My Musical Genealogy

Thanks, Tim, for reminding me what a freak of nature unique individual I am. You see, I’m probably one of the few people in the modern world that can’t name ten formative albums from my teen years.

After trying to participate in this meme, I finally have to admit what others have been telling me for years…I was a strange kid.  I have eclectic musical tastes today, and it started as early as I can remember.  If you would have asked 8-year-old Donna what songs rocked her boat, she would have probably answered: Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”, Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”, and the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”.  There’s really nothing wrong with the list, per se, unless you know that I was 8 years old in 1974 – other than Elton’s 1972 song, the rest are a bit before my time.  And even Crocodile Rock isn’t “current” for the 70s, but instead is a nostalgic look back to the good old days of rock ‘n roll.  I wasn’t alive for those “good old days”, but the music attracted me from an early age.

Of course, my list of favorites would have had Shaun Cassidy at the top, and may have even included the Bay City Rollers.  But in terms of long-term influence on my psyche, those wouldn’t make my list today.  I remember listening to 45s all the time (note: if you’re reading my blog and you don’t know what a 45 is, go ask your mother.  If she doesn’t know, are you sure you’re old enough to be reading my blog?).  The songs weren’t very good, and they aren’t any I’d listen to today except for a laugh.  Prominent in my memory: Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died” and Bo Donaldson’s “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”.  The one 45 I remember buying that you’d not only hear on the radio today but also not mind hearing is The Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.  But only two albums resonate from those early days: the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night and Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run.  I still listen to both today and enjoy them!

As a teenager, my musical tastes got even stranger, at least by popular standards.  Most high schoolers in the early 1980s were listening to Madonna; my friends and I were listening to songs about The Madonna.  We liked what would be called “religious” music.  Some I won’t admit to enjoying, but some of the albums I still love and will gladly tell all.  One is the original 1970 U.S. recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Some folks won’t consider this as religious music, and I don’t either, but it’s not the “Superfreak” that my classmates were listening to.  Another is John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper.  Talbot also recorded The Painter with his brother Terry, and that was played over and over as well.  I listened to the radio more during my teen years than I listened to albums…and again my musical tastes showed a fascination for a time in which I did not live.  I was hooked on the “oldies” of the 50s and 60s, especially Motown.  I was not alone in this endeavor…my friend Kathy and I knew the words to the Temptations and Sam Cooke way more than Duran Duran.

In my 20s, I discovered the popular music that was being played during the 70s when I was a kid, and I enjoyed Bill Joel and James Taylor, as well as something that actually both current and “hip” – U2’s The Joshua Tree.  In my 30s, the Gin Blossoms’ Congratulations, I’m Sorry was played – on cd, not vinyl – over and over and over  again.  At 35, I widened my musical tastes when I met Italian pop star Eros Ramazzotti for the first time via Stilelibero, which was then two years old.  Now my music collection  isn’t complete without a little Eros.

I feel like I’m admitting to a heinous crime when I say that I thought Madonna’s music was crap back when she was a superstar (except for “Crazy for You” which brings me back to 1985 in seconds), I didn’t listen to Bon Jovi until just a couple of years ago, and I hate metal. Yes, I have eclectic tastes.  My iPod has Benny Goodman, Celine Dion, Hawaiian singer Keali’i Reichel, Semisonic, Sister Hazel, and Linkin Park.  I never got into “convention” and if everyone was doing it, I probably wouldn’t be interested in doing it until several years later. So, just as my ancestry is a mix, so are the albums that “formed” me.  And I can guarantee that no one else will share my list!

Note: What’s Past is Prologue will return to its normally scheduled genealogical articles tomorrow!


Don’t Be a What?

I was about seven years old when I first realized that not all families speak the same language.  I was on the back of a bicycle driven by a girl who lived up the street.  The “driver” would stand up to pedal while the “rider” sat on the seat and held on to the driver’s waist.  As we drove down the street, I started laughing.  “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Your dupa is right in my face!”

“My what?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.

“You know,” I said, pointing to her butt, “Your dupa!”

We came to a stop.  She turned around, looking bewildered.  “You mean my heiney?”

Now it was my turn to be perplexed.  “What’s a heiney?”

Truly a lesson for the ages – language, which either brings cultures together or separates them, learned by two children as they argued over the “correct” word for their buttocks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dupa and many of the other “odd” words I heard growing up came from my grandmother, who lived with us.  Although she was a first generation American who was born in Philadelphia, she learned Polish as a child from her immigrant parents.  Her husband, also U.S.-born to Polish parents, did the same, and they used Polish to communicate in front of their own children when they didn’t want them to understand what they were saying.

