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Archive for the ‘Polish Towns’ Category

This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.  In today’s post, Part 3 will tell more about what happened after their arrival, how the family left behind fared in Poland after they left, and how everyone’s life eventually turned out.

The Family Left Behind

Before discussing the Schultz family’s life in America, one interesting question asked by the interviewer in 1985 was: “Do you have any idea of what would have happened to you if you stayed in Poland, if you hadn’t come here?”

Louise responded: “Pretty awful, because we came in 1913 and in 1914 the first World War broke out.” What happened to the grandparents, uncles, and aunts they left behind?

The children’s grandfather and Alfred’s father, Jan Miller, died just three weeks after they left Poland. He passed away on 25 August 1913, leaving Elżbieta a widow with three children still at home: Paweł, Ludwik, and Zofie.

When the war began, Żyrardów was on the front line. Hundreds of workers were drafted into the army. Because of the decrease in workers and the lack of raw materials, the factory began to reduce production. Food prices increased. As German troops made their way through Russian Poland, martial law was declared.

In early 1915, goods, raw materials, and machines were removed from the factory. The town was deserted due to forced digging of trenches, general displacement, and epidemics of infectious diseases. The worst came after the collapse of the front line of Płock-Bzura-Rawka. On the night of July 16, 1915, the retreating Russian army blew up the main factory buildings. By the end of 1915, the town was under German occupation. During that time, charity committees were abolished and strict food regulation was imposed.

In an article in The New York Times on October 26, 1915 (originally printed in The Chicago Tribune on September 24), reporter James O’Donnell Bennett writes about crossing “Russian Poland” which at that time in the war was in German or Austrian control. He writes:

Often in the last five days I have made the experiment of looking out over the wide landscape to see if I could find an unscathed tract of country. Always the experiment is a failure. Always a shattered church tower notches itself against the sky or a battered village lies crumpled at the edge of fields.

The reporter mentions several towns his party traveled through, including Żyrardów. He describes the whole country as “flyblown and sodden and a ‘nobody cares’ atmosphere envelops it…It is all waste and wreckage, wreckage and waste, a land of grime and ruin and sour smells, of silent fields and slatternly women, of weary sentries…”

Louise said her aunt eventually told her what it was like during the war and “how awful it was when the German army went through the town.” Louise realized that she and her siblings “just missed the horror of a war. They used to hide in cellars and had no food. My grandmother went from one farm to another to beg for a piece of bread.”

Ludwik Miller

I am not certain exactly what happened to Paweł Miller. According to Louise, her aunt Zofie said he was part of the Soviet roundups in Żyrardów that sent residents to Siberia. He did not return from the exile and presumably died there. Their sister, Karolina Miller Razer, may have suffered the same fate; Zofie said she died “in prison”.

Ludwik Miller, a young teenager, either joined or was conscripted into the Russian Army sometime during the Great War. He survived the experience and lived a long life. Ludwik did not immigrate to America. He married twice and had no children, and owned a footwear store in Żyrardów. He died there sometime after 1977.

Elizabeth Smetana Miller with great-granddaughter, Lucille (Louise’s daughter). Long Island, NY, 1925.

The oldest brother, Emil Miller, who was the first of the family to immigrate to America, actually returned to Poland in 1913 after the death of his father. He brought his wife and their children, two of whom were born in America, but after the war began there was no way to leave. Emil and one of his daughters died in Poland during the war. Emil’s wife, Zofja, and American-born son Edward could finally return to America in 1927 (Edward) and 1929 (Zofja). Another daughter stayed behind in Żyrardów.

Widowed Elżbieta and her youngest child, Zofie, would eventually immigrate to America themselves. They sailed aboard the Megantic from Liverpool and arrived in Portland, Maine on 10 December 1920.  Elżbieta, or Elizabeth as she was called in America, lived for a time with Alfred in New York, then with Mary in New Jersey.  She died on 08 November 1944.

The Schultz Family in America

Finally in America after a long, scary journey, Louise said, “My first impression was pretty awful! Because [in Poland] we lived surrounded by trees and orchards and little houses by themselves.” In America, they lived in downtown Manhattan “on 16th Street, that’s where we moved first. The place looked dirty to me, crowded dirty.”  But the family adjusted. Louise was particularly good at learning the new language and communicating on behalf of her parents who, according to her, did not make as much of an effort in assimilating.

The Schultz Family in America, circa 1923. Top row from left: Louise, Mary, Ludwig, Edward. Bottom row from left: Walter, Julia, Henry.

The Schultz family enjoyed their new lives in America. They lived in Brooklyn, then in New Jersey’s Somerset county. Eventually they moved to Metuchen in Middlesex county, New Jersey. Ludwig died in 1950 at the age of 77, and Mary in 1969 at the age of 85.

Henry, who never married, was the first of the Schultz children to die in 1954 at only 46 years old. Edward married and had three children; he died in 1984 at the age of 75. Walter, a decorated U.S. Army Air Corps veteran, died in 1986 at the age of 78. Louise, the source of this wonderful story, married twice and had two daughters; she died in 1990 at the age of 87. The youngest, Julia, married and moved to California where she had two children; she died in 2003 at the age of 93.

I should also note what happened to Alfred Miller, the brave teenaged uncle who brought his nieces and nephews to America! Alfred lived with the Schultz family for some time. In 1921, he got married. The couple had a daughter in 1922 and a son in 1926. Alfred died in 1969, two months after his sister Mary, in Piscataway, NJ.

The only Miller sibling that I did not provide an update on was Elizabeth, my great-grandmother. See her story and a photograph of her with her brother Alfred, sister Mary, and some of the Schultz children here.

Louise Schultz Nagy

When Louise was 82 years old, she was interviewed about the journey she took as a young girl for the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Thanks to that transcript, I was able to learn not only about traveling by ship to America, but also a little about her family, what life was like in Poland before and after she left, and her impressions about life in America. Thank you, cousin Louise, for sharing your journey with all of us!

