Archive for the ‘Locations’ Category

The theme for Week 20 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Black Sheep” and my ancestor is my grandaunt, Jean Piontkowska Hynes.

Black Sheep?

The idiom “black sheep” with regard to genealogy usually refers to an ancestor who did some particularly notorious deed. I guess I should be happy to say that I don’t really have any ancestors that qualify as black sheep by that definition – thankfully there are no murderers or America’s Most Wanted in my family tree. One of my great-grandfathers was convicted of a crime and did a short amount of time in prison, but I don’t know enough about the particulars to tell that story. Another great-grandfather’s brother was wanted for fraud in Germany, but not only have I told that story previously, I’ve also highlighted his brother, sister, and mother so far in this series so by now it would read like a repeat.

So my choice is a different definition…an ancestor, or in this case an ancestor’s sister, who chose a different path. Black sheep are a rare occurrence caused by a recessive gene taking dominance, and not only would a black sheep stand out in the crowd of white sheep but also the black wool could not be dyed and was therefore not valuable. So the term “black sheep” took on a negative connotation. Also interesting is that the idiom appears in several languages besides English, including my ancestral languages of German, Polish, and Czech. But on the surface, an actual black sheep isn’t a bad sheep; they are just different. Rather than highlight the bad seeds from the tree, I’m going to highlight the one who chose a different path and, in so doing, turned her back on her family and never returned.

Jean’s Story

Jean was born as Janina Piątkowska¹ on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter.  The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church.  Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier, and their younger brother (my grandfather) wouldn’t arrive until 1910.

I’ve written about Jean before in November 2010 in a post called “The Sister Who Disappeared” – please take a look to read about the family’s immigration to Philadelphia when Jean was nearly 1 year old. In that post, I detail how Jean disappeared from her family’s lives sometime in the 1920’s. The story my grandfather told was that she, the poor working class daughter of Polish immigrants, met and married a “rich doctor”. The happy couple moved to Florida, never to be heard from again.

Except months after I wrote that post, I found out that Jean was heard from again…just not by my grandfather. I found the 1953 obituary of their brother, Joseph Perk, and it mentioned her name as “Mrs. Jean Hynes”. Finally I had a married name to research! I haven’t uncovered all of the facts of her life, but I know a lot more about her than just knowing her as the sister who disappeared. It turns out my grandfather’s story was almost right. She married the son of a rich doctor, and after living in New York they really did move to Florida.

Sometime around 1926, Jean met and married William Rose Hynes. Or perhaps they met and pretended to be married because I haven’t yet found a marriage license in either Philadelphia or New York. William was born in 1902 in New York City. His father, also named William Rose Hynes, was a doctor who died in 1926. There is a long soap-opera-worthy story in New York newspapers from the 1890s that tell the story of the Hynes’ family wealth and various lawsuits over inheritances. Although young William is listed as a radio engineer in the 1930 census, he did come from a family that had more money than Jean’s immigrant parents. In 1930 the couple lived in an apartment on Broadway, and Jean worked as a hair dresser in a beauty salon.

In 1937, William and Jean lived on 163rd Street, Flushing, Long Island. In November they traveled by ship to Bermuda. While this may not seem exotic by today’s standards, to Jean’s family back in Philadelphia this would have been as exotic as traveling to the moon!

By 1940 the couple is living in Pinellas County, Florida, where William’s uncle also resided. They had no children. That’s when my paper trail ends. But, I was able to find out more about William than about my grandaunt Jean because I discovered that he had a second marriage, a daughter from that marriage, and that he later lived and died just miles from where I live in New Jersey.

According to William’s daughter, he married his next wife in the mid-1940s. She wrote:

There is a family story that they had to elope to MD because he had lived for many years with another woman, and called her his wife, but they had never been formally married. The clerk of courts in Queens refused to give him a license to marry  my mother, because he could not produce a divorce decree.

As my grandaunt Jean was that other woman, perhaps she really is a black sheep after all!

William’s daughter was a teenager when he died, so she didn’t know much about his previous relationship. Her mother said that William’s first wife became ill (possibly dying) and he went to visit her and help, perhaps around 1958.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Jean after her split from William. The obit that led me to research her relationship to Hynes said that she was living in Detroit, and William’s daughter thought she may have lived in New York City, but I’ve been unable to locate a death record in any state so far. I hope to one day find out the rest of Jean’s story.

¹For info on the spelling change to Piontkowska and the present form of my surname, see my grandfather’s profile from Week 15 under the “How Do You Spell That?” theme

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jean (Janina) Piontkowska (Piątkowska) Hynes
  • Ahnentafel: N/A – grandaunt, sister of #4, my grandfather
  • Parents:Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
  • Born: 29 December 1905 in Warsaw, Poland
  • Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with her mother and Józef, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: William Rose Hynes III (1902-1966) around 1926; divorced by mid-1940s.
  • Children: unknown, at least 5 nieces and 2 nephews
  • Died: unknown


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 20: Black Sheep


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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The theme for Week 19 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “There’s a Way” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmother, Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta. I chose her because I’ve been making my weekly posts on Sunday, and today is Mother’s Day. Franciszka seems to have suffered a lot of hardships as a mother. But even in old age, she definitely found a way to be with her daughter – even if it meant traveling to America by herself.

Franciszka’s Story

Franciszka Wojciechowska was born on 01 October 1840 in the town of Mszczonów, Żyrardów County, Masovian Voivodeship, Poland (then under Russian rule). She was the first born child of Jan Wojciechowski and Karolina Dąbska who were married in January of that same year. Jan was a 24-year-old shoemaker and his wife was 21 at the time of their daughter’s birth.

Franciszka must have been a hearty child; unfortunately, most of her siblings did not live to adulthood. The next three children were all boys who died at 2 years old or less. Fortunately, the next four children – three other girls and a boy – all lived to adulthood.

When Franciszka was 22, she married Ludwik Pater, a shoemaker like her father (and his). Ludwik was also born in Mszczonów and they probably grew up together. Like her mother before her, she suffered much heartache when it came to having children: at least three children died as toddlers and another died at the age of 11. Only two lived to adulthood: daughter Antonina Rozalia (my great-great grandmother) and son Jan.

Sometime between 1880 and 1885, Ludwik died. I have been unable to find his death record despite the availability of online (and indexed) records for that time period. A son was born to the couple in 1880, but by the time of their daughter Antonina’s marriage in 1885 to  Józef Pater, Ludwik is deceased.

After Antonina’s marriage, Franciszka may have moved with her to the town of Żyrardów eight miles away. Antonina suffered similar losses as her mother and grandmother – of ten children, four died as infants or toddlers. By 1905, Antonina’s husband made the decision to immigrate to the U.S. in search of better job opportunities (ironically, the family would continue to work in textile factories in Philadelphia just as they had in Żyrardów but without the strikes that were occurring at that time). In 1906, Antonina joined him with their teenaged daughter and their youngest. The following year, their three teen boys came with their older sister and her husband. Franciszka was now alone except for her son, Jan (and presumably his family). She was a widow, her parents had died in the few years after her husband, and even her mother-in-law died in January, 1906 at the age of 83.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way… In June, 1909, Franciszka made the journey to the United States to join her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. She sailed aboard the SS Vaderland from Antwerp, Belgium to New York City and arrived through Ellis Island on June 21. She was 69 years old, and she made the journey alone. It is documented on the passenger arrival record that the authorities detained her at Ellis Island and required an examination with a special board of inquiry for “senility” before they allowed her to enter the country, because they feared she would be a “Likely Public Charge”. Her physical description: 4’10”, limping, with dark hair and blue eyes.

