Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category


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.

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"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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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"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?

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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.

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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.

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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]

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Photo by katieb50 under the Creative Commons license (click on image for link to katieb50’s Flickr page for this photo)

It is my pleasure to present the 4th annual Festival of Strange Search Terms – the weird, bizarre, and unusual phrases that folks have entered into search engines…and for some weird, bizarre, and unusual reason they wound up here anyway. Here are some of the best of the strange and odd search terms that have brought visitors here in 2012 – with my comments, of course! Note: these are actual search terms used!

If Only It Was That Easy

how did aunt joan die – Well, I know how my Aunt Joan died. I’m not really sure about yours.

what heritage am i – Who needs a DNA test or all that annoying research? Just Google it!

ww2 my grandpa in his uniform with my grandma – I wish finding photographs was this easy!

my grandmother in 1927 – And they really expected to find her…

find grampa – I’m tempted to Google this to see the search results. Maybe my grampa is there too!

my great great grandparents – Ta Da! I wish my smartphone was that smart. It would have saved me tons of research time.

Things That Make You Go “Huh?”

if only i had shown him my heirlooms – I so want to know the story behind this one! We need to make this a writing prompt for the next Carnival of Fictional Genealogy!

alien skulls – Hmm…

missouri recycling statistics from 2008-2011 – What’s amusing about this one is: 1) it led to my blog, which as far as I know has never mentioned  either Missouri or recycling, and 2) they stayed long enough to view two posts.

worst libraries – Why search for the best of anything when you can search for the worst?

animated obsessive compulsive – Do they mean a cartoon of an obsessive compulsive, or just an obsessive compulsive who uses a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions?

Make Me LOL

did fotomat have bathroom – While I may have wondered that as a kid, I would have never thought to search for the answer online.

if plan a doesn’t work, remember there are 25 more letters in the alphabet – If you need 26 tries to make your plan work, it’s probably not that great of an idea. Just say’n…

cat movie camera – Is this a movie camera that can only be used to film cats or one that can only be operated by cats?

a story from my past – Oh, wait, I’m drawing a blank on that memory so let me search for it online…

i used to have a life then i discovered genealogy – Didn’t we all?

This Sounds Like Fun

fountain of youth birthday party – I’ll drink to that!

time travel pictures 1940 – If they are pictures obtained by traveling back through time to 1940, then I’m all ears!

facebookancester.com [sic] – Because if they only had Facebook back then, we would now know that Grandma was often bored and played FarmVille all day.

“gene kelly’s ass” – Who could ask for anything more?

So there you have it! The next edition of the What’s Past is Prologue search term carnival will include more bizarre, freakish, and unusual ways that bring me more traffic. Until next time, I remain the Queen of Grampa’s Alien Heirlooms and Time Travel Photos of Gene Kelly’s Ass.

[Note: My past crown titles include Queen of Forgotten Unusual Facial Expressions and Dumb Mistake Cake Spelling Roulette, Queen and Super-Finder of Renegade Name-Labeled Regal Dog Portraits and Queen of Ugly Teady Beer Shakespearean Transvestite Marriage Photos. I bet you’re really jealous now.]

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The Internet Archive: Wayback Machine (click on image to visit the site)

When we think of the past, we usually remember things that were a part of our lives such as cars, music, or fashions, or things from before our time that we learned about as history. The internet has only been part of our lives for a relatively short time as far as the history of the world is concerned, so while I sometimes think on the days “before” the internet, I don’t usually think about its earliest days and what it looked like. That is, until I read Go Back in Time: How 10 Big Websites Looked 15 Years Ago. The post uses the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to show screen shots of several sites including Apple, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and the New York Times. It was like the equivalent of looking at old photos of your family, friends, and self in fashions and hairstyles best kept in the past. But it was interesting to see just how “old” each of the sites looked “way back”  when and just how much the internet and technology has evolved in such a short time.

Genealogical research on the internet has shown the same leap as the sites mentioned in that article. I decided to look up some of our favorite big genealogy sites to see what is the equivalent of their old prom pictures.  While the screen shots might have that “dated” look about them, the most striking difference is that each of them have so much more information – including actual records online – than they did in the past.  Take a walk down memory lane – do you remember when the sites looked like this?