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This 3-part series of posts uses my cousin’s interview in 1985 with the Ellis Island Oral History Project. Part 1 tells the story of Ludwig and Mary Schultz, who came to America in 1912 and temporarily left their five children with Mary’s parents. In today’s post, Part 2, their daughter, Louise, discusses  living with her grandparents and the eventual journey across the ocean to join their parents.

Crossing the Border

When Ludwig and Mary finally earned enough money to reunite with their children, their young Uncle Alfred was to be their guardian throughout the journey. Louise explains,

“My uncle, he was the ‘main cheese’ in the whole thing. He was like our father, mother, the whole thing – everything rolled into one. And he spoke for us, to whomever he had to speak, for everything.”

Uncle Alfred was seventeen years old! His older sister, my great-grandmother, immigrated alone four years earlier at the age of 18. Somehow I think her trip was much easier.

Louise explains that they all needed passports to travel, and they were expensive. They were purchased on what she calls “the black market” and “the underground” in order to get across the border from Poland to Germany, “because we had to get to Hamburg to get the ship.” They left after midnight, “in the black of night.”  Louise remembered crossing a “narrow little bridge” over water. Even though she was the oldest at 10 years old, she became afraid. Uncle Alfred carried the children over one by one, depositing them on the other side, in order to get them all across.

Louise describes having very little with them:

“You didn’t have matching luggage or anything like that. You just took a sheet or something, a rag, and you folded your belongings and you tied it in the four corners.”

Their most important belongings went into a wicker basket. However, as the family was crossing the border, Alfred was told to leave the meager baggage with someone who would take it to the port where they could pick it up. When Alfred went to retrieve it with a claim ticket, but their baggage was not there. Louise remembers that he “went two or three times, then he gave up, very down-hearted.” The unscrupulous man had stolen their belongings! “It didn’t only happen to us,” she said, “it happened to many families.”

What made this situation more difficult is that the youngest, Julia, was only 3 and still needed diapers. Louise had primarily responsibility for her little sister while Alfred cared for the three boys, and it was difficult to care for her without a change of clothes.

Journey by Ship

Louise’s (Ludwika Kazimira) Inspection Card

The party of six managed to travel to the port of Hamburg, over 500 miles away, and  boarded the S.S. Amerika on 06 August 1913.

The S.S. Amerika on the Hamburg-American Line

Once aboard the ship, the journey was even more difficult. They all suffered from “sea sickness, constantly.”  She describes the ship’s steerage compartment as being “one big floor of everybody. There was men, women, children; all languages, all nationalities.” Cups were given out, one per person. “But they didn’t give us enough. So in the nighttime, my brother would creep under somebody’s bunk and get extra cups.”

Louise said that every morning a man would yell, “Rouse, rouse, rouse” and they would have to quickly get out. “Everybody was like soldiers in the army. You had to get out that time and just go up on deck.” She thinks they would clean or sanitize the steerage floor at this time to prevent an outbreak of disease among the passengers.

Breakfast was served. “In the morning you got coffee. There was no such thing as children getting something different, that’s all you got. It was coffee, and Russian black bread or some kind of rolls.” At dinner, “we sat at these long tables, everybody together. We got a herring thrown on the plate and boiled potatoes.”

Arrival at Ellis Island

They finally arrived in New York City on 17 August. Louise remembers taking a ferry from the ship to Ellis Island. She explained,

“My parents came to pick us up the same day the ship landed. However, our name was Schultz, and my uncle’s name was Miller. I think we went under his name because he was the adult. When my parents came to pick us up, my father told the names. They said there’s no Schultz, he couldn’t find it. And my father didn’t believe them. He argued back and forth, but they couldn’t help him out. So they went home and they came back the next day. That means we had to spend a whole night there [at Ellis Island] and it was very scary to me.”

The family’s names listed on the passenger arrival record

Before they realized they were to be detained, they were processed through and had medical examinations. Louise remembered,

“They would examine your eyes, your chest, and your body in general, to see if you were healthy enough to come here if you didn’t have any contagious diseases. Consumption was a horror word, and I remember one man in particular – he must have been found consumptive and I remember him crying because he had to go back and couldn’t come into this country.”

In the Great Hall, “there were very few seats. It was so packed that you were almost standing close together. And I remember it was in August; it was very hot.” The hall “had such a resonance, the sound, the acoustics.” Several times a day a man would go up on a platform and call out names, which mean that someone was there to pick you up and you were allowed to leave. “And we waited and waited, we went each time they were calling the names.”

The Great Hall at Ellis Island – taken by the author on August 7, 2010

They continued to wait for their parents. After names were called, “everybody dispersed, just sat around or walked around waiting for the next call. And then it was night time and there were long tables for eating a little supper. I don’t remember the meals too much; the only thing I remember is that it was the very first time in our lives that we had slices of white bread. In Russia it was black bread!”

The doctors performing the examinations wore “white coats” but the other officials at Ellis Island wore uniforms. Louise thought they looked “like conductors on the street cars with peaked hats” and navy blue uniforms. They were “very abrupt, very short” and wanted everyone to “move, move, go, go, come.”

On 18 August, a presumably anxious Ludwig and Mary returned to collect their children. Louise said her father “went home very upset” that first day and “he didn’t know what to make of it.” The next morning, he returned and “made the official let him look at the book.” The official let him see the list, and he quickly found the names for his brother-in-law, Alfred Miller, and the five Schultz children. Louise remembers that they had to go outside, and a chain-linked fence separated the new immigrants from the family members that came to pick them up. “We had to identify each other,” Louise remembered,

“Now, I was the oldest, and the younger children did not know my parents. My mother had gotten stouter; she was a slim lady when she left us. And my father changed. So I had a rough time, but I had to say ‘Yes, that’s my father and that’s my mother’ and we finally went through the gates. That was it, we were finally in this country!”

In Part 3, we will learn more about what life was like for the family in America — and what life was like for the family they left behind in Poland.

