Welcome Back

Thanks for stopping by!

Fourteen years ago I started this blog to pursue my “adventures in genealogy.” But I can’t rightly call this my 14thblogiversary, because I haven’t posted in the last four years. In some ways, those years feel like a very long time, equivalent to the four years I spent in high school. In other ways, it was just yesterday, equivalent to watching my nieces and nephews go from infant to 4-year-old in the blink of a eye. 

If you would have asked me this week about that last post, I’d have sworn that I purposely “ended” the blog on its tenth anniversary. But when I read that post today, there are no signs of an end and I was looking forward to the next ten years. Sometime later that month, or maybe later that year, I decided that it stopped being fun. Even though I was far from finished with my family history research, I was content to be finished with blogging about it. I also had other hobbies and responsibilities to fill my time.

Today I find it ironic that the graphic I used for that post four years ago was that of a house’s front door, because all week as I pondered coming back here to write, the image that came to mind was that of an old house. You know, the sort of place you remember like your grandparents’ house that you used to visit, or that favorite aunt’s, or even your own childhood home. Once you return to these places after a long absence, it feels strange – yet so familiar. It feels like home.

I thought I closed the blogging door forever, but apparently the light was left on here and it’s still burning. Like those old houses of our relatives, it’s a bit dusty here and in need of some work. Some things, like links, are broken and need to be fixed. Other things, like information, are outdated, like finding an old phone book in Grandma’s house that still used prefix exchanges. I’m sure there’s a junk drawer where I can still find something useful to help me. I think there is a jigsaw puzzle left on the dining room table with some pieces missing – maybe one of you can help me solve it.

While I throw open some windows to let fresh air in and dust off the furniture, pull up a chair on the porch and have something to drink. I have a few stories left to tell – and they’re all true.


Ten Years!

Photo by Neil Alexander McKee https://flic.kr/p/p7Xs8S

What’s Past is Prologue is ten years old! Or, as my nieces and nephews proudly say when they reach the same milestone – double digits! So how to celebrate a decade of blogging (well, most of a decade…I’ve slacked off in old age)? With a top ten list, of course. I’m often asked to speak in work at retirements, and my comedy of choice is always a top ten. This one is actually serious though, because I really have experienced so many wonderful things as a result of blogging. And so I present…

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned in Ten Years of Blogging

1-Cousins are out there! I come from a “small” family, but other generations weren’t as small as my own. I’ve “found” and met so many cousins as a result of blogging here. Second, third, fourth…even sixth cousins! Cousins from each of my grandparents’ lines, from all over the United States and all over the world. I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet several of my newfound family face to face, and I’ve gotten to know the rest online.

2-Writing is a solo endeavour, but it’s infinitely more fun as part of a blogging community. I began blogging after stumbling upon several other really great genealogy blogs. I didn’t know these people, and we had never met. Yet when I began my own blog, I was welcomed into a community of fellow genea-bloggers. While it began as a virtual community, I’ve been able to meet many at genealogy conferences and become “live” friends. Their humor, talent, and comeraderie means a lot to me!

3-Blogging is like a time capsule, because if you do it long enough you realize just how much has changed since you began. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined using DNA to find cousins and solve mysteries. While some records were online back then (unlike when I first began my research), I wouldn’t have dreamed just how many would become available, including many vital records from Poland online for free

4-Yes, Virginia, other people do actually read your blog. Even the most modest blogger has to get excited to see comments on their blog. People are reading what I wrote! The most gratifying lesson wasn’t necessarily that others were reading what I wrote, but that they were actually helped by what I wrote. I was occasionally able to introduce readers to new resources, and I enjoyed hearing about their success stories via comments.

5-Ask, and you shall receive. Blogging is a great forum for finding solutions to your genealogical problems. I received help and advice from readers! From photo restoration to photo facial comparison to record look-ups or suggestions, I’ve gotten a lot of tips and pointers along the way.

6-Telling their stories matters. Through this forum, I was able to tell stories – stories about my direct and collateral ancestors, and even my own story at times. In telling their stories, they are not forgotten.

7-Blogging is a great motivation to get organized. It actually forced me to organize my research so that I could turn the facts and figures into a story or add graphics and photos.

8-This blog serves as a documentation of my own genea-journey. As I look back at older posts, I’m amazed at the number of holes I filled in and walls I broke down in the last ten years. The missing sister? I learned her married name. Photos of my great-grandmother? Found! Trying to solve the mysteries of my Miller family? Completed (though not yet fully written about)! Filling in the details on my “sweet sixteen”? Check! (I’ve updated it twice over the years, but the last one – linked in the question – still isn’t the most up-to-date!)

9-Blogging helped me improve my writing. Well, it helped me practice my writing on a regular basis at least in the blog’s early years. And practicing anything will always make you better and more comfortable.

10-Through this blog, I was able to flex my creative muscles. I need creativity in my life. While writing about genealogy doesn’t seem all that creative since it’s mostly facts and figures, the creativity came through in trying to tell the stories or come up with a story to fit a theme. From the Carnival of Genealogy (I really miss it!) to 52 Ancestors (incomplete, but fun) to the A-Z Family History Challenge, my writing muscles got a creative workout and I loved the challenge! I also got to share my humor in many ways, and I was happy to learn I can actually make others laugh with my writing.

Thanks for reading and journeying along with me over the last decade. What does the future hold? Well, after all, what’s past is prologue! The biggest change I’ve made in ten years (other than not posting on a regular basis) is that — finally, after ten years — I changed the design and layout last night. I’m still getting used to the new look, but it’s time for a change. Here’s to the next ten – or more! Sto lat!

2017: A Look Back

In my first year of blogging, on New Year’s Eve I took my first look back at the year 2008. Tonight is my tenth look in the review mirror at my own year. I have come to enjoy this tradition. I sometimes dread the thought of summing up an entire year’s worth of experiences in about a thousand words, yet I relish the process I use to really review what I experienced and what I learned. Both the good and bad all gets mixed up into one unique recipe that is that year and no other.

One year ago, I was ardently, anxiously, and desperately waiting for 2017 to begin. I needed something new after the difficulties of 2016, and I hoped I’d find it. Oddly, I found something new in the same old – the same job, family, friends, and hobbies that I always had. I discovered the freedom of acceptance and enjoyed (mostly) everything about the year I “turned” 50.


Ancestral church in Wilczyn (St. Ursula’s)

As this is a genealogy blog, I always begin with reviewing my genealogical finds. Surprisingly, there’s no end to discoveries even after all these years. This year I traveled back to Poland and visited thirteen different ancestral towns. They ranged from small villages to large cities, from wielkopolska (Greater Poland) to mazowieckie (Mazovia). In most of these places, the only thing remaining from my ancestors’ days was the parish church, but I enjoyed the experience of just being there. When I first visited Auschwitz in 2001, I had no idea that one of my cousins died there. This time, I proudly told his story to my fellow pilgrims and was shocked when I realized that I’d be there on the 75th anniversary of his death.

One of my big genealogical mysteries was solved rather easily. I was never able to find the birth record of my great-great grandfather, Wawrzyniec (Lawrence) Zawodny. Despite the evidence that had been right in front of me for years, it took the help of another to discover that I couldn’t find it because it didn’t exist – Zawodny was his stepfather’s surname and Wawrzyniec’s birth record is under his actual surname, Ratajczyk.

My blogging lagged once again except for an unusual flurry of posts in August, but despite another “break” I’m happy with the posts I did write this year. I am still finding new cousins from my Czech-Polish line all over the world! Offline, I organized the information on one grandparent’s line, and I sorted through DNA matches to discover new cousins.


Not my birthday cake, but Pope St. John Paul II’s favorite cake, kremowka, in his hometown of Wadowice, Poland.

It was a year of several big family milestones and personal anniversaries. The biggest event, at least for me, was my birthday – a half century is something to celebrate! Other significant personal anniversaries included fifteen years of home ownership and 25 years on the job. Smaller, yet still significant to me, was passing the 1,000th day of daily journaling (today is Day #1,218)! In my family, my youngest nephew celebrated his First Communion and the elder hit double digits. My youngest niece grew much closer to my height, and my oldest niece not only graduated college, but also got a great job in the real world of “adulting.”