This explains why several Polish words crept from my grandmother’s vocabulary to ours, such as dupa.  The Polish-English dictionary defines it as:  dupa [“doo-pa”], ass (vulg.).  Because it’s a vulgar term, its true meaning leans more towards a derogatory term about how someone behaves rather than a person’s rear anatomy.  But my brother and I used it as kids for the latter term, and fortunately we did not live in a neighborhood with others who spoke Polish!

We adopted some other normal Polish words like zupa [“zoo-pa”], the Polish word for soup, and shmata [shmah-tah], which is a Yiddish word for rag that my grandmother used to refer to a “housedress”.  We also frequently used the Polish word dudek [“doo-dek”], which means fool or dummy. We pronounced it as “duh-dek” instead of the correct pronunciation.

Another word in use by my grandmother was plut. I can’t find this in the Polish dictionary, but it likely comes from the word plutokracja, meaning plutocracy or of the wealthy.  As “plut” was applied to someone with no sense of humor or someone who looked down on others, usually in reference to the expression on their faces, it seems that this might be where she coined the term.

My grandmother also had a cascade of nicknames.  My mom was always “Chick” and my aunt was “Jub” or “Jubie”.  My brother didn’t have a moniker, but sometimes she called me “Dora”.  Now my mother is the only one still living from her immediate family, and there’s no one left to call her Chick (and she is glad about that!).  Of course, it should be taken into context…my grandmother had a nickname, too, given by my grandfather.  She was called “Killer” – and she loved it!

From my father’s side of the family, his Bavarian aunt told the story that her mother used to call the father “Zeff”, a nickname for his proper name, Joseph.  My aunt, who is eight years younger than my father, called him “Brub”, which was as close as she could get to “Brother” at a young age.  Even today, my 3-year-old niece calls her same-age cousin “Bibbias”. Even though she can properly say “Olivia” now, she still insists on calling “Bibs” by her nickname.

Our family language and propensity towards nicknames expanded considerably when I was 14 years old.  I became friends with Louie; he became my adopted brother and one of the family.  Consequently, the word “dudek” took on a new life.  I can’t remember if he was familiar with the term or not – he also had Polish grandparents.  But, if he hadn’t heard it before, he certainly adopted it.  In addition to that term, there was one other that my grandmother used, origin unknown: gazeutch.  It’s hard to explain, but you’ll understand with examples.  It’s a very flexible word and can be an adverb, as in “Don’t get all gazeutch about it” or as a noun with “You’re acting gazeutch.”

For four years – and even continuing today, everyone was a dudek and we were usually gazeutched as a result.

We also called our then-favorite poison, Mt. Dew, swill.  Louie had a habit of re-naming most of the adults in our lives with nicknames; he was the king of names.  The adults who frequented our church were Bluegown, Dead Dog, Hubachi, the Russian Empress, Mad Dog (no relation to Dead Dog), and Abendego. Even our much beloved pastor was “the Wiz”, and I think he’d have probably laughed in secret had he known then.  Lou’s father was known throughout the neighborhood as “C.L.” – short for “Communist Leader”.  My father became “What the hell” since it was usually the first three words he uttered upon seeing us.  “What the hell is this mess?”  “What the hell is all the noise down there?”  You get the idea.

So, when someone is being a dudek and has you all gazeutch, don’t act like a plut – just share some swill and just remember that he’s probably just a dupa because he doesn’t speak your family’s language.

[Written for the 54th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Family Language]

GB Games: Days 1-3

We’re supposed to be tracking our progress in the Genea-Blogger Games, so it’s time to chime in with what I’ve been doing.  I think I pulled a muscle already, but hopefully I can keep going.

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources!
Create proper citations of sources for as many events possible. I didn’t think I’d be competing in this category at all, but as it turns out, I’m citing many sources for my biographical sketch that’s still in process.  The work isn’t complete, but I’ll probably take home a high medal in this one!

2. Back Up Your Data!
Backup data to choice of formats (flash drives, CDs, DVDs, online) or storing hard copies properly (safety deposit box, safe, etc.). Thus far I’ve backed up all of my digital photos and genealogy data on an external hard drive.  And the thing STILL has room!  It’s great!  I also spent my Saturday scanning family photos to help a friend with a family history project – 313 photos, to be exact.  I don’t even think I own that many family photos!