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In the early days of my genealogical research (early 1990s), I was at an archive or a library and I stumbled upon a database to search for interviews in the Ellis Island Oral History Project. [Note: You can now search the project online, but not all of the interviews are available online. The story I am about to tell is not.]  I ran some of my great-grandparents’ surnames through, but did not get any hits. Then I tried the name of the town from which my mother’s paternal grandparents came: Żyrardów.  The search resulted in one hit – an interview with Louise Nagy. The name meant nothing to me. Even if it was indexed with her maiden name, Schultz, it still would have meant nothing. Żyrardów was a large town, and she was one of many residents who immigrated to America.

Fast forward about twenty years. I finally discovered my great-grandmother’s family. Elizabeth Pater’s maiden name was Miller, so it was a difficult search. But I discovered that she had several brothers and sisters. One sister, Mary, married a man named Schultz. They had five children: Louise, Edward, Henry, Walter, and Julia. I made contact with Julia’s daughter, who is my mother’s second cousin. She shared many wonderful photographs and provided me with many names and dates that I had not yet researched.

After corresponding by email for a few weeks, she wrote: “You might find this interview of my Aunt Louise interesting. It’s all about when they came over from Poland and landed in New York.” Attached was the transcript of her interview from the Ellis Island Oral History Project! Yes, her aunt – and my cousin – was the same Louise Nagy I had “found” and passed over so many years ago.

In my rush of research on the Miller and Schultz families in the weeks before that email, I had just located the passenger arrival record of the five Schultz children with their uncle, Alfred Miller. They immigrated in 1913 when Alfred was only 17 years old, and he led his nieces and nephews, aged 10, 9, 6, 5, and 3, on the long journey. That 10-year-old was Louise, who would eventually bear the surname Nagy through her second marriage; she is my great-grandmother’s niece. Now, thanks to an interview that took place in 1985 with the former 10-year-old, I was able to learn not only about the journey to America, but also about life in Żyrardów and living with her Miller grandparents, my great-great grandparents. There was also a tape recording, though not complete, of the interview, so I could actually hear the 82-year-old remember her trip to America from 72 years earlier.

I would like to share Louise’s story in a 3-part series not only because her story is so interesting, but because it is similar to the story of many of our ancestors who immigrated from Poland and other parts of Europe in the early twentieth century.

Before I jump right to the story of the journey by ship to America, I’d like to put the journey in historical context and describe her family’s situation at the time.

[Note: Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis; Ludwig is the German form. Ludwig Schultz used the German form of the name, while his brothers-in-law with the same first name used the Polish form, Ludwik.]

The Szulc / Schultz and Miller Families

Louise’s parents were Ludwig Schultz (Polish spelling: Szulc) and Mary Miller. Ludwig was born in 1873, possibly in Żyrardów like his wife, Mary, who was born there in 1884. Ludwig became a silversmith. According to the interview with Louise, the family used to travel for her father’s work. The Schultz children were all born in Zhytomyr, Volhynia (present day Ukraine). Their children were: Louise (Ludwika Kazmiera), born in 1903; Edward, born in 1904; Henry, born in 1906; Walter (Władysław), born in 1908; and Julianna (Julia), born in 1909.

The Schultz Family and Alfred Miller in 1910

By 1912, the family moved to Żyrardów, which is where Mary Miller Schultz was born and her parents and family still lived.

Mary’s parents were Jan Miller, born in 1849, and Elżbieta Smetana, born in 1858. Both were born in the town of Zelów, a town founded by a community of Protestant Czechs whose ancestors had lived in Poland for over 100 years to escape persecution in their homeland. In the late 1870s, several families from Zelów, including the Miller’s and Smetana’s, moved to Żyrardów for better prospects. Żyrardów was thriving thanks to the town’s linen factory, a major producer of linen for the Russian Empire.

Jan and Elżbieta likely married in Żyrardów around 1880. They had eight children (who survived to adulthood):

  • Emil, born 22 December 1881, married Zofja Jelinek in 1902; immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1904; returned to Poland after 1913.
  • Marya (Mary), born 24 March 1884. Mary married Ludwig Szulc; their children are the subject of this series of posts.
  • Karolina, born 12 March 1886, married Julian Razer in 1903; lived in Łódz in 1913.
  • Elżbieta (Elizabeth), born on 19 November 1890, immigrated to Philadelphia, PA in 1909; married Ludwik (Louis) Pater in 1910.
  • Paweł, born 11 December 1893; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Alfred, born 18 April 1896; would immigrate to New York in 1913 with Mary’s children.
  • Ludwik, born in 1900; lived in Żyrardów.
  • Zofia, born 03 April 1903; lived in Żyrardów, immigrated to U.S. in 1920.

When Mary and Ludwig moved back to Żyrardów in 1912, two of Mary’s siblings had already separately immigrated to America (Philadelphia, PA): brother Emil and sister Elżbieta (my great-grandmother). Another sister, Karolina, was married by this time and possibly living in Łódz with her family. The four younger siblings remained in the Miller household: Paweł, Alfred, Ludwik, and Zofia. Their ages at the time were 19, 16, 12, and 9.

Life Under Russian Rule

What was it like living in Żyrardów in 1912? Although it was a multi-cultural town with Poles, Jews, Germans, and Czechs living together, the town was under Russian rule. According to Louise, “It was hard being that it was under.the Czar’s rule. My father got politically mixed-up and he came home shot in the arm once. After a certain hour in the evening, you were afraid to go out at night.”

In Żyrardów, and likely throughout Poland, people talked about America. Louise remembered everyone talking about America:

“You make out good in America. That’s all you heard: gold on the streets of America. You could be anything you want and make a lot of money, even if it was a dollar a day.”

Those thoughts, according to Louise, are what gave her mother, Mary, the “courage to push.”

It was decided that Ludwig would travel to America first since the family could not afford to all travel together. Louise describes her mother as being the driving force behind the family’s move. “She got him out first,” she said. “She sold things [to pay for the journey], and he wasn’t very daring – she was the pusher. That’s my mother; she was an adventurist.”