Ancestry.com on 02 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ancestry.com on 28 October 1996. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

FamilySearch.org on 08 May 1999. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Ellisisland.org on 03 March 2000. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Rootsweb.com (before purchased by Ancestry) on 14 June 1998. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

SteveMorse.org on 02 April 2003. SOURCE: The Internet Archive

Of course, What’s Past is Prologue has looked exactly the same since its creation in 2008 except for the addition of some pages and changes to the sidebar.  But that’s just because I like the design!

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SOURCE: footonoteMaven. "Earth Day - Birthday Graphic." footnoteMaven, 22 April 2009. http://www.footnotemaven.com/2009/04/earth-day-birthday.html : 2012.

The illustrious footnoteMaven and I go back a long time – from our days as war correspondents to back when we worked as sherpas leading Mt. Everest expeditions. When our mutual friend Penelope Dreadful mentioned fM’s birthday – that is, she mentioned the number being celebrated, for the day has long been a blogging holiday on my calendar – I was shocked. How could a woman who knows so much be so young? I mean, looks-wise, she’s striking, but youthful looks can lie (who knows how many surgeries could give me the same youthful countenance?). So although she looks much younger than her age, I was shocked at the number because she’s a woman of wisdom, and you don’t get wisdom with youth!

So that got me thinking…what if she’s really older than that? I smell a conspiracy. I mean, look at all the careers the woman has had!  From the dancing chorus girl on Broadway to the archaeologist who discovered an ancient civilization in the South Pacific to the sculptor whose work is in countless museums. Not to mention the time she tried a case before the Supreme Court. So how is it that this amazing woman could be younger than me?

I remembered a story she told me once, a long time ago. The details are hazy, as if remembering a dream. We both had a little too much to drink one night in Tangier while covering a coup, and she told me her deepest secret – she had discovered the Fountain of Youth. I thought she was drunk. I know I was. But looking back, I think she was trying to reveal her secret.

No wonder fM knows so much about history and historical records – could it actually be that she lived through it? Shades of the Departed, my butt…sure, those folks are departed from this world, but little did we know that fM knew all the folks in those photos – her family and friends from her past.

I had to find out the truth. There had to be evidence, and I had to cite it. One day, after many late nights spent searching, I finally found it. Oh. My. Gosh. Our own footnoteMaven was Polish after all.  And Catholic? Who knew! I guess when you live for so long you have to change your life story to keep things interesting. No wonder she always knew the answers to my Polish genealogical mysteries…I always wondered how a Lutheran girl of Irish stock from Missouri would know those things…  But records don’t lie! Here was my proof, a marriage record for Regina Mavin in 1803:

The is the only non-fictional element of the entire post (except, of course, fM's youth, beauty, wisdom, and the depth of our friendship).

The name Regina is Latin for “queen”. Mavin? Close enough – every genealogist knows how flexible spellings can be in records.  Queen Maven…was it really our Queen Maven marrying Mr. Miller in 1803? And does the current Mr. Maven know about this?  I traveled to Poland to the Archives to investigate further as anyone who watches WDYTYA knows that one must do. I entrusted Steve Danko‘s help, and we found more records about the former Regina Mavin that are not available online. We even found a painting of her, and that proved it once and for all, for Regina has the same striking visage as our very own fM. Yes, Queen Maven may have thought she covered up her tracks after her discovery of the secret of youth, but she underestimated the ability of a determined genealogist.

If only she told me more on that steamy night in Tangier when she drunkenly revealed her secret. Ah well, maybe someday she will reveal all. All I know is, the next time we attend a genealogy conference together, I’m bringing a supply of Lisa Alzo‘s slivovitz, a Slovakian liquor that’s better than a truth serum. Yes, someday I will get fM to tell me the location of that fountain!


Today is the birthday of footnoteMaven, editor/publisher of the award-winning Shades of the Departed Online Magazine. The Shadettes and Shades-dudes Staff Writers are pleased to present this Special Birthday Edition of the magazine as a tribute to their dear friend. The round-up of posts will be compiled today at The Family Curator. If you’re friends with fM too, join us in wishing her a very happy birthday. In case you were wondering, all of the above is fictional (and meant to be humorous) except for the fact that fM is young, beautiful, and my dear friend, and there was a very real marriage in 1803 in Poland of a woman named Regina Mavin. I figured it was either the fountain of youth or a time machine that was responsible for this amazing coincidence. 