3. Organize Your Research!
Take time to review your collection of documents and photos, both hard copy and digital, and work to organize those items for easy access. I’m working on it…

4. Write, Write, Write!
B. Participate in a genealogy or family history related blog carnival. My post to the Smile for the Camera Carnival has duly been submitted.  I’m also busy writing my post for this weekend’s Carnival of Genealogy.

C. Prepare several posts in draft mode (if possible with your blog platform) and pre-publish. My platform doesn’t allow pre-publishing, but I’m working on several in a word processor.

D. Write a brief biographical sketch on one of your ancestors.
I’m having a blast on this one and I’m planning to publish my masterpiece next week.

E. Sign up to host a future carnival. Hopefully the fact that I’d already volunteered to host the COG this weekend counts!

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

A. Comment on a new (to you) genea-blog.
Today I commented on Midge’s Granite in My Blood, which was a new one for me.

B. Join another genea-blogger’s blog network on Facebook Blog Networks. Today I signed up for 100 Years in America and All My Branches on the Blog Networks.  I’m already fans of both and subscribe in Google Reader.

That’s all for me so far.  Time to get back to writing and citing sources.  After I put some ice on my muscle…

5 Ways that Genealogists are Similar to Athletes

There are two concurrent “games” going on during the next two weeks — the Genea-Blogger Group Games here in the blogosphere and the Olympic Games in Beijing.  There’s been a lot of fun among the genea-bloggers talking about the competition.  Naturally, our competition deals with “nerdy” non-athletic feats like properly citing sources and writing.  There may be a few athletic genealogists out there, but more than likely the majority of us are more comfortable sitting in front of a computer or in a library than competing in races or breaking world records!  Olympians are the ultimate physical athletes – the cream of the crop.  While we genealogist will never be on par with Olympians in the world of athletics, there are a few things that these two disparate groups have in common.

1. We are Skilled – Athletes are talented individuals.  Although most of us possess the basis skills from which athletes build upon, athletes develop these normal physical skills in order to excel in competition. Basic athletic skills like balance, speed, and strength are developed and enhanced to achieve new levels of performance. Like athletes, genealogists need to develop basic skills in areas such as research or investigation, organization, and communication.  As we develop by applying skills, we begin to learn more specialized skills.  For athletes, weightlifters may develop a greater upper body strength, while runners develop strong legs and lungs.  Similarly, genealogists develop additional skills.  If you search for immigrant ancestors, you may become more skilled at passenger arrival list research than others.  If you have Irish ancestors, you’ll know more about Irish records than researchers who don’t have Irish ancestry.  Other skills that genealogists can specialize in include writing, interviewing, technology, or languages.  One skill that all genealogists develop is the ability to read bad handwriting!

2. We are Hard Workers – Little league players don’t become World Series Champions overnight; it takes a lot of practice and hard work. Likewise, you can’t learn the history of your family with the push of a button or a ten-second internet search.  Both fields of expertise require a strong determination – and a lot of sweat doesn’t hurt.

3.  We are Focused – Top-notch athletes set their sights on a particular goal or achievement whether it’s winning a game, breaking a record, or beating a personal best.  Once achieved, a new goal is set with the focus always on accomplishing the goal.  Genealogists also focus on a goal related to our research: find someone’s birth record, find their parents’ names, find where they lived during the census!  Once one goal is met, another takes its place.

4. We are Motivated – Without motivation, athletes could not be successful in competition – especially at a high level like the Olympics.  But getting to such a high level of performance requires a strong sense of motivation.  Genealogists who get discouraged easily don’t last very long.  A “real” genealogist searches through some microfilm all day without finding anything, only to show up and do it again the following week.  Athletes and genealogists don’t give up.  Someday, we’ll win that race or find that ancestor!

5. We Have Fun – Yes, it may be Hard Work…but would any athlete play the game if it wasn’t any fun?  Genealogists have fun, too!  If we didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t see the humor in our research, it wouldn’t be worth it.  Unfortunately, only fellow genealogists share a genealogist’s humor.  But, we like to stick together because we all believe that finding ancestors is fun stuff!