Ludwig departed from Hamburg, Germany aboard the S.S. Amerika on May 30, 1912 and he arrived in New York City on June 9th. However, Louise said he

“didn’t make much of an effort to learn English fast enough, and he didn’t know how to look at “The World” – the newspaper was the greatest for people finding jobs, but you had to know under which column to look for what you were going to do. And, he didn’t have anyone to help him too much.”

In New York City, Louise remembered that

“everybody lived in little cliques: the Polish, the Ukrainian, the Russian. So they would help each other out. Maybe one knew a few words more than the other. They used to live maybe ten or twelve people in one room, because one was helping the other to get established.”

But “living with other people” wasn’t for Ludwig. Louise said, “Within six months he wrote to my mother not to get ready to come because he’s coming back.” How did Mary respond to his declaration?  According to Louise, she said, “No, you’re not coming back! I’m coming over there.”  Mary sold whatever else she had and left her five children with their grandparents.

Mary immigrated in November aboard the Mauretania departing from Liverpool. She arrived in New York City on November 22, 1912. Louise describes what happened once Mary arrived in America: “She was very fast in finding her type of work [sewing machine operator]. And she made money, and she made a definite decision: ‘I’m going to get all of my children here and we’re staying, no matter how bad it is.'”

Meanwhile, back in Poland…

In hopes of improving all of their lives, Mary made the difficult decision to leave her five young children with her parents. Louise, like most 9-year-olds, thought her grandmother “was old, but actually she was not.” [Note: her grandmother was 55 years old at the time.]

Louise explains that her grandparents still “had a family of four [home]: three sons, and a daughter. And then five of us. My parents were sending money, but, you know, it was just barely for food, because they’re trying to save for six people – five of us children and my mother’s younger brother who was our chaperone.”

The Miller Family in 1913 with the Schultz grandchildren. Left: Ludwik Miller, Zofia Miller, (boy in front) Wladyslaw (Walter) Schultz, Elzbieta Miller, Louise (Ludwika) Schultz, Alfred Miller, (girl in front) Julia Schultz, Jan Miller, Pawel Miller, Henry Schultz, Edward Schultz.

In addition to the added responsibility of caring for five young grandchildren, Elżbieta was the sole supporter of the family. Louise explains, “My grandfather was sick; he was in bed. She was very fast, my grandmother. She worked the looms, one on one side and one on the other so she could make enough money.”

Despite being sick in bed, their grandfather, Jan, taught the children a lesson. He told them, “You’re not going to waste all that time just hanging around the house” so he sent them to a German school to learn German. At nine years old, Louise already spoke Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. When she moved in with her grandparents, they “spoke only Czech” (Czech may have been the language they spoke at home; both were born and raised in Russian-occupied Poland, so it is unlikely that they would not speak those languages as well). Louise learned Czech to speak to them, then German. The reason he wanted them to learn German is that, in Żyrardów, the factory managers were German. Her grandfather’s rationale was that, if you knew German, “you could become a big official someplace; that was important to him.”

Louise was grateful to him “because the German language helped me a lot on the ship traveling, and once I came to this country [America], it made it much easier. Somehow there’s a lot of similarity between German and English.” All of her linguistic experience helped Louise to learn English within “almost three months” after immigrating to America. But, that’s getting ahead of her story.

In Part 2, we will hear about the Schultz children traveling to America with their Uncle Alfred.

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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

52ancestors-2015

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

#52Ancestors

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

52ancestors-2015

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

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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

 

52ancestors-2015

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

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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

52ancestors-2015

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

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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

52ancestors-2015

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

52ancestors-2015

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

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Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 5.27.53 PM.png

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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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

52ancestors-2015

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

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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

52ancestors-2015

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

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Road side for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

Road sign for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

The theme for Week 3 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Tough Woman” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizeweter Piątkowska. Rozalia, or Rose as she was called in the United States, is my only great-grandmother of whom I do not have a photograph. In fact, I know very little about my paternal grandfather’s mother except what I have learned through my research. Based on what I’ve found, though, I have no doubt that Rose was a tough woman!

Rose’s story

Rose was born Rozalia Kizeweter on 08 August 1866 in a small village called Mała Wieś, which literally translates to “small village”. The town is in the parish of Przybyszew, gmina Promna, powiat Białobrzeski, województwo Mazowieckie, Poland.

Rozalia's name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

Rozalia’s name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

She was the sixth of at least ten children of Jan and Marianna Kizeweter. As a blacksmith, Rose’s father moved throughout the countryside among various small towns just southwest of Warsaw. Her parents were married in a town named Piaseczno in 1855 when her father was a 21-year-old journeyman blacksmith and her mother was 22 years old. The couple’s first child was born in Warsaw the following year, but then other children were born in four different towns over the years. By 1879, however, the family appears to be back in Warsaw and, beginning in that year, Rose’s siblings all get married in Warsaw.

In 1900, Rose married Jan Piątkowski on 14 May in the parish of św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca, or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence. According to the marriage record, her husband Jan was 28 years old and lived on Wolska Street while Rozalia was 34 and lived on Młynarska Street. Rose’s brother Władysław was one of the witnesses. At the time of the wedding, Rose’s father was deceased but her mother was still living.

Jan worked as a tanner, and the couple lived in the Wola section of Warsaw. A son, Józef, was born on 03 November 1903 and a daughter, Janina, was born on 29 December 1905. However, from the U.S. Federal Census I know that Rose also bore four other children before 1910 that did not survive.

On February 17, 1906, Jan left Poland for America with his brother-in-law, Ludwik Czarkowski. After arriving in New York City, they soon settled in Philadelphia. Each of their families would immigrate in the following year.  Rose sailed on the SS Armenia from Hamburg, Germany on 23 October 1906 with her son and daughter. They arrived in New York on 10 November. The physical description for Rose on the passenger list tells me that she had brown hair, blue eyes, and was 5’3″. She was 41 years old, her son turned 3 on the passage across the Atlantic, and her daughter was only ten months old.