Franciszka lived with her daughter’s family in Eden, PA (now Langhorne, PA) in Bucks County. For the 1910 census, she is listed as the “head of the household”. She would have gotten to know four of her young great-grandchildren, including my grandfather, before she passed away on 29 April 1914 at the age of 73. She is my only great-great-great-grandparent to come to the United States.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta
  • Ahnentafel: #51 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Wojciechowski (1816-1889) and Karolina Dąbska (1819-1885)
  • Born: 01 October 1840 in Mszczonów
  • Siblings: Mateusz (1842-1843), Piotr Jacek (1844-1846), Jan (1847-1847), Marianna Emilia Wojciechowska Naziębło (b. 1848), Agata Józefa Wojciechowska Skoneczny(b.1851), Barbara Łucja Wojciechowska Kielak (1853-1895), Jan Ludwik Wojciechowski (b. 1859)
  • Married: Ludwik Pluta (1843-?) in Mszczonów in 1862
  • Children: Władysław (?-1878), Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater (1863-1938), Jan (b. 1865), Wincenty (1870-1873), Regina (1871-1871), Elżbieta (1873-1884), Józef Ignacy (1880-1881)
  • Died: 29 April 1914 in Langhorne, Bucks, Pennsylvania, United States
  • My Line of Descent: Franciszka -> Antonia Rozalia Pluta Pater -> Ludwik Pater -> Henry Pater -> mother -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 19: There’s a Way


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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The theme for Week 18 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Where There’s a Will” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Józef Ślesiński. None of my ancestors left wills behind, or if they have I didn’t find them yet. I don’t have a single ancestor named William or even Wilhelm. Many were strong-willed, but I’ve written about several of these folks in recent weeks. Therefore, I’ve taken a rather broad approach to the theme…for Józef Ślesiński, it’s more like “Where there’s a Wilczyn…there’s a wife.”

Józef ‘s Story

Józef Ślesiński was born on 21 November 1821 in the town of Ślesin, Konin county, woj. Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland Voivodeship) which was under Russian rule during the partitions of Poland. His parents were the farmers Maciej Ślesiński and Agnieszka Bogacka. It is easy to tell that the surname Ślesiński is toponymic – it is  derived from the place name of the town in which they lived, Ślesin.

The records from Ślesin are available, but I haven’t yet researched the other children of Maciej and Agnieszka. The only sibling I have a record of is Tomasz who was born 19 years after Józef – I am sure there were other children in between!

When Józef was 22 years old, he left his hometown to move 12 miles south to a town called Wilczyn to marry his bride, 19-year-old Elżbieta Michałowska. The couple had at least eight children together. My great-great grandfather was their son Wincenty, born in 1850. Two children died as youngsters: son Ignacy in 1860 and daughter Marianna in 1864.

Jozef's death record from the 1866 Wilczyn parish books. The priest had beautiful handwriting. There was also a duplicate church book in Latin.

Jozef’s death record from the 1866 Wilczyn parish books. The priest had beautiful handwriting. There was also a duplicate church book in Latin.

Józef died on 30 November 1866 at the age of 45. He left behind his wife and six children, 3 sons (ages 19, 16, and 11) and 3 daughters (ages 15, 6, and 5). His widow marries widower Marcin Rosinski in 1867, which would have been helpful due to the young ages of her children and the need for support.

While it is Józef’s granddaughter who is my immigrant ancestor, I recently discovered through a DNA match that his daughter Apolonia immigrated to America with her husband, Wacław Polski, in the 1890’s. I now wonder if my great-grandmother, who immigrated to Philadelphia, knew that she had an aunt living in Milwaukee.

For Józef Ślesiński, where there was a town called Wilczyn, there was a wife! The town name is derived from the wilk, or “wolf”, but I’ll take it as my family’s will.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Józef Ślesiński
  • Ahnentafel: #60 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Maciej Ślesiński (1786-1848) and Agnieszka Bogacka
  • Born: 21 November 1821 in Ślesin
  • Siblings: Tomasz (b. 1840)
  • Married: Elżbieta Michałowska (1824-?) in Wilczyn
  • Children: Ignacy (?-1860), Marianna (?-1864), Józef Ślesiński (b. 1847), Wincenty Ślesiński (1850-1919), Antonina Ślesińska Zaborska (b. 1851), Antoni Ślesiński (b. 1855 marries in 1880), Apolonia Ślesińska Polska (1860-1936), Weronica Ślesińska Warszawska (b. 1861)
  • Died: 30 Nov 1866 in Wilczyn
  • My Line of Descent: Józef -> Wincenty ->Wacława Ślesińska Zawodna -> Marianna Zawodna Pater -> mother -> me



Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 18: Where There’s a Will


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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The theme for Week 17 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Prosper” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Jan Drogowski. The theme asks for an ancestor that had a “rags to riches” story. I don’t know what Jan’s net worth was, but I think he was prosperous because his occupation in life was quite different from his father’s.

Jan’s Story

Jan Drogowski was born on 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland (Poznań) to Wojciech Drogowski and Marianna Przygoda. Wojciech was a farmer in Wilczyn as was his father, Grzegorz Drogowski. But the reason I chose Jan for the theme of “prosper” is because he did not become a farmer like his father and grandfather. In 1838, the nearly 20-year-old Jan marries 16-year-old Konstancja Kubińska, and in the marriage record Jan is referred to as the “young linen merchant”. I found it interesting that the son of a farmer could become a merchant at a young age. I wondered if he was “marrying up” and gaining the profession of his father-in-law. But Konstancja’s father, Józef Kubiński, was also a farmer.  Jan must have worked hard to learn the linen industry at such a young age. And, I can assume he was good at it because over the years he’d have a lot of mouths to feed.

Jan's signature from the 1847 birth record of his daughter, Michalina. The "w" is missing from his signature as surname spelling was a bit flexible (the priest spells his name as Drogowski, however).

Jan’s signature from the 1847 birth record of his daughter, Michalina. The “w” is missing from his signature as surname spelling was a bit flexible (the priest spells his name as Drogowski, however).

Another sign that Jan prospered in his merchant profession is his ability to write. Polish vital records after 1808 include the signatures of the witnesses and essential parties (bride and groom for weddings, parents for the birth of a child). For most records in my ancestral towns, the vast majority of individuals were illiterate – this fact was recorded when no one could sign the church book. In 1838, Jan was illiterate and did not sign his wedding document. However, by 1845 his is able to sign his name to the birth record of his son, Franciszek. I find this significant and indicates a profession that would require literacy to run the business. Of all my Polish ancestors, I have only found two men that were able to sign the records and Jan’s recorded literacy is the oldest I’ve found.

Jan and Konstancja had ten children together over a 26-year period: six girls and four boys. Their eighth child, Stanisława, was born in 1860 and is my 2nd great-grandmother. One son, Ignacy, died as an infant. I have not yet indexed all of the Wilczyn records to find death dates for all of the children, but I do know that at least three daughters and the other three sons all lived to adulthood, got married, and started having children of their own in the same parish in Wilczyn.

Jan died on 29 Oct 1894 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland at the age of 76. His wife Konstancja would live another two years until she passed away on 18 Dec 1896.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jan Drogowski
  • Ahnentafel: #62 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Wojciech Drogowski (1773-1833) and Marianna Przydoga (1790-1855)
  • Born: 14 Jun 1818 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland
  • Siblings: Marianna Rozalia Drogowska (b. 1811), Franziska Drogowska (b. 1814), Ignacy Drogowski (b. 1828)
  • Married: Konstancja Kubińska (1818-1896) on 08 May 1838 in Wilczogóra
  • Children: Ludwika Drogowska Skowronska (b.1839), Józef Drogowski (b.1842), Franciszek Drogowski (b. 1845), Michalina Drogowska Przybylska Wajnert (b. 1847), Antoni Drogowski (b. 1852), Antonina Drogowska (b. 1855), Maryanna Drogowska (b. 1857), Stanisława Drogowska Ślesińska (1860-1918), Ignacy Drogowski (1863-1863), Józefa Drogowska (b. 1865)
  • Died: 29 Oct 1894 in Wilczyn, Wielkopolskie, Poland (age 76)
  • My Line of Descent: Jan -> Stanisława Drogowska Ślesińska -> Wacława Ślesińska Zawodna -> Marianna Zawodna Pater -> mother -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 17: Prosper


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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The theme for Week 16 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Live Long” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfater, Maciej Miller (Matěj Miller in Czech).

Live Long

The prompt says it’s “time to feature a long-lived ancestor” but longevity, at least of the centenarian sort, does not seem to run in my family (at least not for my direct ancestors…the longest-lived relatives are each of my grandmother’s sisters – one lived to 92 and the other was 94).

I’m missing some death dates in my research thus far, but my longest-lived ancestor was already featured in Week 4, for Dionys Daniel also had the birthday closest to mine which was the theme that week. He was just over 89 years old when he died; however, I do not have an actual copy of his death record so let’s find my documented longest-lived ancestor…a tie between my paternal grandmother and Maciej Miller who both died at 84 years old. Maciej was technically older, though, for his age at death was about two months older than my grandmother’s.