It’s Not All Fun and Games

The press coverage is non-stop about a certain competition that’s about to take place among athletes with ancestries from all over the world.  No, not that one that starts with an “O”!  I mean the Genea-Blogger Group Games.  All the genealogy blogs are writing about it.  “Athletes”, also known as family historians, are flooding Miriam with sign-ups.  I’ve obviously gotten in some fun with the event, but I wasn’t sure about “officially” participating.  Posting my “goals for achievement” just sounded too much like something my employer would require me to do.  Genealogy is supposed to be fun!  But, it’s not all fun and games.  To be honest, genealogy is hard work!  With that in mind, I’ll join the merry band of goal-setting researchers in hopes of achieving some great things – and maybe win some prizes, too!  Wait, no prizes?  Oh well, the prize will be a job well done in completing some tasks essential to genealogical research.

There are five competition categories in the GB Games involving citing sources, backing up data, organizing your research, writing, and reaching out to help other genealogists.  All five of these things are of vital importance to any genealogical quest.  If there are any beginners reading this blog, I can assure you that you can’t be successful at genealogy without learning skills in each of these categories.  Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I still have a few things to learn.  Although “Go Back and Cite Your Sources!” is definitely my weakest skill and the event I would most benefit from, I don’t think I have the amount of time required to be successful at this in the next two weeks.  I will, however, pay close attention to my fellow competitors and learn from their example – and hopefully their tips after they’ve completed their tasks.  (Oh my, I almost used the phrase “Lessons Learned” – another staple phrase of the full-time business world.)

“Back Up Your Data!” is another weak area, but I will take up the challenge to compete.  Even a small effort towards backing up data will bring me rewards, and it’s been on my “to do” list for a while.

I will compete in “Organize Your Research” as this is something I’ve struggled with for months.  I definitely won’t take home the platinum in this one, but, just as in backing up your data, any advancement in this area is beneficial.  My goal here is to re-organize some piles of paper I have scattered about, organize some of my photo collection, and do some scanning.

I hope to compete in the “Write, Write, Write!” category as well, especially since I am planning on participating in some of the upcoming carnivals.  Since I’ve already volunteered to be the host for the next COG, and this takes place during the GB Games, does this count as completing one of the tasks?

“Reach Out and Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness” is another category I’ll be competing in, I’m just not sure to what extent.  I’ve been wanting to participate in an indexing project for some time now, but I may have to set my goals for this category a little lower due to some other projects I’m working on during the competition period.

It’s going to be a fierce competition…these genea-bloggers are a rough group.  Join us at the Opening Ceremonies tomorrow!  Ready, set, RESEARCH!

Top Ten Genea-Blogger Group Games That Were Cut by the Committee

If you’re a genea-blogger, by now you’ve probably heard the announcement about the Summer 2008 Genea-Blogger Group Games which are being held August 8 – 25.  But you may not know that several competition categories were cut from the event by the official Committee (Thomas, Terry, Miriam, Kathryn, footnoteMaven, and Denise). We’re not sure why these events were cut, but the rumor is that certain participants were sure to win the gold by a mile.  So as not to embarrass the other participants, it was decided that these categories would be cut due to the unfair advantage that many genea-bloggers had.  But I was able to get my hands on a copy of the original program…here are the events you won’t see, and who was expected to take home the gold (or rather, the diamond, since that is the highest medal given in the Genea-Blogger Group Games).

( 10 ) The 1000 Meter Dash – Using only online sources, quickly connect with as many living cousins as possible.  Would have won: Randy Seaver

( 9 ) Long Jump – Trace your maternal line back to the Garden of Eden using mtDNA.  Would have won: Blaine Bettinger

( 8 ) Relay Race – Quickly pass on a meme to five other genea-bloggers before they’ve been hit by someone else.  Bonus points if you find out that the genea-bloggers are actually your cousins.  Would have won:  Becky Wiseman

( 7 ) Wrestling – The genea-smackdown event!  Wrestle with boxes and boxes of uncategorized and unlabeled documents and photos, organizing and scanning as you go.  Would have won: Craig Manson

( 6 ) Parallel Bars – Determine if two families with the same surname are related or not, documenting the search with correct source citations.  Would have won: Thomas MacEntee

( 5 ) Synchronized Scanning – Scan the greatest number of documents during Scanfest while, at the same time, chatting online with a dozen genea-friends, checking out the latest info on the Facebook wall, transcribing records for FamilySearch Indexing, submitting to the Carnival of Genealogy, and publishing a post on your blog.  Would have won: Miriam Midkiff

( 4 ) 100m Backstroke – Transcribe, photograph, and index all of your local cemeteries.  Would have won: Terry Thornton