The passenger list had X’s next to their names, which usually means they were detained at Ellis Island for some reason. At the end of the passenger list, I found their names and the reason for detention – they had to wire her husband, Jan, for money since she did not have enough to cover their transportation to Philadelphia. It is difficult to read, but she only had either $1 – or none – with her. Rose had to stay at Ellis Island with her children for two days and they were finally discharged on 12 November.

After settling in Philadelphia, Jan – now known as John – worked as a leather worker in a factory. The family had a surprise a few years later – Rose was pregnant with my grandfather, the only Piątkowski sibling to be born in the U.S. He arrived on 06 July 1910 and was named James. At the time of his birth, his mother was just weeks away from turning 44 years old. Today that would not seem unusual, but in 1910, women rarely gave birth at that age.

Little else is known about Rose’s life other than the simple facts found in records.  Her son Joseph (who eventually began to use the surname “Perk” in lieu of Piontkowski) got married in 1927 and had daughters Josephine in 1928 and Jean in 1930. I assume that John and Rose got to know their granddaughters as babies, but in 1931 their mother, Kathryn, died suddenly. The girls were put into a home because their father worked as a truck driver and was not at home to care for them. He remarried and had another daughter, Geraldine, in 1936, so Rose may have gotten to see her third granddaughter as well.

Daughter Jean was married by 1930 to William Rose Hynes and living in New York City, then Florida. She may not have ever seen her parents again after her marriage.  Research continues on the fate of Jean.

Son James got married in 1934 and had his first child, my father, later that year. My father has no memory of his grandmother but she likely got to know him briefly when he was a baby.

Rose died on 10 February 1937 from “chronic myocarditis.”  She was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery on 13 February. John lived alone, rather unhappily, until August 1942 when he took his own life.

Although I know very little about her, Rose is my choice for a “tough woman” based on some simple facts:

  • At least four of her children died as infants or toddlers.
  • After husband departed for America, she had to care for two children, a toddler and an infant, presumably by herself, for nine months.
  • She immigrated to America alone with a 3-year-old and a baby, spending two weeks on a journey that was likely uncomfortable, lonely, and, quite frankly, frightening. She didn’t speak the language in this new home, and she would never see her siblings (or her mother, if she was still alive at the time) again. Then after arrival she had to spend two days waiting for money to travel to Philadelphia.
  • She had a child at the age of 44. When this occurred, in 1910, she was at the age that other women would be a grandmother. I don’t care who you are or what century you live in, but I’m just slightly older right now and I can’t imagine having enough energy for an infant!

For these reasons, I salute my great-grandmother as a strong, tough woman. My grandfather once said that his mother was a tiny woman (as evidenced by her height listed as 5’3″ on the passenger list). But, despite her size and being dwarfed by her husband, she ruled the house and often told his father “how it was”. I wish I had a photograph of this amazing, strong woman!

A note on name spellings: Rose’s surname is spelled many ways in records of her siblings and parents. Kizeweter is the most common, but variations include Kizieweter, Kizewetter, Kieswetter, and similar variations beginning with a G, as in Gizeweter. The name Piątkowski (female version Piątkowska), translates into Piontkowski in English due to the absence of the letter “ą” which has an “on” sound. However, my grandfather changed some letters around…and now that’s my name.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter
  • Ahnentafel: #9 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Marcin Leopold Kizeweter (1837-?) and Marianna Ostał (1833-?)
  • Born: 08 August 1866, Mała Wieś, Przybyszew, Poland
  • Siblings:  Feliks Mateusz (1856-?), Katarzyna Marianna Slanina (1859-?), Józef (1860-?), Kazmierz (1861-?), Jan (1863-1863), Jan Józef (1868-?), Aleksander Józef (1871-?), Władysław (1873-?), Marianna Antonina Owczarek (?-?)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with Józef and Janina, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) on 14 May 1900 in Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland
  • Children: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Died: 10 February 1937 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 13 February 1937 in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 3: Tough Woman

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'The Slav Epic' cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

‘The Slav Epic’ cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

The theme for Week 2 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “King” and my ancestor is my 7th great-grandfather, Václav Jirsak (also spelled Jirsák). He was not a king, but his story is connected with kingship in various ways. First, the town of his birth is Králova Lhota in southern Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) – the very name of his birthplace, Králova, means “king”, and is so named because the land apparently was once owned by the Bohemian kings. But his personal story also involves leaving his Bohemian homeland due to the policies of its kings (and queen) against religious tolerance. Finally, his exile to a new country takes place because of another king’s invitation for persecuted Bohemians to settle a new land.

My ancestor’s story begins in Bohemia. The traditional land called “Bohemia” makes up about two-thirds of what is the Czech Republic today. But it was once a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire. From 1526, the kingdom was ruled by the Habsburg monarchy. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was meant to solve religious disputes – princes were allowed to determine the religion of their subjects. The Hapsburg kings did not initially force their Catholic religion on Bohemia, which was mostly Protestant. But struggles over which religion would rule the land, so to speak, continued. The Thirty Years war was not only political, but also religious, and it was the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that influenced my ancestor’s personal story.

Queen Maria Theresa desired that her subjects share her Catholic faith as did Charles VII Albert, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.  It became a crime against the state to be Protestant. Many Bohemians, my ancestors included, subscribed to the Protestant reforms of Jan Hus who believed that the Scriptures should be available in the language of the people, communion should be available under both forms, and the clergy should not have political power. But under Hapsburg rule, these teachings were forbidden. Although it was a crime, the faith continued to be passed down in private.

Václav’s Story

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Václav Jirsak was born in 1715 to Jan Jirsak and Alžbĕta Chmelařová in Králova Lhota. The family was Protestant, and two years before Václav’s birth Jan was found to possess banned books of a religious nature and he was forced to confess to the Catholic faith.  In order to gain freedom of religion, widower Jan and his adult sons, Václav and Jan, decided to leave their homeland at the earliest opportunity. That opportunity came thanks to another king, Frederick II, King of Prussia.