I feel fortunate that I got to do a few things and visit a few places for the very first time. On my trip to Poland, I had been to several of the sites on a prior trip. But I was able to visit the beautiful towns of Gdańsk and Zakopane for the first time and dip my toes into the Baltic Sea. More importantly, I got to finally meet a long-time Polish friend in person, meet two Polish genealogists I’ve known a long time, and spend time in that beautiful country with two of my best friends. Another first time visit was to Williamsburg, Virginia, and some new experiences included seeing the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra and the Harlem Globetrotters (with my niece and nephews, of course, but I have wanted to see them since I was 12 years old!).

It was a good year for entertainment with plays (sadly, only one Shakespeare), musicals (Finding Neverland was my favorite), and concerts. My favorite movies that I watched at home were Hidden Figures and Lincoln. In the movie theater, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Wonder Woman, was not at all surprised that I was once again enthralled by Kenneth Branagh, and very surprised by how disappointed I was by The Last Jedi.

On television, the usual occurrence – a favorite show got cancelled – followed by an absolute first a few days later – it was uncancelled! Timeless lives on! Sadly, my new favorite Will did not survive, but I loved its energy, actors, character development, pro-Catholic angle, and inclusion of Robert Southwell as a character.

Of the more than 70 books I read, three stuck out that are the types of novels I usually like to read: Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson, Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett, and Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland. But I picked up some random selections at the library – things I may have normally overlooked, and they turned out to be memorable because of the characters or the story: The Reminders by Val Emmich, Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson, and The Ferryman Institute by Colin Gigl. The book that most impressed me this year was non-fiction: A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor.

For music I mostly listened to old favorites, but some of those old favorites had new recordings. Dan Wilson’s Re-Covered and Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life were great albums, while Hanson’s “I Was Born” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” (and the Piano Guys’ cover of it) stuck in my head.

In the recipe that became 2017, I subtracted a misguided hope that caused me pain and added more of the interaction and activities that make me feel fully alive. I discovered what worked for me this year (acceptance, a positive attitude, more prayer, and making time for fun or inspiring things) and what needs more work next year (not enough time with people I love and definitely not enough exercise).

I love the juxtapositions and the paradoxes and the serendipities that every year brings. It’s always the same old, yet always new. I embraced everything that 2017 offered, or at least tried to. I lived the big, shiny events and lived the dull, daily routine. I planned and hosted a conference for 700 people, yet couldn’t figure out what to make for dinner on most nights. I re-connected with an old friend and made a few new ones while trying to forget about the friendships that faded away.

I thought there was room for something in my life that I thought I needed. There wasn’t. There isn’t. Only when it was gone did I discover that sometimes you already have enough. Who I am is, strangely, enough.  And that’s all that matters.

May 2018 bring you peace, joy, and love!

The Solar Eclipse…of 1887

Today, 21 August 2017, much of the United States will be in the path for viewing a solar eclipse. I wondered if the event would be scary for young children that don’t yet understand the scientific concept of what is happening. Then again, even when you do understand it, seeing the sun blotted out is still a little unsettling. I looked to see if there was a similar eclipse that my ancestors may have witnessed, and there was.

On August 19, 1887 a total solar eclipse was visible in Europe, Asia, and the Arctic. The path of totality stretched over Germany and Poland (and all the way to Japan). It occurred very early in the morning, just after sunrise. Where were my ancestors on this date?

My Bavarian great-grandparents were teenagers at the time. Josef Bergmeister was 14 years old and living in Regensburg with his family including a sister (17), brother (11), and two half-brothers who were just toddlers (1 and 2). Miles away in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Josef’s future wife, Maria Echerer, was 12 years old and had several younger brothers and sisters. I can imagine that at that age it would have been a very exciting event. I’m not sure what the weather was like in their hometowns that day, but in Berlin, north of where they lived, it was reported that its 1.3 million residents were disappointed due to severe cloudy weather.

In Poland, my Piątkowski great-grandfather, Jan, was 16 years old and living in Warsaw with his parents and sisters. His future wife, Rozalia Kieswetter, was 21 years old and also lived in the city with many brothers and sisters. Warsaw was not in the path of totality, and many residents traveled to Vilnius to get a better glimpse of the event. Apparently the weather was better there. According to the Polish version of the eclipse’s Wikipedia page, the eclipse was described in a letter to a magazine as follows (translation by Google Translate):

“The sun disk was surrounded by a bright, silvery crown and with rays of uneven length; By using the binoculars they were able to see mainly at the bottom of the sun, red explosions, appearing and disappearing momentarily – they were shaped like tongues or slightly curly tails.”

A painting of the 1887 solar eclipse by Wilhelm Kranz

Elsewhere in Poland, my great-grandfather Józef Zawodny and his future wife, Wacława Ślesiński, were only 7 years old and both living in the area near Wilczyn. My final set of great-grandparents, Ludwik Pater and Elżbieta Miller, were not yet born! But, their parents were living in Żyrardów near Warsaw. Antonina Pater, my great-great grandmother, was about 7.5 months pregnant at the time with her daughter, Franciszka. The Miller’s already had three children under the age of six. Given the bad “reviews” of the eclipse due to weather, they may not have seen anything at all.

One of Poland’s literary greats, Bolesław Prus, witnessed the eclipse and wrote about it for a newspaper. But he also incorporated it into one of his famous novels, Faraon (Pharaoh), written in 1895. In the climactic scene of the novel, Pharoah’s nemesis uses his knowledge of the coming eclipse to pretend that he has actual power over the sun (Mark Twain would steal Prus’ idea in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court!).

I had to laugh at the fact that weather ruined the eclipse in 1887. Living in Philadelphia, nearly every time we’re scheduled to witness a solar or lunar eclipse, or an event like a comet or meteor shower, we tend to have bad weather (not so for today’s forecast). So I sympathize with the Europeans of 1887!

I did find one other interesting note in reviewing data on past solar eclipses. In 1925, all of my great-grandparents described above (included the two that weren’t yet born in 1887) were living in Philadelphia (one was deceased by then) and had teenagers, my future grandparents. There was a solar eclipse visible in Philadelphia on January 24, 1925. I can imagine my grandparents being told, “Back when I was your age, we had an eclipse back home. Not much to see though…”

Life in America (Part 3)

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!

The Journey to America (Part 2)

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.

9 Years!


Photo by Stephanie Kroos on Flickr 

Happy 9th Blogiversary  to What’s Past is Prologue! That sounds like a long time in blogging years (is that like dog-years?). But as I thought about writing a post to mark the occasion, it occurred to me that nine is rarely celebrated. Does anyone care when you have a birthday or anniversary at 9, or 29, or 49? And have you ever seen a “Top Nine” list? No, me neither.

But, then again, there are nine muses in Greek mythology (I suppose Clio, muse of history, can be considered the muse of genealogy). Then there are the “Nine Worthies” from the Middle Ages. Being on “cloud nine” is a good thing, as is being “dressed to the nines”.  Like a cat, this blog seems to have “nine lives” and I hope to go “the whole nine yards” with my research!

In nine years, I’ve had just over 349,000 visitors here. My most popular post continues to be Finding Polish Records Online (written in January 2011) with over 32,000 views. Overall, the most popular topics are about Polish or Philadelphia records and resources. These hits far outweigh the stats on posts strictly about my own ancestors, but even some of those, particularly the several “Surname Saturday” posts, are popular. There are a few personal favorites that I wish got more attention, so I might have to highlight those in the days ahead.

Even though the last few years have been sporadic with posts here, I’m still happy to have this outlet as a place to offer information, celebrate my ancestors, and connect with not only cousins, but fellow researchers and bloggers. I cherish the many friendships I’ve made with other bloggers over the years! Although I haven’t come anywhere near the production of my first two years (almost 250 posts out of 468 total), there’s still more to say.

As as I begin my tenth year of blogging about my adventures in genealogy, I’m going to propose the 9 topics I want to write about this year:

  1. genetic genealogy – I’ve made some great cousin connections using DNA
  2. odd connections – although we’re not related to each other, I’ve made some strange “connections” to my friends through my research of our families
  3. the language of the records – I learned in a rather humorous way that it sure helps to know some basics of the language of the records you are researching
  4. the best Polish records that you never hear about – I have had a lot of success recently using a little-known group of records
  5. the immigrant story – for a few years now, I’ve had a great first-hand account of what immigration was like in 1913
  6. Napoleon’s friend – someone with a similar name to my own had a connection to Napoleon – and accounts of it can’t seem to spell his name correctly either!
  7. using Google Books – I’ve found some unique genealogical information this way
  8. more ancestor sketches – even though I said above that the personal genealogical biographies aren’t as popular, it’s been a wonderful way for me to organize my own research
  9. following in their footsteps – finally, if a planned trip to Poland this year comes off as scheduled, I will have plenty to say about it

Thanks for joining me on the journey! Happy New Year!