Maciej’s Story

Maciej Miller's name in the 1849 birth record for his son, Jan Miller

Maciej Miller’s name in the 1849 birth record for his son, Jan Miller

Maciej Miller was born on 28 June 1824 in Zelów, Poland. The community in Zelów was founded by Czech exiles (see my ancestor featured in Week 8 for information about the founding of the town in 1802). Maciej’s father Pavel was not one of the founding fathers, but he came to Zelów within the first decade.

Maciej grew up in Zelów and married Marie Szara, a descendant of another town founder, on 08 October 1843. They remained in town to begin their family. But like his forefathers, Maciej was willing to move for better opportunities. In the 1860’s, several families from Zelów migrated east to the larger city of Żyrardów. The town of Żyrardów was only founded in 1831, but it was quickly growing. The town was built around the large textile factory. Since the Czech community in Zelów was known for weaving textiles, some families decided to move for the opportunity to find work that would earn a better wage.

Maciej would remain in Żyrardów for the rest of his life. He lived a rather long life for the time, dying at nearly 85 years old on 09 June 1909. His son, Jan, my 2nd great-grandfather, only outlived his father by a mere four years and died at the age of 63 in 1913.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Maciej Miller (also known as Matěj Miller)
  • Ahnentafel: #52 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Pavel Miller (1788-?) and Marie Poláčková (1785-1849)
  • Born: 28 June 1824 in Zelów, Poland
  • Siblings: Anna Millerová (1810-1817); Josef Miller (1817-1877); Jan Miller (1812-?); Anna Millerová (1819-1821); Karl Miller (1822-1856); Wilhelm Friedrich Miller (1827-?); Friedrich Miller (1829-1857); Marie Millerová Hartová (1834-?)
  • Married: Marie Szara (Šárová in Czech) (1824-?) on 08 October 1843 in Zelów
  • Children: Marie Millerová (1845-1845); Anna Millerová Kolánek (1846-?); Jan Miller (1849-1913); Marie Millerová Poláčková (1852-?); Elżbieta Millerová Jelinek (1855-?); Friedrich Miller (1858-?); Karolina Millerová Švejdar (1860-?); Karl Miller (1864-?)
  • Died: 09 June 1909 in Żyrardów, Poland
  • My Line of Descent: Maciej Miller -> Jan Miller -> Elżbieta Miller Pater -> Henry Pater -> mother -> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 16: Live Long


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The theme for Week 15 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “How Do You Spell That?” and my ancestor is my grandfather, James Pointkouski. There really could be no other choice for that theme – my grandfather is the inventor of our family name…and we have to spell it often.

How Do You Spell That?

I almost felt sorry for the telemarketers calling my parents when I was young. I’d answer the phone and hear, “Hi, can I speak to Mr….uh, Mr. Po-, er, ah, Mr. P-p-pint, er, Mr. Portkonski?” I’d pause for dramatic effect, then respond, “No, I’m sorry, there is no one here by that name.”

But worse than the telemarketers was the need to spell my name, all the time. Even my parents talked about changing the surname for a while, and I think they may have done it if it hadn’t cost money to do so. We considered my mother’s maiden name, Pater, because it seemed a lot easier (even though it is also 100% Polish in origin). For a  while, the surname “Perry” was in contention just because we liked it. But then my father called in a pizza order and the clerk asked, “What’s the name?” My Dad grinned and responded, “Perry!” But then the clerk asked, “How do you spell that?” Undefeated, and still smirking, my Dad replied, “Any way you want…”

By now you might wonder why we feel no allegiance to our name or no pride in our birthright. Well, it’s simple…it’s not our name. My grandfather made it up. If he had made up a name that was easier to spell and pronounce, I’d thank him for it. As I delved into the family history and gained pride in my Polish heritage, I was disappointed I couldn’t have the “real” name that he changed slightly (to little improvement). Unfortunately, the non-legal change was made just prior to all of the rules, records, and federal regulations of today and now I am, quite simply, one of only eight people on earth born a Pointkouski. We’re proud to be “Points” even if we do have to spell it a lot.

James’ Story

From left to right: James at age 13, age approximately 24, and age 47 with wife Margaret

From left to right: James at age 13, age approximately 24, and age 47 with wife Margaret

James’ parents were Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter (featured in Week #3). Jan was a leather worker and the family lived in Warsaw, Poland. Jan was born in Warsaw, and Rozalia’s family moved there from just outside the city when she was a girl. They had a son, Józef, born in November, 1903, and a daughter, Janina, born in December, 1905. Shortly after Janina’s birth the family decided to leave one big city for another. Jan immigrated to Philadelphia in March, 1906 with his sister’s husband, Ludwik Czarkowski. Rozalia and the children followed in November of the same year. In America, their first names were anglicized to John, Rose, Joseph, and Jean.  But the last name changed slightly, too. In English, the Polish letter “ą” does not exist. The letter has the phonetic sound like “on” so Piątkowski became Piontkowski in English.

That should be the end of the story of the surname, so to speak, and my grandfather, father, my brother and me should all bear THAT name. But the name change game wasn’t over yet…my grandfather wasn’t born yet!

My grandfather, James, was the surprise baby born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910. His father was 39 years old and his mother was 44 – typical ages today but highly unusual in 1910. On his official Pennsylvania birth certificate, the name is listed as GANUS KINCOSKI.  I assume “Ganus” is what became of “James” when spoken with a heavy Polish accent. Kincoski was apparently an alias that my great-grandfather used, temporarily, attempting to hide from either law enforcement or those to whom he owed money. Other than around 1910, John always used Piontkowski, his correct surname, on legal records.

By the time James, or Jimmy as he was called, reached adulthood, he tweaked his own surname further. As early as 1933, James changed a few letters in the name Piontkowski and – voila! – the surname Pointkouski was unofficially and unceremoniously born.

James’ older brother, Joe, also changed his name (also not legally). I always thought Joe had more sense, though, for the name he chose was a lot easier to spell: Perk.  Ironically, not that long ago I got to speak to one of Joe’s daughters who grew up with the name Perk. She complained of being teased in school and being called “Percolator” – and she yelled back at her bully, saying, “Well my real name is Pointkouski!”

My grandfather may have tried the “Perk” name on for size for a while – he refers to himself as “Perk” in a letter to my grandmother in 1933, and a photograph of my father in 1936 is labeled on the back as “Jimmy Perk”.  But, on all legal documents my grandfather used “Pointkouski”.

James grew up wanting to be an architect, but he left school at a young age to go to work to help support his parents. He became a truck driver – and remained one for his entire life. As a truck driver he delivered ice cream to soda fountains and other shops, which is where he met his wife, Margaret Bergmeister, whose brother Max owned the store. (See a photo of James and his delivery truck here.)

James and Margaret got married in January, 1934. Later that year they had a son, James, and eight years later welcomed a daughter, Jean.

James’ sister left Philadelphia in the late 1920’s to get married, and apparently he did not see her again after that. His mother, Rose, died in 1937, and his father, John, died in 1942. James had a good relationship with his brother, Joe, who was also a truck driver. Unfortunately Joe Perk died in 1953 at the young age of 49.

Marge & Jimmy, September 1962

Marge & Jimmy, September 1962

I remember my grandfather from my childhood but I didn’t get to see him very often. As the only granddaughter among five grandchildren, I do remember once when I was around six years old he insisted that I must have a ring or other jewelry because I was a girl and “Girls need pretty things to wear!”

I wish I knew him better, and longer, because before I could ever think to ask him why our name is spelled the way it is spelled, he passed away. James died on February 13, 1980, at the age of 69.

In what I refer to as “The Final Misspelling” – or “The Final Insult” – his name was spelled incorrectly on his tombstone:

The final name misspelling for James: they accidentally carved a "W" into his tombstone and "corrected" it to a "U". A larger, correctly spelled stone is also in place.

The final name misspelling for James: they accidentally carved a “W” into his tombstone and “corrected” it to a “U”. A larger, correctly spelled stone is also in place.

Gradually, despite wishing I got to use my real Polish name Piątkowski (as a female, my name in Poland would be Piątkowska), this English major has embraced the permanent misspelling and is proud to be a Pointkouski. Even if you can’t spell it.

Just the Facts

  • Name: James Pointkouski
  • Ahnentafel: #4 (my paternal grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
  • Born: July 6, 1910 in Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?)
  • Married: Margaret Bergmeister (1913-1998)
  • Children: James and Jean
  • Died: 13 February 1980
  • Buried: Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 15: How Do You Spell That?