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My “Pointer Sister”, the lovely Caroline Pointer of For Your Family Story, has invited me to moonlight on her blog today.  She gave me a big Texan “Howdy” and even explained how we’re related.  Well, relatively speaking, that is…  Read Genealogists and the Tech Tools They Use to Research – and I’m the last of the 5-part series, so make sure you visit the previous posts if you haven’t already for some really good ideas. If you’re up for a genealogy challenge, check out Caroline’s 48-Hour Ephemera Challenge every weekend for a fun mystery research project to solve!

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I hope your Valentine is as cute as this!

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles that has now become a monthly roundup.  Here are February’s goodies!

Nun Maintains Polish Ties Through 100 Year Family Correspondence, an article by Susan Klemond in National Catholic Register, is a great story about two families keeping in touch across the miles – and across generations! [February 12]

Twenty-Five Ways to Come Up With Great Ideas for Your Writing by Ali on Aliventures may spark your creativity whether you are writing your family history, trying to come up with blog posts – or if you’re writing some fiction on the side. [February 1]

What’s with the SSDI and the petition? by Pat Richley-Erickson, otherwise known as DearMyrtle, sums up the recently “controversy” over the Social Security Death Index.  [February 12]

The 50 Questions in the 1940 Census – Tuesday’s Tip by Nancy at My Ancestors and Me gives us a glimpse of the types of information we’ll get when the 1940 Census is made available this April. [February 7]

More Than Meets The Eye (Again): A Tuesday’s Tip Follow Up! by Cynthia Shenette at Heritage Zen offers some great advice on reviewing the photos in our collections.  Cynthia says, “if you have a group of photos or materials that seem to be related in some way make sure you view them together and consider the group as a whole” – see her post on the discovery she made doing just that.   [January 31]

Set in Stone? by Bill West at West in New England reminds us not to believe everything we read…even if it’s written in stone! [January 29]

The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Genealogists by Randall Dickerson from Free-Range Organic Genealogy (formerly known as Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings) humorously ponders the question of what species of genealogist we all belong to.  As Randall points out, take note that “Any resemblance between these descriptions and any genealogist, alive or dead, is unintended, a coincidence, and a darn shame.” [January 29]

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

I had quite a few posts planned for February…but here it is and the month is half over and I haven’t quite gotten to my ideas yet.  I hope to post in the next month about some finds in a new collection at Ancestry.com, the preponderance of February dates in one of my ancestral families, and my preparations for the 1940 Census.

As always, thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

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Geniaus has proposed The Bucket List GeneaMeme in which we share genealogy-related things we’d like to do.  The “rules” said to put the things you want to do in bold and the others in plain type, but since my list contains mostly things I want to do I’m just leaving it plain.

The genealogy conference I would most like to attend is… FEEFHS (Federation of East European Family History Societies) because the topics would be relevant to my research.

The genealogy speaker I would most like to hear and see is… Fred Hoffman, because he rocks and I’ve never heard him speak.

The geneablogger I would most like to meet in person is… SmallestLeaf, also known as Lisa, because we’ve become good friends and have a lot in common, but we’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

The genealogy writer I would most like to have dinner with is… Lisa Alzo, because we always have a great time when we have dinner together! [We’re having dinner with Steve Danko to the left in June, 2011.]

The genealogy lecture I would most like to present is…. one that I already presented because I wouldn’t have much to prepare (either Genealogy Blogging or Finding Your Eastern European Ancestors in Russian Consular Records).

I would like to go on a genealogy cruise that visits…. I don’t do cruises because I would rather spend more time in a place.  I might not say no to a Mediterranean cruise, but as far as I know I have no ancestry from that area.

The photo I would most like to find is… my Piątkowski great-grandparents, because they are the only ones for whom I don’t have a photo.

The repository in a foreign land I would most like to visit is… Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (Poland’s National Archives) as long as I have Steve Danko along to assist.