( 3 ) Hurdles – Track down an elusive female relative’s parents’ names as well as her descendants.  You know, the relative who  married five times and moved frequently.  All sources must be properly documented, and her story should be presented in the creative nonfiction format.  Would have won: FootnoteMaven

( 2 ) Balance Beam – Serve as carnival host while writing your family history project and hosting more than one genea-blog.  Would have won: 3-way tie between Jasia, Lisa, and fM

( 1 ) Pole Vault – Find your immigrant ancestor’s hometown when the only placename listed on every vital document is either “Poland”, “Russia”, “Austria”, or “Prussia”.  Would have won: Steve Danko

Oh well, these events would have been fun.  But, there are still plenty of events to choose from!  Let the games begin!

Blogging Friends Forever

The BFF (Blogging Friends Forever) meme is being passed around in the genea-blogosphere for the last few days.  I am honored to have been tagged by Becky Wiseman at kinexxions. Thanks, Becky!

The meme rules are:

  • Only 5 people are allowed to receive this award.
  • 4 of them followers of your blog.
  • One has to be new to your blog and live in another part of the world.
  • You must link back to who ever gave you the award.

This was rather difficult – not because there aren’t at least five bloggers I’d like to honor.  In fact, my personal BFF list has much more than five.  But, nearly every genea-blogger I know (and several that are new to me), have already received this award.  So, there may be some recycling in this list…if you’ve already received the BFF award, just consider yourself doubly-loved!  My BFF awards go to:

  • Lisa of 100 Years in America.  Lisa actually is the author of 3 genealogy blogs that I enjoy very much, but I chose the one I found first.  I’ve been a fan ever since.
  • Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online. Tim and I technically work for the same “company” (Uncle Sam).  I always learn something new at his blog.
  • Six talented genea-bloggers have combined their talents to create Facebook®Bootcame for Genea-Bloggers. It just appeared on the genea-blogging scene, but it’s already given me some very useful advice.  Thanks to Denise, Terry, Kathryn, Miriam, fM, and Thomas, who get a group BFF award only because they’ve already been tagged by others for their individual work.
  • Taneya at Taneya’s Genealogy Blog is a relatively new find for me.  Hopefully, you’ll like her blog as much as I do – and she’s got a brand new home for her blog that looks great!
  • As for someone that is new to my blog and lives “in another part of the world”…  Ruth Stephens from Bluebonnet Country Genealogy.  And yes, Bluebonnet Country is technically a different part of the world than Philadelphia.  Even though Ruth already received the BFF from Terry Thornton (Thanks, Ter, first you shame me into Facebook, and now this!  But, you’re still a BFF to me, too!), Ruth gets an extra one because she is willing to be my cousin (like so many other genea-bloggers have connected).  That is, she’s willing as long as I can find a family surname that she can spell!  I’m working on that one, Ruth, but my “Miller” name doesn’t have a -ski so that might qualify.  😉

Yo, What’s My Accent?

Thomas, at Destination: Austin Family, has asked: “What American accent do you have?” Well, I can tell you that the quiz is accurate…however, I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by my result.


No big surprise there given that I was born and raised in Philadelphia. Okay, we do talk (sorry, that’s tawk in Philly-speak) funny, but so what? We are definitely a product of our environment, and if my ancestors hadn’t settled here I might have a real American accent like most folks.

I have to tell you…it is hard to change your accent or lose it. Based on the quiz questions, I’ve been nailed as a Philly-ite for two word pronunciations: on and horrible. I honestly believe that changing the way you pronounce words is harding than learning a foreign language, at least in my case. Of course, I actually speak other languages with a Philly accent which amuses foreigners to no end.

When I was in my 20s, I realized that there really is no “r” in the middle of the word water, so I made a conscious decision to change the way I said the word. I still get odd looks around here when I ask for water as opposed to worter. For at least ten years now I have been desperately trying to correctly pronounce the word on, which is the one word that will cause funny looks when I travel and people wonder where the heck I’m from. It might sound strange to the rest of you, but to say it as “ahn” instead of “awn” is harder than it sounds (no pun intended).

But, I try. At least I don’t have some of the particularly Philly words in my vocabulary. I personally don’t say “picture” as “pitcher” OR “picsture” though both are quite common here. I try not to say “winda” for “window”, but I can’t seem to stop saying “fur” for “for”.

For those of you that have never been here, here is a sample of our vocabulary:

Philly 1: Yo! ‘Sup?