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The theme for Week 14 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Favorite Photo” and my ancestor is my 2nd great-grandmother, Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz. I chose Ursula because she is in one of my favorite photos. I received it as a gift back in November 2013 and while I’ve showed individual faces from it in other posts, I have not presented it as a whole until now. May I present Ursula and her three (surviving) children from her first husband, Josef Bergmeister:

Ursula with her children Hilaury, Joseph (standing), and Ignatz. Taken in Regensburg, Germany, in approximately 1879-80.

Ursula with her children Hilaury, Joseph (standing), and Ignatz. Taken in Regensburg, Germany, in approximately 1879-80.

This is one of my favorite photos for several reasons. First, it is the only photograph I have of any great-grandparent as a child. I just love the expressions on the children’s faces – not to mention their rather exasperated-looking mother. I can only imagine how long the photo session was and how difficult it was to get the children to be still. The back of the card identified the children – other than that smirk on Laury’s face, I don’t think I’d have recognized the others including my own great-grandfather. It also was inscribed in German that translates as: “I think the memory will please you” – I can’t be sure if it was written by Ursula or someone else. Finally, because the parties were so nicely identified, I was able to “recognize” Ursula in two other unlabeled photographs that I had – a very happy discovery.

Ursula’s Story

Much of Ursula’s story might sound familiar if you’re following along with these weekly posts – her son, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister, also known as the boy with the mischievous grin and the thumb in his vest, was profiled in Week 5 (“Plowing Through”). Her daughter, Hilaury Bergmeister, or Lari, the one who probably instigated something with Joseph to cause that expression on his face, was profiled in Week 7 (“Love”).

Ursula Dallmeier (also spelled Dallmayer or Dallmaier) was born on 21 September 1846 in Prittlbach. Her father, Joseph Dallmeier, was a farmer-turned-innkeeper. Although a farmer at the time of Ursula’s birth, around 1850 the family would move to the town of Asbach where Joseph bought the local inn.

Ursula was living with her parents in Asbach when she met her first husband, Joseph Bergmeister, who was a flour merchant. Their first child, Hilaury, was born in January 1870. Although illegitimate, the father was named in the baptismal document and the couple married the following year on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.

Ursula’s husband Joseph was likely a traveling merchant, because they move frequently in the next several years. In 1871 the family was living in Vohburg a.d. Donau when a daughter named Marie was born, but the baby did not survive. In 1873, Joseph was born in Vohburg. In 1873, Ignatz was born in Abensberg.

By 1879, the family appears to be living in Regensburg based on the photograph above.

Sometime after Ignatz’s birth and 1884, Joseph Bergmeister died. Ursula got married again to Herman Götz, a steam engine driver, and had more children: Herman in 1885, Julius in 1886, and Elsa (birth date not yet known).

Eventually almost all of Ursula’s children would leave her to emigrate to the United States: Laury in 1893, Joseph in 1900, Julius in 1902, Ignatz in 1904. Herman would also emigrate, but not until just after Ursula’s death. Thanks to some postcards that survived over the years, I know that Ursula was able to keep in touch with her “American” children. One card from Elsa to Hilaury in 1910 says:

Received your card with great joy. Thank you. Did you receive mine? Mother is very sad because you have not responded in so long. She is ill. Hopefully you are all healthy. The weather here is bad. Please respond as soon as you can. Sending you warmest wishes and kisses, your sister Elsa. Many greetings from your mother.

Ursula passed away on 21 January 1911 in Regensburg. She was 64 years old. The photo she left behind of the first half of her family certainly pleases me.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Götz
  • Ahnentafel: #21 (my 2nd great-grandmother)
  • Parents: Joseph Dallmeier (or Dallmayr) (1819-?) and Ursula Eichinger (1820-?)
  • Born: 21 September 1846 in Prittlbach, Dachau, Bavaria, Germany
  • Siblings: Therese Dallmayr Effner (b. 1845), Michael Dallmayr (1848-1906), Katharina (b. 1849), Sebastian (b. 1853), Maria (b. 1855), Kreszenz (b. 1856), Josef (1858-1859), Magdalena (b. 1860)
  • Married: Josef Bergmeister  on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Hermann Götz, date between 1876-1885, likely in Regensburg
  • Children: Hilaury Bergmeister Thumann (1870-1943), Maria (1871-1871), Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
  • Died: 21 January 1911 in Regensburg


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 14: Favorite Photo


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My great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, 1915 and a sepia-enhanced photo of actor Jon Hamm playing his character, Don Draper, on Mad Men

One day I realized that my great-grandfather may have been like Don Draper. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last eight years or really don’t watch television at all, “Don Draper” is a character on AMC’s Mad Men played by actor Jon Hamm. He’s quite a character, so let me explain before you get the wrong idea about my great-grandfather! I certainly don’t mean to imply that he’s an unfaithful womanizer like Don; in fact, my great-grandfather was faithfully married to the same woman for 42 years (which ended then due to his death). I also don’t mean to imply that he was a raging alcoholic like Don; my great-grandfather enjoyed drinking with his neighborhood buddies, but he’s the only one of my great-grandfathers that’s never been called a drunk by the family. Great-grandpa also wasn’t an “ad man” like Don – he worked for a tool and dye factory. Great-grandpa was also not a really awful father like Don – he had eight children and loved them all far better than Draper shows his love on tv.

So, if he was opposite from Don Draper in all of Don’s most identifying habits, why do I compare them? Because, like Don, he may have had a secret.

If you’ve never watched the show (which returns tomorrow night for its final seven episodes), go binge on Netflix. Mad Men is worth it for the storytelling alone not to mention the characters, fine acting, and overall style of the show. But I’m not going to call this a spoiler alert, because it happened way back in the first season of the show in 2007: Don Draper is not Don Draper. Don is really Dick Whitman. In the Korean War, he switched dog tags with the real Don Draper in an effort to get away from Dick’s sorry past. He returned from the war with the new identity – a man running from his past who reinvented himself only to still suffer the effects of the past.

In my great-grandfather’s case, it’s all mystery and conjecture. His name was Joseph Zawodny…or was it?

If the story had been told to me by my grandmother, I’d have enjoyed the tale and laughed about it later. Because Nan was like that, telling stories that were better than the actual truth. But this particular story was told by my mother – an extremely trustworthy source even considering she was about 8 years old when it happened.

What happened was Joseph died. It was 1944, three days after D-Day. Joseph was 64 years old and died rather suddenly after falling ill with pneumonia. My mother, with her parents (her mother was Joseph’s daughter) and sister, lived in the same house as Joseph for several years prior to his death. Shortly after his death, she recalls a knock on the door. A man presented himself to my grandmother and declared that his name was Joseph Zawodny…the real Joseph Zawodny. He claimed that my great-grandfather used his name to get into the United States. The man revealed that Joseph’s real name was Joseph Andrew Müller. My grandmother became quite irate at the man’s accusation and told him to leave. But my mother, the 8-year-old listening quietly in the corner, never forgot how shaken her mother looked afterwards.

When I began my genealogical research, I assumed I’d find the truth. My mother believed wholeheartedly that this mystery man, the other Joseph Zawodny, was telling the truth. I started my research. I found Joseph’s – make that my Joseph’s – entry into the United States on April 6, 1902. His wife, Wacława, followed him to Philadelphia the following year. Since they were already married prior to immigration, once I learned the town name I was able to research their marriage record. There it was: only two month’s prior to Joseph’s emigration, the couple got married.

I explained my findings to my mother – based on what I found, I don’t think the story of the fake name was correct. It was one thing to enter the United States on a “fake” passport, but I found his wedding with that same name. The town was small enough that others would surely have known if the man wasn’t who he said he was.

Rather than being happy about my research conclusion, my mother disagreed. “So he used his name to marry her then. In fact, maybe she married the real Joseph (Józef) Zawodny, but was really in love with our Joseph Müller. Rather than scandalize her family, they left…with him using her real husband’s name.”

Mom seemed pretty proud of this “assumed a new identity for love” theory. I had to admit, it was a good story. And one other little family history fact led credence to it – for some reason, my great-grandmother’s parents were so upset at her either marrying or leaving Poland that they never communicated with her again. My grandmother told my mother that Wacława’s letters to her parents were returned unopened. Her parents were alive for almost twenty years after she emigrated, so it did beg the question – why were they so upset with her?

For good measure, I actually started researching some of the other Polish immigrants named Joseph Zawodny. There were a few, and I figured if I could tie one back to Dobrosołowo, where my guy was married, or to the nearby town where he was born, it would give me reason to pause. But so far, the other immigrants named Joseph Zawodny arrived from elsewhere.