2016: A Look Back


A sign of hope! (Taken in my backyard, 4/16/16)

Each year, no matter how much or how little I’ve written on this blog, I always post a “look back” at the year – mostly just for me. Every year has its good times and bad, but this year the bad stuff was so pervasive that it was hard to remember all the things that made me smile. So let’s get the “bad” out of the way up front to focus on the brighter spots (note: these bad events all happened in the second half of the year). First, I lost my father. That alone is enough pain for one year. But shortly thereafter, although not through death, I lost the person I considered to be my best friend, the person I could always rely on for a positivity, comfort, and support. Then, I lost my best chance at a promotion for a position I’ve worked towards for a long time. Add to those losses four trips to the hospital with my mother (resulting in two stays), the dissolution of a what I thought was a good friendship in work, and a persistent three-month cold; I’m about ready to raise the white flag on 2016!

But, stuff happens. Unfortunately, sometimes it happens all in one year, but at least I learned that if you try hard enough you can find something to be grateful for. And I did.

Since this is a genealogy blog, I always like to look first at my genealogical finds for the year. I obviously did not write much here, and I also didn’t have much time for research. But, there’s always a mystery that gets solved. Early in the year I heard from a cousin that lives in Warsaw and made good strides on that family line (Kizeweter). I met my mother’s first cousin while attending the NGS conference in May, and my mother and I had dinner with two of her second cousins – that she had never met – for her 81st birthday. A kind genealogy friend looked up a record for me, and now I know the names of another set of 4th great-grandparents on my Maryański line. Finally, I delved a lot deeper into the gene pool with DNA tests on my father, whose sample I gathered eight days before his death, as well as my mother, my paternal aunt, and one of my mother’s first cousins. I’m having fun researching those new connections. I also discovered some coincidental connections among my cousins and relatives of my friends!

Other personal positives for me this year include drastically reducing my sugar intake, continuing to meditate and write daily, and overcoming some health issues that plagued me early in the year.


2016 felt like this rock, but it didn’t crush me! (Taken at Garden of the Gods, 9/16/16.)

I did not have an opportunity to travel much, or at least not too far or for too long. But, I enjoyed a couple of days in Washington DC seeing beautiful art, in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale FL with old and new friends, and letting the ocean restore some of my serenity in Rehoboth Beach, DE. I traveled for work to Colorado Springs and found some free time to explore – finally remembering how much I love to hike.

I didn’t attend many concerts, but the two I did go to were for groups that I’ve listened to for many years: Sister Hazel and the Gin Blossoms. I enjoyed new albums from Sister Hazel and Matt Nathanson, discovered a rather old release from Sara Bareilles, and was charmed by Paul Loren’s crooning. My reading stalled over the difficult summer, so I only averaged around a book a week this year. My absolute favorites were: Andy Weir’s The Martian, Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, Christopher Buckley’s The Relic Master, Iain Pears’ Arcadia, Jean Hegland’s Still Time, and Catherine Banner’s The House at the Edge of Night.

I’m grateful for my father; I was blessed with a good and just man for a father. He had a big heart and a wonderful sense of humor. I’m also grateful for a few good friends that stuck with me through fortune’s slings and arrows; I will cherish you always and never forget your kindness.


My new friend, Dante Alighieri

After much thought, I decided that the best thing that happened to me this year was reading a 700-year-old 14,000-line poem.

No, I’m not kidding.

After falling in love with Dante’s Divine Comedy in college, I finally got around to reading the whole work (it only took a mere 29 years). I firmly believe that spending time journeying through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso in the first half of the year made the hardships of the second half easier to bear. This year I feel as though I’ve slogged through the filthy darkness, suffered through the painful realization of my own weaknesses, and seen a glimpse of the glory that awaits – both with the poet on the page and in my own reality.

The poet Dante knew what it was like to feel lost and alone in a dark wood, facing down ugly beasts, and lacking the strength to make it up the mountain. He had Virgil to guide him and teach him about his errors, and I had Dante to do the same for me. Dante (both the poet and the pilgrim) knew about pain, loss, and exile; he also learned how to rise above it. I’m forever grateful to have his words as I continue my journey as a party of my own. As a genealogist, naturally one of my favorite parts of the Comedy was when Dante meets his own great-great-grandfather in Paradise. As Dante tells him “You are my father…You so uplift me, I am more than I” – I couldn’t help but think of my own father and how he made me who I am.

Tonight I truly celebrate the arrival of a new hope, a new opportunity, a new year. I plan to write more for this blog next year, because there’s a lot more to say about my ancestors. Thanks for sharing the journey with me, and may you have a wonderful year of creativity, celebration, and love.

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,

but already I could feel myself being turned –

instinct and intellect balanced equally

as a wheel whose motion nothing jars –

by the Love that moves the Sun and other stars

~ Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-146


In Memoriam

Six months ago today, my father died. I didn’t expect it to happen — eventually, of course, but not eight days after I wished him a happy Father’s Day. In addition to the magnitude of the loss, in the days that followed I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude for not only his life and his role as my father, but also for his ancestry. My father never knew his grandparents; two were dead years before his birth, one died when he was 3 years old, and he had only a vague memory of his Polish grandfather who died when my father was six years old.

But my father loved his parents and his aunts and uncles and the stories they all told about his Polish and German roots. From their names, I pieced together a much larger story — a history of their ancestral origins and the places from which they came. Dad loved hearing about my discoveries and was continually surprised by what I discovered about his family.

After Dad’s death, I thought about all of those ancestors and felt profound gratitude for being the custodian of their memory. My father’s ancestors made him the person he was, and, in turn, made me. I am grateful to all of them as I am grateful to him.

On my last visit to my father (who, due to Parkinson’s Disease, lived in a nursing home for the last three years), I actually swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. I had the kit for about six weeks before I finally took it over to him. As this was the last time I saw him, it was rather providential, a last (and lasting) gift.

Over the last nine years I’ve written here about my genealogical adventures, I’ve posted many tributes to my ancestors. I’ve written about Dad’s parents, his grandparents, and several ancestors much farther back. But it has taken me six months to finally write this particular ancestral tribute. I wish that all of my friends and readers could have known my father, and there is no doubt he would have made every one of you laugh out loud. But since that wasn’t possible, I’d like to introduce you to him via this too-short biography so that you will know a little bit about him. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to adequately convey in words just how much of  an honor and a blessing it was to have called him “Dad”.

James A. Pointkouski

03 August 1934 – 27 June 2016


Jimmy and his parents, c. 1940

James Albert (“Jim”) Pointkouski was born on August 3, 1934, the first child of James and Margaret (Bergmeister) Pointkouski. His parents were both first generation Americans born in Philadelphia, PA. His father, James, was the son of Polish immigrants, while his mother,  Margaret, was the daughter of German immigrants.


James, or “Jimmy” as he was then called, was baptized on September 2, 1934 at St. Peter’s Church at 5th & Girard in Philadelphia. The parish would remain important to his family for years to come. Jimmy attended St. Peter’s grade school, served as an altar boy, and also received the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation.

Jimmy’s only sibling was a sister, Jean, born in 1942. Their father worked as a truck driver to support the family while their mother maintained the household.

scan0163Jim attended Roman Catholic High School and graduated in 1952. As a teenager and young man, he loved attending neighborhood dances. One night, March 13, 1955, Jim attended a Sunday night dance at St. Boniface’s church — he had never been to that particular dance. Just over one year later he would marry the girl he met that night, Anita Pater. They were married at Resurrection of Our Lord parish on April 7, 1956.


Storekeeper Pointkouski reporting for duty

Jim served in the U.S. Navy Reserves after high school, and in 1958 he was called upon for two years of active duty. He served aboard the U.S.S. Cadmus as the ship’s storekeeper. Although he didn’t enjoy it much at the time, his Navy experience and memories stayed with him for the rest of his life. He had fond memories of a Mediterranean cruise during which he visited Rome and Barcelona. Jim was very proud to have served in the Navy.