The place of worship I would most like to visit is… the church in Dobrosołowo, Poland where my Zawodny great-grandparents married in 1902 because it’s one of my ancestral churches I have not yet visited.

The cemetery I would most like to visit is …. this is a tough one because most of my ancestors who died in Europe no longer have marked graves.

The ancestral town or village I would most like to visit is…. Dobrosołowo, Poland, because I haven’t been there yet.

The brick wall I most want to smash is…. finding Elizabeth Miller’s (Elżbieta Müller’s) birthplace, because she’s my most frustrating search!

The piece of software I most want to buy is…. Family Tree Maker 2012, because I’d like the new version and haven’t gotten around to buying it yet.

The tech toy I want to purchase next is….. a Mac, because I’m tired of Windows updates and slow response times.

The expensive book I would most like to buy is… Evidence Explained, because <whispers> I don’t actually have a copy.

The library I would most like to visit is….. the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, because I found so much the last time I was there!

The genealogy related book I would most like to write is…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, because I have a few ideas. 

The genealogy blog I would most like to start would be about…. Catholic genealogy.  Oh wait, I already did that.  Maybe one on Bavarian genealogy if I could only find other researchers that would contribute and/or be interested in the topic.

The journal article I would most like to write would be about… Polish research, because I know a few things about it.  Note to PGSCTNE, yes, I do realize I owe your society a journal article on Polish research…it’s coming! 

The ancestor I most want to meet in the afterlife is…. my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny (1880-1944), because he had an interesting life and he seemed like a really nice guy.

As Geniaus suggested, I added a couple of my own items to the list:

The celebrity I’d most like to see on Who Do You Think You Are? is…. Johnny Galecki, so I can see if he’s related to my Galecki cousins (and it would be nice if they did some Polish research on the show).

The genealogical research skill I would most like to have is…. the sudden ability to read and comprehend Polish, Russian, and German, because it would make research so much easier.

The genealogy tech gadget I would most like to invent is…. a scanner that will automatically translate a record from a foreign language to English, because it would be not only useful but highly profitable.

The genealogical records I would most like to see become available online are…. Pennsylvania death records for the 20th Century and the entire Family History Library collection, because….well, duh, just because!

The family heirloom I would most like to own is…. my great-grandmother Zawodny’s sewing machine, because it would be cool to have it.

The living cousin I would most like to find is… any descendant of my grandfather’s brothers, Eugene Pater and Walter Miller, because I haven’t found any yet and it would be nice to connect to that branch of the family.

What’s on your genealogy bucket list?

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The Sound of Music Effect

The Von Trapp Family as portrayed in the 1965 film, "The Sound of Music"

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?  What’s that, you ask? Well, it is not when your family has a penchant for suddenly breaking into song about their favorite things or when saying good-night is an elaborate Broadway production. The term came to me after I recently watched Sound of Music both on stage and on film and I became interested in the real Von Trapp family.

The enormously popular musical film The Sound of Music premiered in 1965 and was based on the the 1959 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The story, if you’ve lived in a cocoon for years and never heard it, is about a novice nun-turned nanny for a widower’s seven children who falls in love with the dad, marries him, brings the joy of music into their lives, teaches the children to sing beautifully, and escapes the evil Nazis in a late-night chase over the Alps. But the best part of the story? It’s based on a true story!

Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. “Based on a true story” and “true story” are not the same thing.

As it turns out, both the Broadway and the movie version of the family’s story are somewhat more dramatic than the German movie and memoir of the family’s lives. Being more dramatic obviously makes the story infinitely more interesting. Escaping the Nazis by traveling on foot over the Alps to Switzerland? Wow! Except, in reality, the very real Von Trapp family “escaped” Austria a full two years before the Anschluss (and seven years after the couple got married). And they left by train. In broad daylight. To go to Italy, where they were citizens based on Georg von Trapp’s birplace. No Nazis were in pursuit.

To disappoint The Sound of Music fans even further, I should point out that the children’s names were all changed and Georg was neither as wealthy nor as strict as the movie portrayed.

Hence, what I have christened as The Sound of Music effect…when the true story is, well, just a story.  But when the story “based on a true story” is A STORY!