Genealogists love a good story. But we love proof of a good story even more. So far, all of my research into Joseph’s life is consistent. He always provided the same date of birth, which neatly turned out to be the birth date of a man named Józef Zawodny in Komorowo, a small town in Russian-occupied Poland quite close to the German-occupied border.

There’s just one thing… Józef’s baptismal record and marriage record indicated that his name was Józef with no middle name. On almost all of the American records, the man now called Joseph also did not indicate a middle name. No middle name on his draft cards, insurance applications, children’s birth or death records. No middle name ever provided until 1938 when Joseph applies for Social Security. On the application, he writes his name as “Joseph Andy Zawodny.” Andy? As in Andrew (or Andrzej in Polish). Ironically, he filled it out on 4/1, April Fools’ Day, but I doubt that is significant…humorous, but not significant.

If this were a television show, the camera would zoom in on the name “Andy” and fade to black for a commercial break.

I know who my great-grandfather was. He was a loving father and husband and a devout Catholic. That should be enough, but I want to know the story because, as my Mom puts it, why would someone take the trouble to come to the door and make that story up?

The genealogical proof standard has led me to believe he did not pull a “Don Draper” and he was the man he claimed to be in all the records I’ve found. In fact, the only way to possibly dispute it is through DNA testing, because his Y-DNA line is still active. Unfortunately, none of Joseph’s other children ever heard the story of the mystery man at the door – or if they did hear it, they heard it from my grandmother who liked to tell stories. So I haven’t yet attempted convincing a cousin to help me solve the mystery.

Was Joseph Zawodny really Joseph Müller? Even if I find out through DNA testing, I will never know the true story of what would compel a man, much like the fictional character of Don Draper, to reinvent his identity by assuming another man’s name. If he did, he’s the anti-Don Draper in a sense, because no matter who he had been, he became a good man – for that’s the man his family knew here in America. On television, poor Don already was a good man as young Dick, but in trying to elude his past and creating Don he’s become a man who tries to be a good man, but is never quite sure if he’s really good enough and fails at being truly good. Hopefully, Don’s story will end well in the upcoming weeks. I may never know the end of Joseph’s real story – or rather, the beginning!

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated two days after trip to Coblenz.

20 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Burg Eltz located between Koblenz and Trier

Front: Burg Eltz located between Koblenz and Trier

Back: Ferdinand has a lot to say, but unfortunately nothing about his visit to the castle!

Back: Ferdinand has a lot to say, but unfortunately nothing about his visit to the castle!

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m Sept. 20.12.  Freund Max und Lary ich habe mein Ticket für retur zu Fahren schon gelöst fahre am 26. Oktober mit Graf Walder See von Hamburg ab Franz Hahlm auch denke wir kommen in eine Cabine das Wetter ist jetzt besser wir hatten bevor immer Kalt und Regen fahre nächsten Sontag nach Baiern mit dem Auto Es grüßt, Ferdinand.  schicke ein Bundel Zeitungen Englisch ver………   Lass bald was hören von dir


Offenbach a/m. September 20.12.  Friend Max and Lary. I already purchased my return ticket and will go on October 26 on the Graf Waldersee from Hamburg with Franz Hahlm also. I think we will take a cabin. The weather is better now, previously it was always cold and rainy. I will go next Sunday to Bavaria by car. Greetings, Ferdinand.  Sending a bundle of newspapers English (cut off, not legible). Respond soon.

Ferdinand has already set his return date – five weeks away on October 26 he will board the steamship Graf Waldersee in Hamburg with his friend Franz. In the meantime, weather has improved and he’s going to Bavaria soon. But Ferdinand fails to mention anything about view on the front of the card, the beautiful Burg Eltz. He must have visited the site on his way back from Coblenz, the last card he sent.

It’s too bad we don’t get his impressions of it. Unlike some of the other places he’s been so far, this one was unharmed by the Second World War and looks much the same as it does on this card…which is much the same as it’s looked for centuries! Burg Eltz has been owned by the same family for 850 years – that’s 33 generations. It is one of three castles on the left bank of the Rhine that were never destroyed over the centuries. The castle (or parts of it) is open to the public for tours and, luckily for anyone that is in Germany or will be soon, it just re-opened for the season two days ago.

Part 11 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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The theme for Week 13 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Different” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandmoter, Teofila Zakrzewska Pater .  The theme of “Different” could have allowed me to choose any of my ancestors, for I am different from all of them in one respect: I will never be anyone’s ancestor. I chose to highlight one of my female ancestors in Poland who led a life very different from mine.

Teofila’s Story

Teofila Zakrzewska was born on 27 December 1840 in a small town called Mariampol near Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland. Her father, Karol Zakrzewski, was a farmer. Teofila was his first child with his wife Rozalia Kowalska. Karol was married before and had at least three children already. Rozalia was also a widow.

Teofila had two brothers: Wincenty and Józef. Sadly, their father died at the age of 55 in 1854. At the time of his death, Teofila was only 13 years old. Their mother did not remarry and lived until the age of 67.

Teofila meets the definition of different as she is the only ancestor in my family tree with the beautiful name Teofila! The name is the feminine version of Teofil, which means “friend of God”. Her parents practiced the Polish custom of naming their children based on the saint’s feast day on the day of their birth or closest to it: the feast of St. Teofila is 28 December and she was born on the 27th. The family name of Zakrzewski may look different to American eyes, but it was a very common surname, especially in the area where she was born.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 7.44.01 PM.pngTeofila’s life was a lot different than mine. The biggest difference is that she got married at the age of 18. She and her husband, Jan Pater, went on to have ten children in the next twenty-four years! My 2nd great-grandfather, Józef Pater, was their third child.

Teofila would live long enough to know many of her grandchildren. In 1905, she said good-bye to her son Józef when he left for America. His wife and six children would follow in the next two years. I have not followed up on all of Teofila’s children since the records switch to the Russian language in 1868 (which is more difficult to translate), but I do know that at least three other children lived to adulthood: Marcin, Paulina, and Stanisław.

Teofila died on 15 November 1907 in Żyrardów just a month before her 67th birthday. Her husband Jan lived for another ten months before he also passed away.

Like many of my Polish ancestors, Teofila lived her entire life in a very small area in central Poland, but the country of Poland did not exist during her lifetime. It was under Russian occupation. Her grandchildren who did not emigrate to America would live to see Poland re-emerge on the map of Europe in 1918. Teofila’s grandson, Józef Pater, was one of the men who fought for Poland’s freedom.

Teofila’s life was quite different from mine and I don’t know much about her other than what I’ve discovered in birth, marriage, and death records. But I am very grateful for her life and the love she had for her family.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Teofila Zakrzewska Pater
  • Ahnentafel: #49 (my 3rd great-grandmother)
  • Parents: Karol Zakrzewski (1799-1854) and Rozalia Kowalska (1808-1875)
  • Born: 27 December 1840 in Mariampol, Jaktorów, Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland
  • Siblings: Wincenty (b. 1846), Józef (b. 1853); Half-siblings: Jana Elżbieta (b. 1825), Wojciech (b. 1827), Magdalena (b. 1829)
  • Married: Jan Pater (1834-1908) on 10 October 1859 in Wiskitki, Poland
  • Children: Marcin (b. 1860), Ewa (b. 1862), Józef (1864-1945), Antonina (b. 1867), Paulina (b. 1874), Paweł (b. 1876), Bronisława (b. 1877), Bronisław (b. 1879), Władysław (b. 1882), Stanisław (b. 1884)
  • Died: 15 November 1907 in Żyrardów, Poland
  • My Line of Descent: Teofila Zakrzewska Pater-> Józef Pater-> Ludwik Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 13: Different


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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his car trip to Burg Rheinstein as he drives back along the left side of the Rhine.

18 September 1912 ~ Coblenz, Germany

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Front: The Kaiser Wilhelm monument in Coblenz.

Back: No time to write!

Back: No time to write!

The postcard reads:

Habe diese Karte auf dem Denkmal gekauft Hatte keine Zeit zu schreiben schr…. (or) Schwörie (?) in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand


Bought this card at the memorial. Had no time to write. Schwörie in Bad Ems.  Ferdinand

There is slight confusion over Ferdinand’s handwriting on this card. My cousin was not sure about the word after schreiben (write) but I think it may be the elusive friend referred to as Schwörie. This would make sense if the message is he had no time to write at the memorial where he bought the card and he’s telling his friends that he is now in Bad Ems, quite close to Coblenz, with Schwörie?