In 1742 Frederick offered Czech refugees the chance to move to Silesia, now under Prussian rule. The Czechs were offered land and monetary support. That year the three Jirsak men emigrated to several colonies near what is Bralin, Poland today. Due to father Jan’s age, life in the new land was too difficult, and eventually he returned to Bohemia to live with his daughter, Dorota, and her husband, Jiří Zounar. Jan died there in 1751, but his sons remained in the new land.

Václav took on a leadership role in these new colonies. In 1749, at the age of 34, he helped to found the colony of Groß Friedrichstabor (today this town is Tabor Wielki in Poland), and by 1759, he was an “elder” at Klein Friedrichstabor in Groß Wartenberg (today this town is Tabor Mały in Poland). Václav was a farmer in this new community, and with his wife Kateřina had four daughters (Anna Marie, Marie, Alžbĕta and Anna) and three sons (Jan, Václav and Jiří).

The families that settled in these colonies are collectively known as the Česká exulantská – the Czech exulanti or exiles. They were able to maintain their religious beliefs (the evangelical church of the Czech Brethren) free of persecution. They also maintained their Czech language despite living under the rule of Prussia and later Russia.

Václav died in 1793 at the age of 77. His son and grandson, both named Jan Jirsak like Václav’s father, would continue the family’s migration through Prussia to Russian-ruled Poland in search of better opportunities for their families. In 1802, both men were among the founders of a new Czech settlement in Zelów, Poland. After another two generations, my ancestors would continue the migration farther east to the town of Żyrardów, and the next generation came to the United States. Other descendents of Václav Jirsak eventually made it back to Bohemia in the Czech Republic after World War II – nearly two hundred years after one brave man and his sons decided to move in search of religious freedom.

Note on name spellings: Václav is Czech but the name can also be listed as Wenceslaus, Wacław (Polish), or Wentzel (German). The surname Jirsak is also spelled Jirsák, Jersak, or Girsak. The feminine ending for Jirsak is Jirsaková.

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Just the Facts

  • Name: Václav Jirsak
  • Ahnentafel: #888 (my 7th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Jirsak (1681-1751) and Alžbĕta Chmelařová (1694-1725)
  • Born: 04 Sep 1715 in Králova Lhota, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
  • Siblings: Anna (1711-?),Dorota (1712-?), Václav (1714-1714), Jiřík (1718-1719), Alžběta (1720-?), Jan (1722-1796), Lukáš (1724-1725)
  • Married: Kateřina (1723-1785)
  • Children: Jan (1746-1821), Anna Marie (1747-1780), Václav (1751-1788), Jiří (1753-?), Marie (1754-?), Alžběta (1758-1787), Anna (1760-1792)
  • Died: 03 May 1793 in Czermin (Poland)
  • My Line of Descent: Václav Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak->Anna Jirsaková Jelineková->Anna Karolina Jelinková Smetana-> Alžbĕta/Elżbieta Smetana Miller-> Elżbieta/Elizabeth Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me

Sources

52ancestors-2015

 

  Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 2: King

 

 

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52ancestors-2015

This year I am participating in the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. The theme for Week 1 is “Fresh Start” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater. She was so confusing to research over the years that I needed a fresh start!

I first began researching my family history in 1989. While research methods, family group sheets, and pedigree charts have been the staples of genealogy for a very long time, looking back at when I began my search only twenty-five years ago seems like the dark ages. The first available federal census to research was 1910. No census records were online. No passenger records were online. No vital records were available online. There’s a theme here: nothing was available online, the paper records were difficult to come by, and even the microfilmed records did not cover the vast amount of years or locations that they do today.

After duly interviewing my parents about everything they knew about their immigrant grandparents (which was not much), I began my search. Considering the lack of easily accessible records, I actually did really well – of course, if I began today, I would find exactly the same information, plus a lot more, in a fraction of the time. But in the case of Elizabeth Miller Pater, I did not do very well. In fact, I made the biggest rookie mistake a genealogist can make – I made an assumption, lacked evidence of the genealogical “proof”, and continued researching. If the assumption had been correct, no harm done except for making professional genealogists cringe in horror. But – I was wrong! So for a certain period of time – a few years – I was actually researching the wrong Elizabeth Miller.

I based my research on a few facts from my mother. We assumed my great-grandparents married in Poland, but when I found my great-grandfather coming to the U.S. at the age of 14 – quite single – I realized that she did not come over under her married name. Therein lay the problem – pick a country and I can find you several dozen women named Elizabeth Miller. Whether it was Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Autria, Hungary, Slovakia, or anywhere else, there were women named Elizabeth Miller. I limited my search to Polish (or Russian, given that Poland was under Russian rule, but my mother claimed that Elizabeth herself claimed she was Bohemian. Since my grandfather was born in 1912, I knew she immigrated before then, so “Bohemia” would have been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I don’t remember my rationale at the time, but for some reason I found a teenaged girl with my great-grandmother’s name and thought I found her. The uncle she traveled with was not a name familiar to my family. But I persisted down the wrong research path. If I only knew more about the genealogical proof standard back then! Fortunately, I started fresh and began the research again. This time, things made more sense, names matched, and documents verified my mother’s stories (yes, she was technically Bohemian – she was descended from Bohemian immigrants to Poland). It wasn’t easy, but I finally “found” the only great-grandmother I actually met.

Lesson Learned: Don’t assume! Verify information with sources until you’re reasonbly sure you have the correct person – especially when dealing with a common surname. And if you’re stuck, sometimes it pays to put all of your research aside and get a fresh start!

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth Miller Pater

Elizabeth Miller Pater: Left, approximately 23-27 years old. Right, approximately 64 years old.

Elizabeth was born Elżbieta Miller in 1890 in or near the town of Żyrardów in the Mazovia province of Poland (województwo mazowieckie). Although her parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were born in Poland, they were all of Czech descent. Her parents, Jan Miller and Elizabeth Smetana, were born in Zelów in the Łódź province but moved to Żyrardów as children with their parents. Żyrardów had a large Czech community, and most residents worked in the linen and textile factory that the town was built around in 1833.