In 1958, Jim and Anita had their first child, a daughter who was stillborn. Their son, James Drew, was born in 1959. The family was completed with the birth of their daughter, Donna, in 1967. Jim and Anita’s first home was in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia, but in 1960 they moved to the “Far Northeast” section of the city.

After various jobs such as time-clock repairman (one of his personal favorites), blueprint machine operator, and a “customer engineer” for IBM, Jim became an accountant. In 1968 he started working at Wenczel Tile Company in Trenton, NJ. While working full-time at Wenczel and part-time at a gas station, Jim began attending Rider College at night. After fifteen consecutive semesters, he proudly obtained his B.S. in Commerce and Business Administration in 1975. Jim worked at Wenczel for twenty-five years until the company went out of business in 1993. Afterwards, he worked as an accountant at other companies and was also the business manager of a Catholic parish in South Philadelphia for a few years before retiring.

Although Jim was an accountant, he learned a lot about tile while working at the tile factory. As a “hobby” he began to remodel bathrooms and kitchens with new tile. He often helped friends in exchange for their remodeling talents.

show-photoIn the 1970’s, Jim and Anita became active in “show business” at Archbishop Ryan High School (for Boys). The school’s “Mother’s Association” used to put on a show every year, and many of the dads joined in as well. Both performed in dance numbers, but then Jim branched out with his best friend, Frank, into comedy routines. The pair eventually became the comedy directors of the show. One year they performed as Elton John (Jim) and Kiki Dee (Frank) performing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”. They were also the Tin Man and Scarecrow in a “Wizard of Oz” skit, and the “Tinettes” — backup dancers for an Ike and Tina Turner rendition of “Proud Mary”. Jim and Frank’s final performance in the shows occurred in 1977, and it was their piece de resistance.  The two performed technically correct dance steps in women’s ballerina costumes to “The Nutcracker Suite” without so much as cracking a smile. It was a huge success!

scan0129Jim was very active in his parish, Our Lady of Calvary. Over the years he served as an usher, a lector, and a Eucharistic Minister. He was among the first class (along with his friend Frank) to complete a ministry training program at St. Charles Seminary. Both men wanted to become permanent deacons, but at the time the parish didn’t have a need for any. Jim and Anita also sang in the choir for many years.

cimg1691Jim became a grandfather for the first time in 1995 with the birth of his granddaughter, Natalie. More grandchildren followed: Ava in 2005, Nicholas in 2007, and Luke in 2009.

In September, 2013, Jim moved into Wesley Enhanced Living retirement home. He kept his nurses and caretakers entertained right up until his death. He passed away on June 27, 2016.

At Jim’s funeral, many friends gathered to honor his life. Jim would have been delighted to see four priest friends concelebrate his funeral Mass!  Jim was known in many different roles. He was a faithful Catholic, a proud veteran. He was a loving husband for sixty years and a dedicated father and grandfather. He was an entertainer who loved bringing joy to others by making them laugh.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. 

Those who live in the Lord never see each other for the last time. (German proverb)


The Case of Chicken Charley

Sometimes while researching a particular family I will become distracted by another find that is so interesting or humorous that I can’t help but follow that trail just to find out how the story ends. Such was the case with “Chicken Charley”.

I was researching a friend’s family. Much to his surprise, I discovered that his Rodda ancestors had been to California for the gold rush, and his 3rd great-grandfather died there. This was a surprise because he wasn’t aware of that fact, nor that his 2nd great-grandparents had immigrated to California for several years, but then returned to Cornwall, England to have a family and spend the rest of their lives there. It was that couple’s son who is my friend’s great-grandfather; he was born in Cornwall and immigrated to Pennsylvania as a young man.

While researching the Rodda family in California during the gold rush days, I discovered a wonderful resource for people with California ancestors – the California Digital Newspaper Collection. There I struck gold with a wildly humorous story about another Rodda – Charles “Chicken Charley” Rodda. How could a researcher not be distracted by this story?

08 November 1889 – Rodda’s Raid

A Chicken Thief on Whom the Habit Had a Firm Hold

The other day Charles Rodda was arrested by officer Carroll on suspicion of being a chicken thief. Sufficient evidence, however, was not obtainable to insure conviction, but a charge of vagrancy was placed against him. In the Police Court he succeeded in satisfying Judge Buckley that he was not guilty. Late Wednesday night, as officer Crump was patrolling his beat, he spied Rodda acting in a suspicious manner, and followed him into a yard on Thirteenth and J streets, where Rodda concealed twenty-one chickens. He was at once arrested, and, with the chickens, was taken to City Prison. On his way down he resisted the officer, and threw the chickens into a yard. The stolen property is at the police station awaiting an owner.[i]

Two days later, on 10 November 1889, this appears in the “Brief Notes” section of the newspaper:

The chickens captured by officer Crump from a thief the other night are still at the police station awaiting the owner.[ii]

Well, if the chickens were stolen, why didn’t anyone claim them? I’m starting to feel sorry for Charley. Then, the story gets more colorful with a delightfully descriptive (and potentially slanderous) article. I wish that the newspaper reporter was given a byline, because this reads as if it was written by Mark Twain:

Talked Himself to Jail

12 November 1889 – Talked Himself to Jail

An Aged Chicken-Thief’s Idea of Defense. “Call the case of Charles Roder, charged with petit larceny,” was Police Judge Buckley’s first utterance upon taking his seat yesterday.

“Here I be,” said a wild-eyed, shockheaded old man jumping up from the prisoner’s dock.

Clerk Larkin informed Roder that he was accused of stealing chickens, and asked him if he was guily or not guilty.

“Not guilty, by dang,” shouted Roder, smiting himself upon the breast. “I never stole no chickens, ner anything else. I never was —.”

“That’ll do now; sit down,” admonished Baliff Rowland, motioning to the witness.

“Sit yerself down, yer wall-eyed scalpeen,” roared the petty larcenist, stamping with his feet and swinging his arms wildly. “Yer a set of blackmailers, and I’ll —“

“Shut up and sit down!” This was from Judge Buckley, and Roder only needed to glance at his Honor before concluding that it would be a good idea to sit down. But his tongue never ceased. He denounced the police force and everybody in general, and kept up a constant jabber all through his trial.  Police officer Crump testified to having caught Roder in the vicinity of Fifteenth and K streets, early in the morning, with two sacks full of chickens, which he could not explain how he came into the posession of. Officers Carroll and Farrell both stated that Roder had admitted in their presence of having stolen the chickens. Roder denied all of this, of course, and never ceased in his denunciations.

“Where did you get those chickens, Roder?” asked City Attorney Church.

“I got ‘em honestly,” replied Roder, doggedly.

“But where?”

“Well, that’s my business, and not yours,” was the reply.

Judge Buckley tried to get some information on the subject from Roder, but fared no better than the City Attorney. As a result Roder was found guilty and will be sentenced to-day.[iii]

This “news” reporting conjures up quite an image of what the town and townspeople were like in 1889. But it must have been a slow news day for the story of the infamous chicken thief to get such press! As a side note, the spelling of Charles’ name is “Roder” while it was “Rodda” just days before – and it will show up in other editions of the paper in other forms.

Charley didn’t fare too well at sentencing after talking back to the judge (did they find people in contempt back then?).  On 13 November 1889 it was reported in the “Brief Notes” section of the newspaper that “Charles Rodda, convicted of stealing chickens, was sentenced to three months imprisonment in the County Jail yesterday by Police Judge Buckley.”[iv]

The newspapers are quiet about Charley until nine months later. On 20 August 1890, the following appears:

Who Lost the Chicks?

At an early hour yesterday morning E. R. Dole, Captain of the chain-gang, encountered that incorrigible poultry fiend, “Chicken Charley,” at Fifteenth and I streets, coming from the northeastern part of the city. Dole examined his load and found it to comprise nineteen fowls. Surmising that Charley had been on one of his periodical raids, he arrested him. The fowls are at the police station, and as policemen do not like chicken-meat, they are in the way. The owner is requested to call and identify them.[v]

I had to laugh picturing the chickens at the police station getting in the way. While this chicken thief named Charley isn’t identified by a surname, it became clear that it was the same man by looking at entries for the next few days (although they still keep varying the spelling of the surname).