Sometimes we have The Sound of Music effect in our own family stories. While the majority of our family histories were not livened up for the sake of dramatic license on the silver screen, they may have been spruced up…for the sake of the story.

Face it, what’s the more exciting story?

Choice A: Grandpop couldn’t afford a ticket/was on the run from the authorities so he stowed away on the ship.  OR

Choice B: Grandpop bought a ticket, boarded the steamship, and spent two weeks with hundreds of other immigrants in steerage.

Yup, Choice A wins every time.

Many other family history myths may be the result of The Sound of Music effect. Was your ancestor descended from a Cherokee princess? Was the family’s name changed at Ellis Island? Are you related to someone really famous in history? These are all great stories.  But are they true, or merely based on a true story? These stories may be true – but only solid genealogical research will answer the question. Chances are there is a kernel of truth in the exciting story – but just a kernel. The true stories are often…well, ordinary, everyday, and somewhat boring. But not to a genealogist or a family historian! Being chased by the Nazis is certainly a dramatic story, but the ordinary tale can be just as much fun.

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?

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Happy New Year! Did you resolve to clean out your clutter?

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was once my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles – now it feels more comfortable to roundup my “picks” once a month.  Here are January’s goodies including a couple of genealogy blogs that are new finds!

I recently discovered a relatively new blog, Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings by Randall Dickerson (1-19-2012: Note – Randall changed his blog name! It’s now Alabama Free-Ranging Organic Genealogy at the same address). Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even looked at a blog with that title because I have no Southern roots whatsoever. But I’m sure glad I stopped by, for not only does Randall have great posts, but he has one of the funniest and most entertaining About Me pages I’ve ever read!  (Yes, Randall, I had to look up “Vexillology”.) Check out The “Do List”; My New Year’s Resolution Concepts in which he proposes concepts that will allow all of us to be more productive. One of his good posts from December is Trying to like Ancestry.Com – Disaster in Grafting My Family Tree in which he shares his frustration over what happens when you splice another’s tree into your own.

Dawn Westfall has been blogging since September at Wisteria where she writes about her maternal Dutch roots and paternal Southern roots. I naturally gravitate towards humorous posts, and I got a chuckle out of Famous Relatives. Well, that’s one way to finally get kids interested in genealogy. There are at least three other genealogy bloggers that share my interest in science fiction and will find her famous relative as cool as I did!

In what happens to be yet another humorous post, Jenny Lanctot in Are My Roots Showing? (which is a fabulous blog title!) gets an unexpected chuckle from a Family Search indexer in Wisdom Wednesday – Search Terms and Spelling. With my surname, I’ve had my share of misspellings so it made me chuckle, too.

Just to prove I also enjoy serious posts, I was fascinated by More Than Meets the Eye – Tuesday’s Tip in Heritage Zen by Cynthia Shenette. I have always loved looking at what else is in the photo besides the “main” subject. Cynthia presents to great photographs with tons of details in the background.  But – for the record – Cynthia writes some wickedly humorous posts – see the evidence with her last COG entry, What the Dickens 2, Or More Tales from Hell’s Kitchen – Advent Calendar, Grab Bag.  I’m still laughing!

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore – one of the best town databases you may not know about

Two Years Ago:

Cousins, Countries, and War – the start of my 5-part series on the Bavarian Military Rosters available on Ancestry.com

Three Years Ago:

Fun with Maps in Philadelphia – a look at some nifty mapping tools to see what my hometown looked like back when my great-grandparents came to town

Four Years Ago:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – In my very first COG entry ever, I imagine inviting four very different ancestors to dinner to solve a few mysteries.

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

A post coming soon will ask you if your family history is like a famous musical from the 1960s…and if your family history has something in common with that story, well…let’s just say it’s not a compliment and you have your research cut out for you. I also hope to resurrect the “Memory Monday” personal reflection posts this year – starting in January!  If you also read my collaborative blog, The Catholic Gene, join us the week of 29 January as we remember/celebrate Catholic Schools Week.

Thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

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Ryan, Beckett, and Castle in front of the murder board (Seamus Dever, Stana Katic, and Nathan Fillion in Castle's Season 3 episode "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind"). Accessed via Castle-Fans.Org on January 9, 2012.