Elizabeth was one of at least seven children (research on the family continues). Her family spoke Czech at home, but also knew Polish and Russian. They, and the other Czech families, were all of the Protestant faith – the Czech Brethren or Evangelical Reformed church. Despite the fact that Poland was predominantly Catholic, Żyrardów was a large town with groups of Germans and Czechs and had an Evangelical Reformed Church, a Lutheran church, and a Jewish synagogue in addition to the Roman Catholic church.

Elizabeth’s brother Emil immigrated to the U.S. in 1905; his wife and daughter followed later that year. They settled in Philadelphia, PA, where there was a community of other immigrants from Żyrardów. Emil had two more children in Philadelphia by the time his sister Elizabeth immigrated alone in 1909 at the age of 18. The passenger arrival record provides a physical description: light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”. In 1910, she is living on the same street as her brother and is listed as a border in the household of another family named Miller. Although they are also from Żyrardów, I have not yet found a family connection.

Living just blocks away was another family from Żyrardów, the Pater’s. I can only wonder if Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater had known each other as children in Żyrardów. Louis had been in the country since 1907. But just sixteen months after Elizabeth arrived, the couple got married. They married in Camden, NJ, rather than Philadelphia – perhaps because Louis had just turned 17 and may have required parental permission in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was older by almost three years. Her brother Emil and her fellow border, Olga Olczak, served as witnesses. Olga was also from Żyrardów and would eventually become a relative of sorts to the Miller family through marriage.

Despite being from the same town, the couple were of two different religions. Louis Pater came from a Polish Catholic family. Elizabeth remained Protestant. It is just an assumption, but since Louis’ parents were also living in Philadelphia, I think it may have been a source of contention. My only proof of this is finding a baptismal record for my grandfather, Louis and Elizabeth’s oldest child, in the Catholic church near the Pater family’s home in Langhorne, PA. But years later when my grandfather went to marry in the Catholic church, he received a dispensation because he himself was not aware that he was baptized Catholic.

Louis and Elizabeth had five boys: Henry (my grandfather), Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene. Unfortunately, two of her sons died rather young, both from tuberculosis. Louis was only 24 when he died in 1940. His brother Victor was 31 and died just a few years after the same disease took his 22-year-old wife.

Both Louis and Elizabeth worked in the textile factories in Philadelphia. Elizabeth worked as a hosiery topper from the 1930’s through the 1950’s at Gotham Hosiery, which was located on Erie Avenue. The family lived on Hope Street, then N. Hancock Street, then N. Waterloo Street – all in the same Philadelphia neighborhood.

Elizabeth and siblings

From left to right: Alfred “Fred” Miller, his wife Mary, possibly Fred’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, unknown woman, Eddie Schultz, Mary Miller Schultz, Henry Schultz, and unknown man (possibly Walter Schultz)

Elizabeth seemed to be close to her siblings. Her brother Emil went back to Żyrardów sometime around 1910. He was apparently one of the exiles to Siberia around 1915 and died in Russia. His wife and son would later return to the U.S. and were close with Elizabeth. Their sister Mary immigrated in 1912 with her husband, Ludwig Schultz, and they lived in New York City. In 1913, brother Alfred immigrated with his five nieces and nephews, the children of Mary and Ludwig. Alfred lived in New York City and both of his brothers-in-law, Louis Pater and Ludwig Schultz, were witnesses for his marriage in 1921. The Schultz family eventually settled in Metuchen, NJ. In 1920, Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Sophie, immigrated to the U.S. accompanied by their mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller. Sophie moved to Philadelphia but their mother lived with both Alfred and Mary. Mother Elizabeth died in Metuchen, NJ, in 1944. Elizabeth’s brother Ludwik remained in Żyrardów his entire life and owned a shoestore. The remaining known siblings, Paweł and Karolina, apparently died in exile to Siberia or in Russian prison. More research is being conducted to fill in these blanks on the family tree.

Elizabeth’s husband, Louis, passed away in 1957 at the age of 64. Elizabeth lived on Waterloo Street a few doors away from her sister-in-law, Victoria Pater Koruba. Elizabeth died from congestive heart failure on 28 July 1972 and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery. At the time of her death, she left behind three sons, seven grandchildren, and at least two great-grandchildren (including me). As much information as I’ve been able to gather on Elizabeth’s relatives, I’ve had a problem finding out information about the children of her sons Eugene and Walter (Walter decided that the surname Pater was unlucky and used his mother’s maiden name of Miller instead). Maybe it’s time for a fresh start with that research as well.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller
  • Ahnentafel: #13 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Miller (c.1851-c.1913) and Elżbieta Smetana (1858-1944)
  • Born: 21 November 1890, Żyrardów, Poland
  • Siblings: Paweł (unk-bef.1919), Emil (c.1881-bef.1919), Mary (1884-1969), Karolina (1885-19??), Ludwik (1894-aft.1977), Ferdinand Alfred “Fred”(1896-aft.1969), Zofia “Sophie” (1903-bef.1969)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS President Grant, arriving in New York City on April 16, 1909
  • Married: Ludwik (Louis) Pater on 27 August 1910 in Camden, NJ, USA
  • Children: Henry (1912-1972), Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Naturalized: 13 December 1954
  • Died: 28 July 1972 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 31 July 1972, Greenmount Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Written for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 1: Fresh Start 

#52Ancestors

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Żyrardów coat of arms

Completing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge… Z is for Żyrardów! There was never any doubt what I would use for the letter “Z” – Żyrardów is a town in the Mazovia region of Poland from which my Pater great-grandparents came. It was also the very first town in Poland that I “discovered” in my family history research, so it holds a special place in my heart. In addition, it is the very first ancestral town in Poland that I visited!

I’ve written about Żyrardów before, most notably in my post entitled Żyrardów: Birth of a Modern Town. Although the town is rather modern by European standards with a “birth date” of around 1831, I’m fascinated with the town’s history.  The history is interwoven (pun actually intended) with the textile industry – an industry with which I now work indirectly. My ancestors helped Żyrardów become the largest producer of linens in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century.