22 August 1890: “Chicken Charley’s” Plunder

Yesterday Daniel Healy visited the police station and identified several of the fowls found in the posession of Charles Reddy as his. It looks as though the officers now have a case against the slippery fellow that will stick. He generally manages to escape conviction when up for robbing hen-roosts, in which business he is said to be an expert.[vi]

23 August 1890: Chickens Need Not Roost So High

Charles Rodda, known to fame as “Chicken Charley,” was held to answer before the Superior Court yesterday on a charge of petit larceny and a prior conviction. Rodda, as usual, denied having stolen any chickens, but his explanation of how he got them was so lame that Judge Buckley concluded it was a good case for a jury to look after.[vii]


The next mention (that I found, anyway) was not until 15 January 1891:

Rhodda Acquitted. The Veteran Chicken-Parloiner is at Liberty Again.

Charles Rhodda, a tottering old man of seventy years, who has a mania for stealing chickens, and who has in consequence become familiar with the interior of various prisons, was tried before Superior Judge Van Fleet and a jury, yesterday, on another charge of chicken larceny.

He was arrested something like six months ago, and not being in affluent circumstances, has had to remain in jail until his trial was called.

When the jurors became aware of this fact, they evidently felt that Rhodda had been punished sufficiently already, for they acquitted him readily.[viii]

At this point I’m almost rooting for poor Chicken Charley…

But, he’s back to his old ways soon thereafter. On 12 March 1891 it was reported that Charles Rodda, alias “Chicken Charley,” was charged with vagrancy. He pled not guilty and “demanded” a jury trial. The article said his case was set for Friday[ix], but I was unable to find any reference to it in the newspapers that week.

Interestingly, he may appear once more – but not in Sacramento. The Marin Journal reports on 21 July 1892:

“Chicken Charley” is the euphonious and approriate title of a man arrested in Grass Valley the other day. He confessed to stealing over 300 fowl in that town and vicinity within a comparatively short space of time.[x]

Grass Valley is about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. Is this the same Chicken Charley? Maybe, because he’s talented enough a thief to steal much in a short amount of time. But maybe not, because Sacramento’s Chicken Charley always pled not guilty! Oddly enough, Grass Valley is where my friend’s Rodda relatives lived. But I haven’t yet found any connection to his family.

Charley was portrayed as such a colorful character in these newspaper articles that I would love to learn more about his life and ultimate fate. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to dig up any information on a Charles Rodda in California that definitively connects to Chicken Charley. But, I’m glad to have discovered this character who distracted me from my more serious research pursuits. The writing in these newspapers was so entertaining that I began to search for other articles with the “characters” of officer Crump and Judge Buckley. I wish I had ancestors in Sacramento!  Thanks, Chicken Charley, I hope you either mended your ways or continued to evade conviction for the rest of your life.


[i] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 68, 08 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[ii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 1, Number 26, 10 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[iii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 71, 12 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[iv] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 62, Number 72, 13 November 1889. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[v] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 151, 20 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[vi] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 153, 22 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[vii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 79, Number 154, 23 August 1890. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[viii] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 80, Number 125, 15 January 1891. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[ix] Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 81, Number 16, 12 March 1891. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >

[x] Marin Journal, Volume 32, Number 19, 21 July 1892. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, < http://cdnc.ucr.edu >


Happy Eight Years!

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

Eight years ago today I began this blog. Although there were some speed bumps along the way, I found everything I sought when I started this adventure — and much more.

In my initial post, I wrote that I hoped this venue would help me to find cousins. I’ve found more cousins than I ever knew I had. We’ve emailed and we’ve met. We’ve shared meals and laughter and information about our shared ancestors. I’m so proud to call these former strangers not only family, but friends.

I also hoped to find friends among the genea-blogging community. It is rare for a group to so readily accept newcomers with the grace and good nature that Geneabloggers do. We learn together and celebrate each other’s successes. We laugh together, and sometimes cry together, especially when we lose one of our own. But I’m honored to have met so many people, both online and in person, that I now call friends.

Naturally, I wanted to find ancestors, too. I found a post from August, 2009, that details what I knew at the time about my sixteen great-great grandparents. How much more I now know – it’s time for a post update! Since then I’ve learned the names of the three who were “unknown” as well as their parents’ names. I filled in many of the missing birth and death dates and corrected an erroneous parent name or two. I discovered surprises, too – in 2009 I declared that two of them were the “only” of that generation to immigrate to the United States – I can now correct that number to three. But the best gift of all was discovering, through the assistance of newly found cousins, photographs of four of the great-greats!

The greatest thing I discovered through blogging would be my readers. To the 307,608 folks that have visited in the last eight years – thank you so much for stopping by and especially for commenting! Over 24,000 of you wanted to learn about Finding Polish Records Online, and almost 14,000 wanted to learn about Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online or just what the title of the blog means. I’m glad that those two posts that offer research tips were found to be useful by so many folks, but I’m actually delighted that nearly 4,000 (hopefully) laughed at my humorous look at Fotomat.

What’s the future hold? Well…what’s past is prologue. I’ve been working on non-blogging projects, but I’m far from finished with my adventures in genealogy. I will continue to post about my ancestors’ stories, research tips, and interviews with experts. If all goes well, you may even see an e-book available by the end of the year.

Thanks for coming along for the ride for the last eight years.  Let’s keep going  together!

“Who Do You Think You Are?” – The Drinking Game


Way back in February, 2011, I wrote a humorous post called The WDYTYA Drinking Game in honor of the show Who Do You Think You Are?  It was all in good fun – we genealogists simply love the show. The post was rather popular, and my most-commented upon post ever. Rather than just post the link, I’m repeating the “game” below. I’m happy that the show has found a new network (TLC) and is still on the air. In my opinion, this season is better than ever.

Unlike most stunts, you actually are encouraged to try this at home rather than while you’re out!  The rules are simple – just before showtime grab a glass, can, or bottle of your favorite beverage.  If one of the following events happens during the show, take a swig of your favorite swill:

* The celebrity finds new information and remarks, “Well, I guess I have to go to <insert town, state, or country> now!” – one drink

* The celebrity goes back several generations in two minutes or less – one drink for each generation

* There is a plug for Ancestry in the show – one drink if Ancestry is accessed by a researcher, and two drinks if by the celebrity

* The celebrity finds a photograph of their ancestor in a library or archive – one drink, two if it’s a tintype

* During the commercial break, there’s a commercial for Ancestry – one drink, and get up to refill during the other commercials

* White gloves are used to handle a document – one drink

* White gloves are NOT used to handle a document – two drinks, three if you tweet The Photo Detective or footnoteMaven to complain about it

* The celebrity says, “Wow!” after a find – one drink

* The celebrity compares the ancestor’s life story to their own – one drink

* A genea-colleague tweets, “Hey, I’m related to <celebrity’s ancestor> too!” during the show – one drink, two drinks if you are related too

* While watching,  you think “I could have found that!” – one drink, two drinks if you can formulate a proper source citation for it while drinking

* The celebrity takes notes – one drink, two drinks if they use a computer

* A genea-colleague tweets, “Hey, my ancestors are from <celebrity’s ancestor’s location> too!” during the show – one drink, two drinks if yours are from there too

* You know the librarian, archivist, or genealogist who is helping the celebrity on the show – one drink

* You are the librarian, archivist, or genealogist who is helping the celebrity on the show – buy a few cases of beverages and host a party for the rest of us

Enjoy the show tonight, and remember – do try this at home!  Add your own suggestions in the comments…

Note: You can see full episodes of the show on the TLC page here.