If you’ve never heard of the town of Coblenz, that’s because the spelling was changed in 1926 to Koblenz. Situated where the rivers Rhine and Mosel meet is the monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, who, as we’ve learned from several of the monuments visited by Ferdinand thus far, was celebrated for the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was built in 1897. The equestrian statue of Wilhelm was designed by a sculptor named Emil Hundreiser who was a student of Rudolf Siemering whose work we’ve met earlier in Ferdinand’s trip.

The quote on the monument read:”Nimmer wird das Reich zerstöret, wenn ihr einig seid und treu” (Never will the Empire be destroyed, so long as you are united and loyal). In 1945, an American artillery shell hit the monument and its remains were removed shortly thereafter. However, in 1993 – nearly one hundred years after the initial statue – a replica was inaugurated. It still represented German unity – only this time as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of East and West Germany.

Part 10 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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The theme for Week 12 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Same” and my ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer. In modern times, Ignaz might be called “Junior” – for he had a lot of the same details of his life in common with his father.

Ignaz’s Story

Ignaz Echerer was born on 21 Dec 1803 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria. A lot of the facts of Ignaz’s life are remarkably the same as his father, and the similarities begin at birth. First, they have the same name – both are named Ignaz Echerer. Next, they were both born in the same house in Pfaffenhofen. Today that address is called Löwenstraße 14. From 1810 to 1861, house numbers were used in lieu of numbered street addresses, so it was house #55. Prior to the official mapping of the town in 1810, the same house was known as house #67 in the 2nd quarter. But, no matter what you call it, the house was the same structure. The street (formerly called Judengasse), is located a block away from the main hauptplatz – or the town square. Ignaz (the younger) would later move in 1847 to a different house.

Portion of an 1810 map of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm - the house of Ignaz Echerer is marked with the red arrow

Portion of an 1810 map of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm – the house of Ignaz Echerer is marked with the red arrow. The town’s church is in the lower left marked with the cross.

As most sons in 17th through early 19th century Bavaria, young Ignaz followed in the footsteps of his father – no pun intended by that phrase, for his occupation was shoemaker! It was common to run the business for the craft in the bottom floor of the house in which the family lived, so Ignaz would have grown up learning the trade – just as his father learned from his father and grandfather.

Ignaz (the younger) got married to Magdalena Nigg on 19 Feb 1844; he was 40 years old and the bride was 36. This was a common age for men to marry in that time and place, although the bride is slightly older than usual and explains why the couple did not have as many children as most couples, including Ignaz’s parents. This is one fact that is not the same as his father, for Ignaz the elder was about 31 when he got married. However, there is another marriage fact that is the same between the two men: both married a woman who was not only also from Pfaffenhofen, but both were the daughters of a different kind of craftsman. In my Bavarian research I’ve found that brides were often daughters of the same craft but from a different town. In other words, both men might have married a shoemaker’s daughter from a neighboring town. Instead, Ignaz the elder married the daughter of a glassmaker in town, and their son Ignaz married the daughter of a carpenter in town (profiled in Week #10).

The entry in the marriage index for Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg. Note the look of the name "Echerer" in German  Sütterlin script.

The entry in the marriage index for Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg. Note the look of the name “Echerer” in German Sütterlin script.

Ignaz and Magdalena had at least three children. Unlike his father, he didn’t give his son the same name, but instead named him Karl, quite possibly after his father-in-law.

Ignaz died on 01 Feb 1874 at the age of 70. His wife lived another four years. I can’t say if Ignaz had the same life span has his father, because I haven’t found his parents’ death records. One great thing about this 52 Ancestors challenge is that I’m finding out where my research could use some additional re-search! The Echerer line in Pfaffenhofen was the very first ancestral line I “found” – but as a beginner I didn’t document my facts as well as I should have. Not to mention that those were the days before you could make a digital copy of the records you found.

Ignaz Echerer and his father has a lot of things about their lives that were the same: same name, born in the same house, born and likely died in the same town where they lived their entire lives. They were both shoemakers, and likely worked side by side in the same shop. And they both married women in the same town who were daughters of non-shoemakers. They also had many things that were different though – the elder Ignaz lost his own father when he was only 13. He also got married younger and had more children, and quite likely died in that same house in which he was born.

I wonder if their personalities were the same or if they were polar opposites?

Just the Facts

  • Name: Ignaz Echerer
  • Ahnentafel: #44 (my 3rd great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Ignaz Echerer (1765-?) and Maria Anna Kaillinger (1768-?)
  • Born: 21 Dec 1803 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
  • Siblings: Rosalia Echerer (1796-1880); Xaver Echerer (*1799); Johann Evangelist Echerer (*1802); Johann Nepomuk Echerer (*1806-aft 1842); Anton Echerer (*1808); Elizabeth Echerer (*1810); Xaver Echerer (*1812)
  • Married: Magdalena Nigg (1807-1878)
  • Children: Therese Echerer (*1845); Karl Echerer (*1846-aft 1882); Barbara Echerer Dichtl (*1849-aft 1894)
  • Died: 01 Feb 1874 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
  • My Line of Descent: Ignaz Echerer-> Karl Echerer-> Maria Echerer Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 12: Same


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the same day of his trip to Niederwald, but he has a lot more to say…

16 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Front: Burg Rheinstein

Back: Ferdinand is "cruising" the Rhine by car

Back: Ferdinand is “cruising” the Rhine by car

The postcard reads:

Liebe Freunde bin gestern mit dem Auto von Offenbach den Rhein runter nach Rüdesheim u. Fahre Morgen nach Koblenz an dem linken Rhein Ufer da ist sehr vieles zu Sehen werde Euch eine Karte schicken Schwörie last fragen wan ich zurück fahre bin noch nicht gewiß wach denke Oktober 26 Graf WalderSee habe noch nicht fest gemacht. Euch Alle zu denken. Grüße Ferdinand. Grüße an Julius und Herman


Dear friends, Yesterday I took the car from Offenbach along the Rhine to Rüdesheim. Tomorrow, I’ll drive to Koblenz alongside the left bank of the Rhine. There is a lot to see. I will send you a card. Schwörie asks when I will drive back. I am not sure yet but think October 26. Have not fully planned. Count Waldersee. Thinking of you all, Ferdinand. Best wishes to Julius & Herman

Ferdinand sends a much longer message than his last postcard, but given that it’s the same exact day he can be forgiven for his brevity last time!  He is once again taking a car for day trips from Offenbach, which is located just outside of Frankfurt. In 1912, I doubt that cars were common. How refreshing a car trip along the Rhine would be without hundreds of other cars doing the same!

He writes again of “Schwörie” who is apparently a mutual friend. He mentions possibly returning home on the Graf Waldersee on October 26.  Will he? Stay tuned… Also, in this postcard he sends his greetings to Laura’s (half)brothers, Julius and Herman Goetz, so he likely knew them as well. No mention of her brother who is my great-grandfather though!

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Map of some towns along the Rhine river.

Today’s trip takes Ferdinand to one of the marvelous castles along the Rhine, Burg Rheinstein. Amazingly, the castle was constructed in the early 1300’s. However, after the Nine Years’ War in the late 1600’s, the castle was left in ruins. It was rebuilt from 1825-1844 thanks to Prince Frederick of Prussia. Although it is privately owned, it is open to the public for tours. It is rather impressive even if it’s not the original (then again, would I really want to walk around in a 700-year-old-castle that’s perched on the side of a cliff?)  I hope to visit it on my next trip to the Rhineland.

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Photo of the Burg Rheinstein gardens taken in 2009 by gogoninja https://www.flickr.com/photos/gogoninja/3782060210

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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The theme for Week 11 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Luck of the Irish” and my ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather, Jakob Zinsmeister. As you can probably guess by Jakob’s name, he wasn’t Irish. My challenge for this week was the fact that I have zero Irish ancestry. I realize that these weekly themes are “optional” but for me, they aren’t – that is what makes it a personal creative challenge. I’ve been writing about more than 52 ancestors here for the last seven years; finding a story that fits makes it fun.

The English major in me wondered what the phrase “Luck of the Irish” means and where it came from. According to that super-reliable source, the internet, half of the sites say the phrase came about due to the luck of Irish immigrants in surviving tough mining work. But just as many sites insist the phrase is meant in a more sarcastic or even derogatory tone meaning that the Irish are the unluckiest people in the world.