A few months ago I watched all the past episodes of the television crime drama Castle (ABC, Monday nights at 10:00 PM Eastern). I’ve always had a thing for romantic comedy shows about crime-solving duos. Castle didn’t disappoint and it’s now one of my favorite shows. It has good plots, interesting and well developed characters, subtle humor, and a hint of romance. While I enjoy the show more for the character relationships, I have to admit the characters’ crime-solving skills are impressive. I had a sudden realization of why that might appeal to me…those skills would work equally well in genealogy! After all, we may not be solving crimes, but we genealogists are solving mysteries all the time!  So I offer my favorite detectives as our new research role models…

On Castle, the NYPD homicide unit, led by Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), sets up a “murder board” for each new case.  They take a white board and start with a photo of the victim and some pertinent facts. Next they add information on potential suspects, witnesses, and a timeline of events leading up to the murder.  The character of Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a best-selling mystery author who “assists” the detectives on their cases.  Castle usually adds the “outside the box” thinking on how all of the pieces of the mystery fit together with how he, as a writer, would have written the story.

The “murder board” concept is perfect for solving genealogical mysteries. In fact, I realized I’ve had a murder board for years without calling it that.  The victim is the research problem – in my case, the birthplace of my great-grandmother Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller Pater. The suspects are the potential places based on clues I’ve found in my research of documents such as passenger list records and other documents that contain information about an immigrant’s birthplace.

On the show Castle, sometimes the detectives really think a particular suspect is the killer – the suspect was in the right place at the right time, had means and motive to commit the crime, and all of the facts seems to support the person as the one who did it.  But sometimes there’s a problem…the suspect “alibis out”.  That’s the term the show uses when a suspect has an alibi that checks out upon further review, so he or she could not have committed the crime because there is some evidence that places the person in another place at the same time.  In genealogical research, we often think we have the right answer based on sources that seem to indicate it’s correct.  But then the answer alibis out.  All records – including some in my great-grandmother’s handwriting – point to the town of Żyrardów as her birthplace.  But Żyrardów  is the wrong suspect – the town alibis out!  When the records were checked, the record for her birth was not found.

What’s next? In solving the murder mystery on Castle, the team turns to other sources such as witnesses or financial records that might lead to more clues or more suspects.  Sometimes they take a closer look at the timeline to see if they missed something in their initial research.  All of these actions have a lot to teach genealogists looking to solve their mysteries when the Number One Suspect alibis out.  In short, look for more clues!  Are there any witnesses?  Maybe older family members recall information that was passed down about the mystery.  Who else was connected to the mystery/victim?  Turn to records for siblings, collateral relatives, or even neighbors of the person you are trying to find. When did things happen? Sometimes just creating a timeline for an individual can help cross some suspected places, times, or events off of the list of suspects.

No matter what avenue your research takes, using the murder board concept can be very helpful – write it all down and plot it all out.  Even the negative searches – the suspects with alibis – need to be listed so you remember what resources you’ve already checked. Often in the show, the characters literally stare at the board trying to see if they missed something that will lead to a new search for a new suspect – or a new search for a former suspect who’s alibi was questionable or unproven. Often Castle will find a new direction based on his unique writer’s view of the “story”. Likewise, it benefits genealogists to re-view information, and to re-search, in order to find that missing piece to the puzzle.  It also helps to get help from someone like Castle – someone not so closely related to the case who might have a different view of those same facts.

I don’t have an actual physical board of information for the case of my great-grandmother’s birthplace, but after watching a few seasons of Castle I’m beginning to think it might be a good idea to throw all the pertinent facts up on the wall, or at least down on paper. This will enable me to review the facts and review the suspects and perhaps finally solve this mystery.  Where is Mr. Castle when I need him? I could use his help!