15 Genealogy Things to Do in 2015 for a Happy New Year

"15 with sea view" (C)  Leo Reynolds https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

“15 with sea view” (C) Leo Reynolds https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

On New Year’s Day a lot of people like to make resolutions to improve habits in the upcoming year. If the word “resolution” connotes something that is not usually achieved, then take heart – consider this list of things to do as mere suggestions! Either way, cultivate the habit of doing each of these tasks in your daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly genealogy to-do list will greatly improve not only your research, but also allow you to have more fun while doing it. If you’d like to have a highly effective genealogical new year, consider adopting these habits:

  1. Contact – specifically, reach out to cousins! I had several names of cousins for years before I finally made the decision to make contact – and each time, I was sorry it took me so long to do it because my cousins were not only welcoming, but they also occasionally provided critical information to our shared family history. Whether it’s by email, phone, Facebook, or a letter by mail, don’t wait until it’s too late – contact cousins while you have the chance.
  2. Focus – on one research problem at a time. Often I’ll get distracted while researching, especially if I’m using online databases. Resist the urge to do a mass search if you have one particular problem in mind. Focus on that challenge and you’re more likely to find the path to a solution.
  3. Document – the sources you’ve searched so you don’t make the mistake of fruitlessly searching them again. Sometimes a list of “negative” searches is as useful as the list of records we’ve already found.
  4. Scan – photos and documents! Having digital copies of important photos and documents safeguards against loss or damage of the originals. Better yet, backup your digital data with multiple copies.
  5. Learn – new techniques or record sources. The opportunities for learning new genealogy skills are many. Consider webinars, online classes, local seminars, or attending regional or national conferences. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about genealogy, you may be surprised to learn something new.
  6. Share – your finds with your family. Sometimes your fellow genealogists get more excited by your new finds than your family members. But don’t stop trying! Share your ancestors’ stories with your family. One (or more) will one day thank you!
  7. Test – DNA! If you haven’t jumped into the gene pool with DNA testing, consider getting an autosomal, mtDNA, or a Y-DNA test (men only) for you or your family members. Sometimes research problems are solved through DNA – and even if it doesn’t help you solve your biggest brick wall, testing still offers an interesting glimpse into ourselves and what we’ve biologically inherited from our ancestors.
  8. Create – something unique. Whether it’s a beautiful chart, a photo collage, a scrapbook, or a full-fledged book of your family history, creating something unique about your family history is creating a lasting heirloom for your descendants.
  9. Photograph – places and people! You can’t take photos of your departed ancestors, but you can photograph their tombstones, the houses or towns in which they lived, or where they worked.
  10. Help – newcomers. We all were newbies once! And we all experienced acts of kindness when more experienced researchers showed us the way. So whether it’s in person at your local library or genealogy society or online in a genealogy forum, consider offering that same help to someone who is new to genealogy.
  11. Watch – genealogy on television! Fortunately genealogists have several opportunities to watch genealogy-related tv, including Who Do You Think You Are?, The Genealogy Roadshow, and Finding Your Roots. Each one is unique, and each offers some interesting stories.
  12. Join – a genealogy society. Societies can be valuable to genealogists for many reasons – a community to share ideas, libraries with specialized records or books, publications with great articles, seminars or conferences to learn new things, and even special members-only online research databases. Societies can be local, regional, national, or belonging to specific ethnic groups – each is useful in their own way.
  13. Read – blogs and books. Educate yourself by reading books about history and genealogy for your areas of research. There are also hundreds of genealogy blogs that offer news, tips, and great stories about others’ adventures in research.
  14. Write – your ancestors’ stories. Or if that’s too daunting, then write just one story. If you think you don’t know enough about your ancestors to tell even one story, then here’s a different challenge – write your story. Just one story from your life. Everyone has a story (or two), and if you don’t write it down no one else will ever hear it.
  15. Find – that one ancestor you’re missing. You know who it is – we all have one. I don’t like the term “brick wall” because I believe any brick wall can be knocked down if you have the right equipment. Or at least climbed over if you have enough helping hands to hoist you over it! Use the tasks above to help you figure out that angle you’ve been missing. The answer is out there – be determined to find it!

Coming Soon!

Coming SoonIt has been 364 days since I last posted to this blog, and in 2013 I only had seven posts – six in the first four months of the year. So to anyone out there in the blogosphere that is still here and now reading this brand new post – thank you! I said I would keep blogging until it wasn’t fun anymore and, well, it started to not be fun anymore. But, I did a lot of research in the last two years. In the last few months, I’ve done a lot of writing. The combination of the two has created a lot of ideas, and suddenly the idea of blogging is fun again. So I’m back for the new year!

Some of the posts to come in the new year are:

  • Updates to several previous posts based on new information that has been found. I have updates for Do You Have a Photo of My Great-Grandmother?, The Millers’ Tale, the Research Plan on finding my great-greats’ death dates, the story of the Sister Who Disappeared, and a few of my Surname Saturday posts
  • An inspiring story about a group of my ancestors who fled religious persecution
  • Adventures in DNA matching
  • Some tips on using several resources that offer millions of digitized Polish records
  • Several old postcards that offered new insights into my family history
  • An fascinating example of a German Stammbuch – and how it told me a lot about the owner’s personality
  • Tracing my traveling blacksmith ancestor throughout Poland
  • 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – I’ve decided to attempt to participate each week in Amy Johnson Crow’s 2015 Edition of the weekly 52 Ancestors Challenge

After a long break, I’m really looking forward to blogging again. I hope that you’ll be along for the ride next year!

Happy 100th, Grandmom!

If my grandmother Margaret Pointkouski was still alive, today would be her 100th birthday.   This post is in her honor:

Various photos from throughout Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski's life. Top Row: First Communion Day (circa 1919-1920), with her first born - my dad (circa winter 1934-35), with husband James  (1957), portrait (1972). Center: Bergmeister siblings in 1959. Bottom Row: portrait (circa early 1930's), with husband James (1962), and with children (winter 1942-3).

Various photos from throughout Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski’s life. Top Row: First Communion Day (circa 1919-1920), with her first born – my dad (circa winter 1934-35), with husband James (1957), portrait (1972). Center: Bergmeister siblings in 1959. Bottom Row: portrait (circa early 1930’s), with husband James (1962), and with children (winter 1942-3).

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) and Marie Echerer (1875-1919)
  • Born: 11 April 1913, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 13 April 1912, St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA
  • Siblings: Marie (1898-1990), Joseph (1902-1986), Max (1905-1974), Julius 1908-19??), Charles (1909), Laura (1911)
  • Married: James Pointkouski on 13 January 1934 in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was later blessed at St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: James and Jean
  • Died: 14 January 1998
  • Buried: 17 January 1998, Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

From left to right: Mabel, Carol, Marie, Helen holding Robert with Suzanne below, and Margaret holding Drew. Marie and Margaret are sisters & Helen is their sister-in-law. Marie is holding her granddaughter Carol, Mabel's daughter. Helen is holding her grandchildren, and Margaret is holding her grandson (my brother). Photo date - around spring of 1960.

Grandchildren & Second Cousins: From left to right: Mabel, Carol, Marie, Helen holding Robert with Suzanne below, and Margaret holding Drew. Marie and Margaret are sisters & Helen is their sister-in-law. Marie is holding her granddaughter Carol, Mabel’s daughter. Helen is holding her grandchildren, and Margaret is holding her grandson (my brother). Photo date – around spring of 1960.

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from Genealogical Records:

  • Grandmom’s middle name, according to her baptismal record, was Hermina. No one knew where the name came from until I found Uncle Herman Goetz in my research, her father’s half-brother who was also her godfather. The reason why no one in the family remembered Uncle Herman is because he died in 1918 and she likely didn’t remember him at all.
  • She was probably named after her maternal grandmother, Margarethe Fischer Echerer (1845-1895).
  • Grandmom barely knew her parents. Her mother died in 1919 about six weeks before Grandmom’s 6th birthday. Then in 1927 when she was not quite 14, her father died.
  • Although she was born in 1913, she is completely missing from the 1920 and 1930 census!
  • Her first child, my father, was born less than seven months after the wedding.

The Pointkouski family circa 1960

The Pointkouski family circa 1960

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from My Dad and Aunt:

  • According to my Aunt Jean, when Grandmom was born she was so tiny that she could fit into a shoebox. Her parents weren’t sure she’d survive – they had two children in between her brother Julius and her that only lived for one day. 
  • My grandmother always said that her Aunt Laura was very good to her. Laura was Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, her father’s sister. After her parents died, Aunt Laura and her husband, Uncle Max, were the closest thing to parents she’d have. Uncle Max died in 1941 and Aunt Laura in 1943 – while I’m sure Grandmom would have liked their support for much longer in her life, at least by then she had a husband and children of her own.
  • A description of her parents was passed down, but I’m not sure if the memory came from my grandmother or her older siblings – likely the siblings since she was so young when her mother died. But, her mother was remembered as a very short, fiesty woman who ruled the household – and ruled her husband, Joseph, whom she called “Sepp” for short.  Although he was taller than his wife, he but obedient to everything she said.
  • Grandmom met my Grandpop at her brother Max’s store. Grandpop worked as a truck driver delivering ice cream, and Max’s soda fountain was on his route. He spotted Margaret one day, and excitedly asked Max, “Who’s that?” Max looked around, “Her? Aw, she’s just my sister.”
  • My Grandmom was called “Aunt Margie” by her nieces and nephews. She seemed to be very close to them, especially her nieces Marie and Mabel who were only 7 and 11 years younger than her (her sister Marie’s daughters). After Grandmom died, I found some correspondence in her house that she had saved over the years from her niece Helen and nephews Bob and Carl, all children of her brother Joseph.

