if you are searching for a child. Try using Steve Morse’s searches if other search sites have you stumped.

This post is an excerpt from a future article on Searching US Census Records.

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