Spinning cotton in the Żyrardów linen factory (date unknown)

This weekly challenge has been wonderful and I’d like to thank Alona Tester of Gould Genealogy for creating this challenge. Later this week I will post more about what I learned from participating and some ideas I have as a result of participating.

[Written for the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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“Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!” ~ Blessed Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1978, homily at the Mass beginning his pontificate

In honor of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith” which opens on October 11, 2012, genealogy bloggers whose ancestors were members of the Catholic Faith are celebrating by showing some of the churches that inspired or comforted our ancestors or were otherwise part of their lives. Since the majority of my ancestors were Catholic (and so am I), there are a lot of churches in my family’s history. For this celebration, I chose to highlight one because I had the opportunity to walk through these doors of faith on a trip to Poland in 2001. The photos below are from that journey.

St. John the Baptist ( św. Jana Chrzciciela) church in Mszczonów, Poland

My great-great grandmother, Antonina Rozalia Pluta, was from the town of Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland. She was baptized in św. Jana Chrzciciela (St. John the Baptist) Church in 1863 and married Józef Pater there in 1885. Antonina’s parents, Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska, were also baptized there (1843 for Ludwik and 1840 for Franciszka) and married there in 1862. The earliest record I have found for an ancestral sacrament at the church is the baptism of my 4th great-grandfather, Jan Wojciechowski (Franciszka’s father), in 1816 – although, as you will see below, the church in 1816 was not the same as the church in 1863 through today.

The church has a very long history, as does the town. From the town’s website, I learned that the first church on the grounds was erected at the turn of the Twelfth Century and made from wood. In the years 1430-1440 Prince Ziemowit IV built a brick church, which was completely destroyed in the fire of the city in 1603. It was rebuilt 1660, but  burned down again in 1800. For many years after this fire, church services were held in a wooden chapel. The current brick church was built between 1861-1864. The cornerstone was blessed by the Archbishop of Warsaw on 11 May 1862 and the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

A plaque on the church listing the names of the pastors from 1658-1982.

[Written for the “Doors of Faith” celebration at The Catholic Gene]

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My ancestral towns

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Series… T is for Towns! When I first started researching my family history, I did not know the names of the towns from which my great-grandparents came. Now I have a plethora of exotic-sounding foreign town names from Aichach to Żyrardów and Aschau to Zelów!

I always want to learn more about each place: What’s the history of the town? What was the town like when my ancestors lived there? What does it look like today?

Gazetteers are great for a historical perspective of your ancestral town. For Germany, I’ve used the Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs) and for Poland, the Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavonic Countries (Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich).But an easy way to learn more about a town is to “Google it”! I’ve found that most towns – even some tiny ones – have websites. With the help of some online translators, you can even learn more about the town’s history from their website. Many towns even have pages that provide information in English.

Once you know the names of your ancestral towns – consider visiting in person. There’s nothing like walking in your ancestors’ footsteps to get a sense of what family history is all about.

Read past posts about some of my ancestral towns: Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 11, 1941.

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… R is for Religion! The faith of our fathers (and mothers) is important to genealogical research, because often times your ancestors’ places of worship kept records before the state or civil authorities did. Or, in the years after civil vital registration was mandatory, church (or synagogue, or other religious institution) record books can serve as an alternate record source to verify birth dates and other important data like parents’ names. But besides all of the wonderful record-keeping, religion can be important to family history on a much more personal level, especially if you share the faith that your ancestors handed down. Visiting the churches where your ancestors worshiped is a wonderful way to “connect” your family history from the past to the present!

My family is Roman Catholic. In records, it is hard to ascertain a person’s actual belief. In other words, just because they were baptized or married in a particular faith doesn’t mean they were devout. In my own research, I discovered that my one great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, probably was a faith-filled Catholic – he was a founding parishioner of St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia, a “Polish” church for all the immigrants in the Port Richmond section of the city. The parish jubilee book also lists him as president of one of the charitable societies.  For other ancestors, I have no idea how active they were in the church – or not. I know that my maternal grandfather was a self-declared atheist at one point, regardless of his baptism in the Church.

As my research progressed, I discovered that not all of my ancestors were Catholic after all. My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, was Baptist. In researching her family I discovered that she descends from a unique group of individuals called the Unity of the Brethren, also called the Czech or Bohemian Brethren. The group was a Christian denomination that followed the works of the pre-reformation priest Jan Hus.

Around 1620, the counter-reformation was in full swing in Bohemia, and members of this faith were given the choice of leaving the country or practicing in secrecy (or, presumably, the choice to convert back to Catholicism). The sect continued despite persecution. In 1803, a group of these Brethren decided to leave Bohemia and they immigrated to Poland where they purchased a large amount of land and founded a new town called Zelów. It is in this Polish town that my Czech great-great grandparents were born. A sizable group of Czechs from Zelów, all textile workers, migrated north to two other Polish towns, Łódź and Żyrardów. My great-grandmother was born in Żyrardów in 1890…which explains why there are no records of her birth/baptism in the Catholic records of the town.

I’ve always been proud to be Catholic – like my Bavarian and Polish ancestors – but I was very happy to learn about this group of Protestant ancestors. Because of their faith, they took a bold step and left their homeland behind forever. Moving to a new country because of religious persecution in their homeland reminded me of the story of many of the colonial immigrants to the United States. To give up your homeland for your faith is truly a testament to your faith! The town of Zelów, Poland that was founded by the Czech immigrants is still known as the “Czech village”. I found a video online (subtitled in English) that shows the church and the town.

No matter what the religion of your ancestors was, finding out about their faith adds much to your family’s story. Some other family history faith-related posts I’ve written include Faith of Our Ancestors, Praying with My Ancestors, and First Communion, 1941 Style (from which I borrowed the great photo above). I thought religion was so pertinent to family history that I even started a whole blog about it – the Catholic Gene is a collaborative effort that reflects on the Roman Catholic faith and family history. We’ve been quiet lately, but hopefully we’ll be back to posting soon.

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet challenge]

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