Grandmom and me, 1977

Grandmom and me, 1977

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother From Knowing Her:

  • She always called my grandfather “Pop”
  • She made ceramics as a hobby. Two that have survived over the years are a Christmas tree (with lights) and a candy dish shaped like a sleigh that says “The Pointkouski Family”.  I remember from my childhood that she made my brother a hockey player figurine (or was it a lamp?) with a Flyers jersey, and a Tin Man lamp for my father when he played the Tin Man in a show.
  • She was a knitter and made afghans. I still have one she made for our family.
  • She was blind in one eye for the last 20+ years of her life. I think it was due to glaucoma.
  • She always signed her cards “Grandmom, Love” instead of the other way around

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

Where I’m From


Back in July 2011, Randy Seaver posted a “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” (SNGF) challenge to create a “Where I’m From” poem using the template at this site. I started a post then but never completed it, and I stumbled upon the draft on my laptop the other day. Now Randy has posted the challenge again tonight! This time I decided to let my creativity out and came up with this little ditty about Where I’m From.  We all have a story – where are You from?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where I’m From

I am from home-cooked meals, from chicken soup and Tastykakes.

I am from the city of brotherly love, rooting for the Fightin’ Phils and the Broad Street Bullies, from playing wiffle ball in the street and riding bikes down Kirby Drive.

I am from sweltering humid summers, occasional blizzards in cold winters, from honeysuckle and buzzing cicadas.

I am from laughter and stubbornness, from Jimmy and Chick, from Pointkouski’s and Bergmeister’s and Pater’s and Zawodny’s.

I am from factory workers and truck drivers, from part-time tap dancers and comedians, from hard workers earning a living but never doing what their hearts wanted to do most.

I am from using every pot to cook a meal and never going out with wet hair.

I am from Catholic school, from believing in the Real Presence and knowing good priests and fun nuns. I am from the rosary and down in adoration falling and holding hands to pray around the kitchen table.

I am from the Far Northeast in Philly, from Poles and Bavarians, from pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. I am from cheese steaks and hoagies, from chocolate and wine.

I am from the stowaway with the secret name, or maybe not, and from the baker called Sepp, and from the made-up surname that no one can spell.

I am from mysteries and myths, from faces in too few black and white photographs, from immigrants who left the only homes they knew to create a new one far away. I am from a family that didn’t hand down heirlooms but instead I inherited humor, love, and faith.

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

"The Passage of Time" - Photo by ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonivc/2283676770/

“The Passage of Time” – Photo by ToniVC at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonivc/2283676770/

Well, it’s been a long break here since my last post. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been off having some fascinating adventures, but… not really. As luck would have it (or lack of luck), I’ve never had so many different things to blog about at a time in which I have no time for blogging due to other duties. There’s been a lot of genealogical discoveries in recent weeks, so I hope to have time to write about them soon. Rather than spending a lot of time writing my usual long, fact-filled posts, here’s a sampling of some of my recent genealogical adventures that I hope to post about in greater detail soon:

Have you ever found a birth record for someone that convinces you it’s your someone…only to discover that person’s death record a year later? Hmm, right name, wrong person…that makes me wonder if any of my “ancestors” in my tree are the wrong person because I didn’t check to see if “they” died as a child.

Have you ever come to a complete dead end only to realize that maybe, just maybe you’re looking in the wrong place for the wrong name?  In my case, I hadn’t considered that the professional translator I hired may have translated a record incorrectly. I’ve been searching for the wrong person. In the wrong town. It happens; even pros make mistakes. Get a second opinion.  Or third.  For me, the third time was the charm.

I recently found a connection in someone else’s tree. Someone else’s very well-documented and well-sourced tree. That’s never happened before. After receiving confirmation through additional research that we’re talking about the same person, I was able to add his research to my tree. Lots of information. Almost 50 new surnames. On some lines, I went back so many generations my head was spinning. A 13th great-grandfather? Dates in the 1500s? Mind. Officially. Blown.

Besides all the great new Bavarian surnames I’ve added to my tree, some first names that are “firsts” on my family tree are: Sebastian, Ulrich, Veit, Kaspar, Sabina, Gregor, Abraham, August, Agathe, Brigitte, Nikolaus, and Melchoir. And about a dozen men named Georg. And another couple of dozen Johanns to add to my multitude of John’s and Joe’s.

liebster-award2Finally, William at Among My Branches has given me the Liebster Award. He’s asked me to answer some questions:

  • (1) How long have you been researching your family history? I officially began in 1989.
  • (2) What made you begin researching your family history? I watched Roots in 1977 and wanted to do what Alex Haley did because I had no idea where my ancestors came from. In 1989, I had some time and a friend who was equally interested in learning her family’s history so we learned about how to research.
  • (3) Was there an ancestor or relative in your family that was also interested in family history or preserved important documents and records? None at all.
  • (4) Have you uncovered any connections to famous people? Nope. I descend from good peasant stock.
  • (5) What is the furthest generation back that you have a photograph for that ancestor–i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd great grandparent, etc. I have photos of six of my great-grandparents. The oldest photo of a collateral relative is the brother of my 2nd great-grandfather.
  • (6) Do you have any family recipes that have been handed down through the generations? No.
  • (7) What was the country of origins for your grandparents? Bavaria/Germany, Tirol/Austria, Poland, and Bohemia.
  • (8) Name a fun fact from your paternal grandfather’s ancestry? My paternal grandfather’s grandfather is the first Polish ancestor I discovered who was literate. He was a valet/footman.
  • (9) Name a fun fact from your paternal grandmother’s ancestry? My paternal grandmother descends from a long line of Bavarian shoemakers and millers.
  • (10) Name a fun fact from your maternal grandfather’s ancestry? My maternal grandfather’s family were weavers, shoemakers, and cloth merchants. I now work with the apparel and footwear industry.
  • (11) Name a fun fact from your maternal grandmother’s ancestry? My maternal grandmother told me a lot of really interesting stories about her family that I’ve managed to disprove with my research!

My questions are a bit different. It’s not quite the Proust Questionnaire, but… I am not going to nominate 11 blogs because most of my blogger friends have either already been nominated, haven’t blogged for a long time like me, or don’t usually partake of award posts. So, any and all are welcome to answer my silly questions in the comments!

  1. What’s the most unique ancestor’s first name in your tree? 
  2. What’s your favorite ancestral surname?
  3. Twitter or Facebook?
  4. What’s the oldest verified birth year in your tree?
  5. Kirk or Picard?
  6. Who’s your favorite author?
  7. Kelly or Astaire?
  8. What’s your favorite sound?
  9. What’s your favorite quote?
  10. Who’s your favorite ancestor?
  11. Which ancestor would you most like to meet?

Top 12 Reasons I Didn’t Meet All of My 12 Genealogy Goals for 2012

Well, it’s that time of year again…with just eight days to go in 2012 we genealogy bloggers sometimes brag write about what a great job we did in meeting our goals for the year. Then we usually come up with another list of genealogy-related fun things to do next year. I’m no exception…I’ve been doing the same for the last few years myself. But if I spell out this year’s goals and talk about how well – or not – I did at meeting them, I’d feel a bit ridiculous since, well…I didn’t quite get to most of them. Let’s just say my priorities changed throughout the year. But hey, it’s that time of year, so let me at least provide you with my TOP 12 REASONS I DIDN’T MEET ALL OF MY 12 GENEALOGY GOALS FOR 2012!

12. The world was supposed to be over by now…

11. Uh, some of my lofty goals were a bit too hard. I mean, what was I thinking? Twelve goals?

10. Several of my most inspirational long-time genealogy blogging friends (you all know who you are) took a blogging leave of absence and left me uninspired as a result. (Please come back!!!!!)

9. I was distracted by shiny things and spent too much of my free time reading my Pointer sister’s voluminous tweets.

My niece and nephews love Star Wars too!

My niece and nephews love Star Wars too!