~ ~ ~

While we’re at it, let’s use a murder board to solve the mystery of how the actor who plays Castle, Nathan Fillion, who has French-Canadian and Irish ancestry, can look like the long-lost twin of genealogist Matthew Bielawa, who has Ukrainian and Galician Polish ancestry.  Hmm, have we ever seen Nathan and Matthew in the same room together?  I think a DNA test is in order…

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Welcome to the very first “Surname Saturday” of 2012.  Somehow I managed to go through all of 2011 without a single surname post! But I have many more family names to get to, so I am hoping to post a different Surname Saturday at least once a month.  Let’s see what happens this year…


Meaning/Origin – The name ZAKRZEWSKI is derived from the Polish town names of Zakrzew or Zakrzewo or from the Polish word krzew meaning “shrub”.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Country of Origin – The surname ZAKRZEWSKI is Polish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  374.78 per million.  Germany is second with  a distant 13.8 per million.  The United States comes in next at 9.19.

Spelling Variations – Other names derived from the same root include ZAKRZEWICKI and ZAKRZEWICZ. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman) The feminine version of the surname is ZAKRZEWSKA.

Surname Map – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland. The name is far more popular than many of my other Polish surnames with over 13,000 individuals listed with the surname. As you can see by all the colors on the map, people with this surname live just about everywhere in Poland in most of the counties and cities.

Distribution of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/zakrzewski.html, accessed January 6, 2012.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Given the popularity of the name as shown on the map, it’s no surprise that a fair amount of famous Poles have the surname. From politicians to athletes, there’s a whole list on Wikipedia.  I wonder if any are my cousins?  The most famous Pole with this surname is Ignacy Wyssogota Zakrzewski (1745-1802), who was a nobleman during the final years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was involved with the creation of the Constitution.  Look at his photo on Wikipedia – doesn’t this guy look like a twin of George Washington? Although the name does have noble roots, my family were farmers so it is likely they adopted the surname by choice instead of birth.

My Family – My Zakrzewski family comes from the vicinity of the town of Żyrardów in the Masovian Voivodeship (województwo mazowieckie). My earliest known ancestor is Karol Zakrzewski who was born around 1800 (based on his daughter’s birth record) and died before 1859 (based on his daughter’s marriage record). Karol married Rozalia Kowalewska. Their daughter Teofilia is my third great-grandmother. Teofila Zakrzewska was born on 27 Dec 1840 in Maryampol, Masovian Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland.  On 10 October 1859 in Wiskitki Teofilia married Jan Pater (born c.1833, Kamienskie – died 04 September 1908 in Żyrardów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire.  I have ten children documented for Jan and Teofilia born between 1860 and 1884.  Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater died on 16 November 1907 in Żyrardów.  At the time her her death, her son Józef Pater had already been in America for two years.  Her teenaged grandson Ludwik (my great-grandfather), had left to join his parents just three months prior to her death.  She had many other grandchildren still living in Żyrardów at the time of her death and the death of her husband almost one year later.

My Research Challenges – I recently found the death records for Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater from 1907 on the Geneteka site, and I had her birth and marriage from previous research on microfilm.  The key is to find the marriage of her parents, Karol and Rozalia ZAKRZEWSKI from 1840 or earlier.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Zakrzewski message board.  There are some Zakrzewski graves listed at Find A Grave here.

Links to all posts about my Zakrzewski family can be found here.

This post is #11 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Tomorrow will mark the 4th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue.  I don’t know what surprises me more – that I’ve been blogging for four years or that I still have some ideas left!

I didn’t post as often as I would have liked to this past year, but I still managed to garner 39,000 visitors! I’m very grateful to everyone that stopped by to read, look around, comment, and/or write to me with kind words.

Some of my top posts this year in terms of visits were ones written a while ago. This past year I had 9,700 hits on Philadelphia Marriage Records Online (June, 2008), 1,500 on Bavarian Main Street (June, 2009), and almost 1,400 on Fotomat…What’s That? (November, 2010). Some posts written this year that had the highest number of hits were Finding Polish Records Online from January with 1,060 hits and The WDYTYA Drinking Game from February with almost 800 and also was the most commented post with 30 comments. I have to say, that post was the most fun I had (on this blog) all year!

Besides the drinking game post, my favorites from the last year were:

Research Resources:

My Family Research:

Personal Reflection:

Once again, thanks to all of my faithful readers and friends.  When I started this endeavor, I had no idea where it would lead. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the ride. I’ve made some great friends, learned how to write better, organized my research, and found many cousins.  As my one of my favorite actors once sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

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