My Bavarian ancestor, Jakob Zinsmeister, had what I would call a rather unlucky demise. So, depending upon your personal view of the phrase, he either had the luck of the Irish or could have used some!

Jakob’s Story

Jakob Zinsmeister was born around the year 1741, probably in the small town in which he spent his life, Puch, near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in Bavaria, Germany. Although some church records date back to 1612 for the town, the birth records from 1690 to 1764 are not available. Therefore, I do not know Jakob’s birth date or his parents names.

Jakob married Josepha Mair and they had at least four children that lived to adulthood: sons Konrad and Andreas, and daughters Kreszens (my 4th great-grandmother) and Franziska. Jakob was a farmer in Puch – the town is so small that it was either a very small farm or he was one of the only farmers in the town.

Death of Jakob Zinsmeister from the Catholic Church records of Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bayern, Germany.

Death of Jakob Zinsmeister from the Catholic Church records of Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bayern, Germany.

I don’t know if Jakob was either lucky or unlucky in his life, but he was surely unlucky in death. On 09 May 1796, Jakob was killed suddenly at the age of 56. The Latin death record shown above is translated as: “On May 9, by a tree suddenly dropped from a cart in the forest of the Puch community, was killed and here buried the honest Jacob Zinsmeister, farmer, aged 56.”

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jakob Zinsmeister
  • Ahnentafel: #162 (my 5th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: unknown
  • Born: about 1741, presumably in Puch, Bavaria
  • Siblings: unknown
  • Married: Josepha Mair (1750-1832)
  • Children: Konrad Zinsmeister, Andreas Zinsmeister (1775-?), Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister (1776-1852), Franziska Zinsmeister Kölbl (1784-1845)
  • Died09 May 1797 in Puch, Bavaria
  • My Line of Descent: Jacob Zinsmeister-> Kreszens Zinsmeister Bergmeister-> Jakob Bergmeister-> Josef Bergmeister->Josef Bergmeister->Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 11: Luck of the Irish


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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated a whole week after his trip to Frankfurt. It’s also his shortest message to date…

16 September 1912 ~ Niederwald, Germany

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Front: The Nationaldenkmal near Rüdesheim

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

Back: Ferdinand keeps it short!

The postcard reads:

Herzliche Grüße von Eurem Freund Ferdinand


Warmest greetings from your friend Ferdinand

We’ve all done it…sent a perfunctory postcard with only the words “thinking of you” or “wish you were here” or even “warmest greetings from your friend.” But it’s definitely the thought that counts, and given that Ferdinand has written to his friends every step of the way so far, he can be forgiven for the rather brief message on the card that’s featured this week.

This postcard features the Nationaldenkmal in Niederwald which commemorates the foundation of the German Empire and the unification of Germany in 1871. The monument was sculpted from 1877 to 1883 and reads (in German, of course): “In memory of the unanimous victorious uprising of the German People and of the reinstitution of the German Empire 1870-1871.”

Part 8 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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The theme for Week 10 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Stormy Weather” and my ancestor is my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg. He survived some very stormy weather back in 1813 and I managed to find a newspaper account of the storm, its effects, and Karl’s role in the event. I previously told this story in a post from 2011 entitled It was a Dark and Stormy Night, but it fits perfectly with the “Stormy Weather” theme.

Karl’s Story

Karl Leonard Nigg was born on 04 Nov 1767 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria to Phillip Nigg and Anna Maria Cramer. Phillip was Pfaffenhofen’s Stadtmaurermeister – the city’s “master mason”. During this time period it was inevitable that sons followed in their father’s footsteps regarding their occupation, so it was rather unusual that Karl did not become a mason. Instead, he chose another construction trade – carpentry. But in looking more closely at the genealogical records, the reason may very well be that Karl’s father died in 1774 when Karl was only six years old. Although his mother re-married (twice) and his step-fathers were also masons, he did not choose this path.

On 10 May 1794, Karl married Maria Theresia Höck, the daughter of the city’s “master carpenter” – perhaps Karl was influenced by his future father-in-law at a young age and chose his profession that way. At the time of their marriage, Karl was 26 years old and Maria Theresia was 25. They had at least ten children – not all survived infancy as was typical for that time and place, but at least three daughters (Theres, Magdalena, and Rosalia) and possibly one son (Josef) lived to adulthood since references were found to their marriages.

By 1794, Karl was already the Stadtzimmermeister or the city of Pfaffenhofen’s master carpenter. Bavarian trade guilds usually required a man to go through various stages to learn his craft. As a teenager, he would become an apprentice to learn the craft for several years. The next stage was journeyman, when he was expected to journey to other towns to learn from other masters. Once he passed an exam for the master level, he would be allowed to hire other journeyman or apprentices to work in his shop. It appears that the Stadtzimmermeister would be a master carpenter who is the city’s “official” carpenter in charge of city structures.

I have found a few references to Karl in some newspapers that were digitized. One indicates that, as Stadtzimmermeister, he went to Scheyern Abbey in 1803 to measure out the entire abbey in order to determine its worth under the “secularization” of Bavaria. There are a few references to his service in the military or militia in the early 1800’s, including promotions. But the most interesting reference I found tells a story about stormy weather. It also gives some interesting insight into the type of man that Karl was.

Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813. It was a dark and stormy night...

Münchener politische Zeitung Issue 162, July 1813. It was a dark and stormy night…

In 1813, a violent thunderstorm took place in the city of Pfaffenhofen. The storm had so many lightening strikes that a barn caught on fire. It was filled with hay, so the fire quickly spread to other buildings. Here is the rather dramatic newspaper account¹ of the storm and resultant fire:

Bavaria. Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 3 July 1813.  The big storm that occurred in our town on 30 June caused a great havoc, since the lightning that accompanied him seems to have uniquely discharged only here. The clouds stood so low that one flash of lightning followed another, and almost every flash fell down on earth but mainly fell on the high-pointed tower of the town’s church. A lightning flash hit a barn filled with straw in a side alley, which immediately ignited nine other hay and straw-filled barns that were mostly very old already and not well built.

Despite very nearly all the possible obstacles of nature united so that even the most determined men gave up all hope of rescuing even one single house throughout the city, every attempt was made with the greatest consternation to stop the fire line that was spreading with enormous speed during the continuing storm, which turned in all directions in rapid alternations, and with the rain pouring down where you could barely see what was in front of you.

Miraculously, after the toughest six-hour battle against the violent storm wind, the flames were pushed down on the floor and prevented from spreading further; the fire itself could only be put off today.  The courage in the apparent dangers,  the skill and presence of mind of Master Carpenter Nigg and Master Mason Pickl, which both have distinguished themselves so often in similar cases, could not be praised enough.

The fire would not have burned down so many buildings if these old buildings were not built so badly and if they had been equipped with proper fire walls. As lucky as the town was with this great misfortune, the damage that was suffered on the buildings and the carriages can be estimated at approximately 80,000 fl., not considering the fire insurance sum of 14,000 fl. for a total of 5 houses, 4 stables and 9 barns.  Several smaller building nearby were enflamed which included the buildings of three farmers, that of Franzbräuer, Kreitmaierbräuers and Zuhammers. However, no one was seriously injured during their work.

According to news received from the state court, this terrible thunderstorm was spread over many miles and caused great devastation in the forests and woods. The lightning hit very often, but nothing else was set on fire. Highly remarkable is the strange fact that two years ago on 01 July, a similar thunderstorm along with a tornado-like storm caused great devastation when a lightning strike hit the church tower of Pfaffenhofen, set a farm in the area on fire, and caused a damage of at least 50,000 fl. due to a severe rainstorm and hail.

Based on this article, it seems that Karl Nigg was well regarded in the town for his courage, skill, and “presence of mind” and it seems that it’s not the first time he distinguished himself in that manner. The storm must have been frightening for his family. His daughter Magdalena, my 3rd great-grandmother, was only six years old, and her sisters Theres and Rosalia were 8 and 2.