8. I introduced the next generation to the wonder that is Star Wars.

7. I cheated on Facebook by having an actual real live social network.

Cast of TV's Leverage: Christian Kane, Gina Bellman, Tim Hutton, Beth Reisgraf, Aldis Hodge

Cast of TV’s Leverage: Christian Kane, Gina Bellman, Tim Hutton, Beth Reisgraf, Aldis Hodge

6. I spent a whole lot of time watching all 77 episodes of Leverage multiple times with great delight.

5. I was too stressed trying to complete the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge.

4. I still give up on translating Polish records that are written in Russian in under five minutes.

3. I bribed my genealogy-goal buddy, Lisa Alzo, with a case of slivovitz to stop bugging me about my progress.

2. I found out a lot of other great genealogy facts this year that weren’t on my 2012 wish list.

1. Occasionally hanging out with live relatives is more fun that looking for dead ones.

12 Things I Learned This Year

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/3723131340/

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/3723131340/

Since today is December 12, 2012 — and I haven’t posted for a while — here are twelve things, genealogical and otherwise, that I have learned in this past year.

1. I learned what happened to my grandmother’s Uncle Herman.

2. I learned where all of my ancestors and relatives were living in the United States in 1940.

3. I learned that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, actually immigrated to this country and lived here for 22 years before she died in 1944 in New Jersey.

4. I learned the names of two sets of sixth great-grandparents: Jan Pluta and Agnieszka Kramarska and Jan Redłowski and Józefa Lichańska. They were named on the 1820 marriage record of their children, Bartłomiej Ludwik Pluta and Helena Franciszka Redłowska. The father of the groom was a shoemaker, and the father of the bride was a cloth merchant who actually signed the marriage record  and gave me the oldest signature in my ancestral collection!

5. I learned quite a few death dates of Polish ancestors thanks to online records at Geneteka.

6. I learned what my great-grandmother looked like.

7. I learned a bit more about my grandfather’s missing sister and the man she married…I just haven’t blogged about it yet.

8. I learned I’m Scandinavian. Well, 46% of my DNA is… That means that my Bavarian ancestors and perhaps a few of the Poles once came from farther north. No wonder I can’t stand the cold – we’ve been heading south for thousands of years.

9. I learned that my father’s uncle had a daughter we didn’t know about. I was able to put her in touch with her half-sister, and they both learned a bit more about their father.

10. I learned once again that hanging out with other genealogists in a lot of fun (Slavapalooza ’12 was held in Philadelphia in late April).

11. I learned that sometimes you have to put social media, blogging, and the computer away and get out there and cultivate relationships in person. I was more social this year with dinners, dates, happy hours, and fun times with family and friends. When I wound up in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, my closest friends were by my side. It’s good to have friends that have known you since you were a teenager – they won’t let you get away with anything, they will make you laugh, and they will take care of you when you need it!

12. I learned to let go of negativity and find things to enjoy about life every day. I don’t have a single thing I ever really wanted in life and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

I Was a Teenage Car Thief

History:  gossip well told.  ~ Elbert Hubbard

Partners in crime: Nancy and I, probably up to no good, at National Honor Society induction during junior year (fall, 1983).

I was a teenage car thief.

Or so the story goes. That isn’t quite exactly true, but it seems to be how the story is told years later!

In my girls-only Catholic high school,my friend Nancy and I were probably known more for what we didn’t do than what we did. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cut class, hike our uniform skirts halfway up our thighs, and we didn’t even wear makeup.

Nancy and I were good, polite, studious young ladies who got mostly straight A’s. Boring? Well, maybe to some, but we both also happened to have a great sense of humor and a mischievous streak, so we certainly weren’t bored. And, after all, the great thing about a devious mind in a goody-two-shoes body is that you rarely ever got blamed for your own mischievousness!

In junior year, we both had the good fortune to have Mrs. Campbell for history class (we called it “World Cultures”). Not only was Mrs. Campbell very smart (little did we know then that she was a future Jeopardy contestant) and an excellent teacher, but she was fun, too! Mrs. C had a sense of humor and a mischievous streak that rivaled ours in addition to a penchant for really bad puns. Let’s just say that Nancy and I learned a lot from her.

One day Mrs. Campbell broke off into an off-topic tangent about a student who attempted a  practical joke on her and failed. With a daring twinkle in her eye, she declared, “NO ONE has ever fooled me!”

Seated on the left side of the room, I immediately turned to Nancy a few rows to my right and raised my eyebrow. Nancy discreetly caught my gaze and nodded. The game was afoot! With a silent shared glance and only the faintest hint of a smirk, Nancy and I were thinking the same exact thing: “We’ll see about that, Mrs. C!”

After class, we wondered what joke we could play on her. We quickly realized it had to involve her car in some way, for the car had become a frequent detractor from our daily lesson plan. The Campbell’s bought a brand new car, and it was a complete lemon. Never in the history of American car production had a brand new car had so many mechanical failures. They were at their wits’ end in trying to get help from the dealership.

“We should steal it,” I said.

Nancy looked slightly shocked, yet amused, and gave me a questioning look.

“Well, not really steal it…just, you know – move it. If her car wasn’t where she parked it, she’d think it was stolen!”

Nancy smiled, “That’s perfect!”

Yes, perfect, until it dawned on us, both National Honor Society scholars, that neither of us could drive yet. Our friends who could drive thought we were absolutely insane and wanted nothing to do with our devious plans.

Time for Plan B! In the end, Plan B doesn’t sound like much at all – but, history is more about how things are remembered than what actually happened. Our classmate, Deena, worked in the main office during our class period. She would enter our room with a (forged) note for Mrs. Campbell that would tell her to call the dealership about her car – urgently! That’s right, kids, there were no cell phones in the mid-80’s!

This simple message was merely meant to invoke her ire – at the car, not us – and send her into a brief tizzy of humorous car-related stories which would have the side effect of getting us off the day’s lesson plan for the rest of the period until we revealed the joke.

See, we were not quite comedic geniuses yet, just lazy history students.

On the appointed day (my fuzzy memory thinks it was possibly April Fool’s Day) and the designated time, the note arrives. Mrs. C read it and looked quite distressed. She then did something we didn’t expect – she said she’d be right back and bolted out of the room!

When our note-delivery girl returned with the second note that said something to the effect of “just kidding”, Mrs. C still wasn’t back yet. Deena saw her in the hallway talking on the pay phone. Those who knew of our plan asked us what was going on: “Who’s she calling?” Others laughed and said, “You’re both dead!”

She couldn’t possibly be calling the dealership, could she? Maybe moving her car was a better idea after all.

She returned to the room, breathless – not from the short walk to the classroom, but from all the talking she had just quickly done on her call. She was about to explain what happened when she noticed that Deena standing in the front of the room. Deena handed her the second note while backing towards the classroom door and simultaneously trying to give a death-stare to Nancy and me on our different sides of the room.

That second or two while Mrs. Campbell read the note seemed longer than waiting for the bell to end Sr. Cherubim’s class.

Then… she laughed! And then said, “Oh my God, I have to call my husband!” and ran out of the room. She quickly returned and was dismayed that his line was busy. She explained that she called him about calling the car dealership because something else was wrong with the car. By the time she finally did get in touch with him – before our class was over – he had called not only the car dealership but also the Vice President of General Motors to discuss the lack of quality of their new vehicles and their poor customer service.

Fortunately, Mr. Campbell was as easy-going as his wife and they both actually laughed at our little prank. They thought the car dealership needed to be told off anyway, and we just prompted them to do it a little faster.

My memory has faded on the detail of how Nancy and I were identified as the perpetrators, but either we openly bragged about it or she immediately guessed from our sheepish grins. I think she actually admired us after that for our brave initiative. Mrs. C was so cool that by the end of junior year, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell agreed to chaperone four friends and me on a trip to Rome after we graduated – and she kept her word!

No cars were harmed or even touched in the prank, yet forevermore Mrs. Campbell called Nancy and I her car thieves. And that is how I got my class out of a history lesson one day and went down in Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls history as a teenage car thief.

How Mrs. Campbell signed my yearbook in senior year: Dear Donna, You have a great future as a car thief.

Our prank made it into our senior yearbook as a caption on a photo of Mrs. Campbell teaching class!

Left: Nancy and Mrs. C at our friend Mary’s graduation party, June 1985. Right: Mrs. C and me expressing our dissatisfaction with the hotel in Rome, July 1985.

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy: School Humor]