I haven’t uncovered much more about Karl Nigg – definitely nothing as interesting as the story of the storm! He died on 01 August 1844 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm at the age of 76.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Karl Leonard Nigg
  • Ahnentafel: #90 (my 4th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Phillip Nigg (unknown-14 Mar 1774) and Anna Maria Cramer (b&d unknown)
  • Born: 04 Nov 1767 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
  • Siblings: Franz (22 Jan 1760- 31 Jan 1760), Sebastian (Jan 1761-?), Maria Ursula Euphemia (26 Sep 1762-?), Maria Antonia (28 May 1764-17 Jul 1774), Josef Anton (01 Apr 1766-?), Maria Anna (17 Aug 1769-?), Georg Michael (29 Sep 1770-1770), Maria Franziska (18 Jan 1773-05 Apr 1774)
  • Married: Maria Theresia Höck (27 Apr 1769-unknown) on 10 May 1794 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
  • Children: Josef Nigg (28 Feb 1795-?), Maria Anna Nigg (24 May 1796-?), Theres Nigg (20 Aug 1797-?), Johann Nigg (28 Feb 1800-?), Maria Anna Nigg (08 Apr 1802-?), Theres Nigg Kainz (26 May 1805-?), Magdalena Nigg Echerer (1807-1878), Barbara Nigg (23 Apr 1809-?), Rosalia Nigg Aicher (1811-?), Elizabeth Nigg (27 Aug 1814-?)
  • Died: 01 August 1844 (age 76) in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria
  • My Line of Descent: Karl Nigg-> Magdalena Nigg Echerer-> Karl Echerer-> Maria Echerer Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me


¹ Münchener politische Zeitung: mit allerhöchstem Privilegium. Page 757, Issue 162, July 1813.  Publisher: Wolf, 1813. Original from the Bavarian State Library, digitized Sep 17, 2010.  Accessed via Google Books:http://books.google.com/books?id=DidEAAAAcAAJ. The full text does not appear to be available as of March 6, 2015.


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 10: Stormy Weather


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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). This week’s card is dated the day after his road trip to Loreleifelsen. He continues to make day trips from Offenbach – this time he’s off to Frankfurt to see a monument similar to one back in Philly…

9 September 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Front: The Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt a. Main

Back: The bad weather continues...

Back: The bad weather continues…

The postcard reads:

Offenbach Sep.9.12 Freund Max und Lary, den mir sehr werthen Brief von 28. Aug habe ich erhalten und freude mich sehr, und sehe darauß daß es Euch Gut geth. mir geht es auch ganz Gut nur haben wir so schlechtes Wetter immer Regen wir hatten so weit kaum 6 Tage SonnenSchein mein Kopfweh ist auch besser. Schwörie hatte mir von Konstanz geschrieben, Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand


Offenbach Sep.9.12  Friend Max and Lary, I have received the precious letter from August 28 with much joy and see that you are doing well. I am also well but we only have bad weather, always rain. So far, we have barely had six days of sunshine. My headache is also better. Schwörie wrote to me from Konstanz. My best wishes to you all, Ferdinand

A few comments on the message before discussing the monument on the postcard. First, this is the first time we hear that the communication is two-way – he’s receiving letters from his friends! Second, the weather sounds a lot like my last trip to Germany…I think it’s a universal trait of human nature to whine about unpleasant weather while on vacation. Only six days of sunshine? Poor Ferdinand, he’s been there for a month! Finally, Schwörie must be a nickname or name of a friend…the name comes up in a few of Ferdinand’s postcards and must be part of their group of friends.

My research on the image on the card has given me a lot of information though! The card features a photo of the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt, a massive monument built in honor of Otto von Bismarck. The monument was created by German sculptor Rudolf Siemering who made quite a few monuments throughout Germany. It appears that this particular one, however, no longer exists – it was melted down during World War 2. But at the time of Ferdinand’s visit, it was relatively new. Wikipedia claims it was erected in 1908; however, Siemering died in 1905 so I’m not sure if that is correct or if it didn’t get put in place until years after he created it.

Public domain image of Siemering's Washington Monument in Philadelphia

Public domain image of Siemering’s Washington Monument in Philadelphia

In reading about Rudolf Siemering’s life, I found a very interesting parallel. Ferdinand didn’t have to travel back to Germany to view one of his monuments to a great man – because there was one in his new home in Philadelphia. In 1879-1880, an international competition was held for a Philadelphia monument to George Washington. Siemering submitted the winning design, and he completed it in 1897. President William McKinley presided at the dedication ceremony. The original location of the monument, which is where it stood at the time of Ferdinand’s arrival in Philadelphia as well as his trip back home, was in Fairmount Park. But it was moved in 1928 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and it still sits there today. Last summer I actually used it as a “meet me” point for some friends, and as I waited I admired the sculpture without knowing any of its history. I’d love to know how it was moved in 1928 – it is massive. At the top is the statue of Washington on his horse. The pedestal shows an allegorical America and two German-Americans from history, Peter Muhlenberg and Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. The bottom area has figures of native Americans, large animals native to America, and four famous American rivers – the Delaware, Hudson, Potomac, and Mississippi.

Was Ferdinand familiar with the Washington monument in Philadelphia? And did he know that the sculptor was the same as the Bismarckdenkmal in Frankfurt? Both equestrian monuments are dedicated to great leaders. Bismarck unified Germany into one nation in 1871 from thirty different kingdoms, city-states, and principalities and during his 19-year reign as chancellor he kept Germany out of military conflict. Washington unified the thirteen colonies against Great Britain and became the father of America (and also kept America out of the conflict between France and Britain). Both leaders are so respected in their own countries that there are monuments dedicated to these two men all over their home countries. Oddly enough, I found statues of them in other countries as well, but I couldn’t find a Washington monument in Germany or a Bismarck monument in the United States.

Part 7 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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

Mae’s Story

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Mae, Anita, Henry, and Joan, 1938

Mae, Anita, Henry, and Joan, 1938

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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


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


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In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). On last week’s card, dated 28 August 1912, Ferdinand was on his way to Munich. But the next card in the collection is over a week later! Either Ferdinand was too busy to send a postcard (highly unlikely!) or perhaps Laura gave the card to her brother who had lived in Munich for a while. Or it was simply lost over time. Unfortunately we don’t have details about Ferdinand’s time in between, but now it’s September and he’s been back in Germany for almost a month!

8 September 1912 ~ St. Goar, Germany

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Front: Loreleifelsen a. Rhein

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river - in a car! Who got to ride "shotgun"?

Back: Cruising alone the Rhine river – in a car! Who got to ride “shotgun”?

The postcard reads:

 Liebe Freunde haben heute eine Auto Tur gemacht nach hier von Offenbach. sehr schön. mit Bruder Karl und Frau wir fahren jeden Tag wo anders hin. Es grüßt Euch alle herzlich Ferdinand


Dear friends, Today I did a car trip to here from Offenbach. Very beautiful. With brother Karl and wife we drive somewhere else nearly every day. With best wishes, Ferdinand

Ferdinand is cruising along the Rhine this week, only in a car, not a boat. The last card I posted had a car shown on the front which led me to research car makes and models in existence in 1912. I wasn’t able to identify it, but now Ferdinand remarks that he’s off on a car trip with his brother, Karl Müller, and Karl’s wife. I wonder what kind of car they had and how common that was (or wasn’t) at the time. I would assume that a car-owner at the time would be on the wealthier edge of society.

The road trip he shares with his friends back home is to Loreleifelsen. The Lorelei (or Loreley) is a large rock on the bank of the Rhine River near St. Goarshausen. Maybe “large” is an understatement – it soars about 400 feet above the river along what’s known as the Rhine Gorge that runs between the towns of Koblenz and Bingen. The name come from a word in the Rhine dialect that means “murmuring” and a Celtic word for “rock” – the Lorelei is the murmuring rock with the strange sound coming from the currents, a small waterfall, and an echo effect off of the rock!

Of course, given the nature of the rather unusual natural phenomenon, many myths attempt to tell the true story. One story attributes the murmuring sound to dwarves living in caves nearby. An 1801 poem speaks of a woman named Lore Lay who is sentenced to a nunnery for an act of betrayal. On the way to her punishment, she asked to stop at the rock for one last view of the Rhine. But from the top she leapt to her death…and the rock has echoed her name ever since.

In 1824 poet Heinrich Heine built upon that theme with a beautiful female atop the rock bewitching sailors with her singing and causing them to crash. Whether or not a siren-like female was to blame, this part of the gorge is quite dangerous and ships have crashed in the area – most recently a big tanker full of sulphuric acid in 2011.

It may be just a big rock along the river, but it sure is beautiful. And one thing’s for sure – it’s as big a tourist attraction today as it was in 1912 for Ferdinand and his family.

Part 6 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

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

Jan’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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


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


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