Philly 2: Aite!

Philly 1: ‘Jeet?

Philly2: Nah, ‘jew?

1: Hey, what’s up? (further translation: What is going on, how are you?)

2: All right. (further translation: Okay, good.)

1: Did you eat? (further translation: Have you eaten yet?)

2: No, did you? (further translation: No, have you eaten?)

Yes, we are an interesting bunch here. You may have seen us in the news recently for a ruling on the infamous sign at one of our famous steak places (no, not that kind of steak). The sign asks people to order in English since this is America. However, there really should be a sign for outsiders, travelers, or other non-Philly folks to translate what the counter-person is really asking you, because you might be asked “Wid or widout?” Friends, they’re asking if you want your steak sandwich with or without cheese. And no matter how gross it is, you’d better get the seriously non-food-product “Cheese Whiz” unless you want a dirty look.

Jessica makes a good point in her response to Thomas’ question – remember that your immigrant ancestors had accents, too! This is why you’ll find your “ethnic” and foreign names spelled differently in documents. Once you learn what your ancestors may have sounded like, the odd spellings you find make a lot more sense!

Blogger Poem – An Ode to My Lack of Information and Time

Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, has put out a blogging challenge this week to write a poem. Terry has taken challenges to a new level with this one! So, I’ve done my “homework” as Thomas calls it, and gave a meager attempt. But first, a confession…

I admit that I’m an English major with two degrees in “English”. I admit that I’m a writer, and I’ve even been paid on occasion to write. I admit that I’m a voracious reader because I love words (though both my writing and reading have taken a hit since starting this blog). I admit that I stole my blog’s name from the World’s Greatest Poet. But, Terry, here’s my ultimate confession: “I AIN’T NO POET!” So, please ignore that I have degrees and get paid to write sometimes, because no one will pay for this one!

My ancestors came from lands far away
Once in the US, they decided to stay
Leaving no trace of their origins, to my dismay
Now I’m trudging through history
Because their lives were a mystery
And genea-blogging now takes up my whole day!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

The 41st Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Since I have four grandparents, it’s only fair to invite one ancestor from each “side”. It would be nice to see all of my grandparents again, but since I had the opportunity to know them all to some degree, I wanted to choose other ancestors. The setting will be at my house, and my boyfriend will be in the kitchen making the meal. He’s a fantastic cook and he’d probably rather hide in the kitchen than meet any more of my relatives. He always makes a wonderful menu, and for this occasion we’d have foods from various nationalities to make everyone feel at home, including a pork dish for the Germans and pierogi for the Poles. But, he’ll also throw in some Italian food to liven things up. There will definitely be wine…several bottles of it! And most importantly, a camera! Although I can only invite four deceased ancestors, the carnival rules didn’t say anything about other living relatives allowed to attend, so I’m sure that my parents, aunt, brother, and other relatives might want to meet these particular guests of honor.

At the head of the table will be my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny (1879-1944). He was the first person I thought of without question simply because there are so many mysteries surrounding this family. Even though we all love a good mystery, it’s about time we learned the truth! As we pass the food around the table, the first question posed to Joe is: Are you really Joseph Zawodny? The short version of this particular legend is that after my great-grandfather’s death a man came to the house claiming to be the “real” Joseph Zawodny. The stranger said, “He used my name to get into the country – he’s really Joseph Mueller.” I’d dismiss the story outright if my mother wasn’t there. Though still a child, she was old enough to remember the event. I’ve found records that appear to prove he was exactly who he said he was, but…what if he was someone else? There are some other interesting questions for Joe while we have the time. Did your wife’s parents really disown her for marrying you? Why? What exactly happened that caused her to be committed to a hospital as a schizophrenic? And what happened to your brother Stefan who seems to disappear shortly after his arrival in the US?

I could pester Joe with questions all night about his family and where he came from in Poland. But let’s not ignore our other guests around the table! From my Piontkowski side, I chose the “Mrs”, Rose Piontkowski (1866-1937). Rose is my great-grandmother, but I have no photos of her and I know practically nothing about her. Because of his, she seemed like an interesting candidate to attend our dinner party. I’m intrigued by her for several reasons. Her maiden name, which I’ve yet to verify through a birth or marriage record, appears to be some variation of Kiesewetter or Kisoweter. She was born in Warsaw, but the surname sounds German, not Polish. So, tell me about yourself, Rose! Was Grandpop a “surprise” to you and John back in 1910 when you were both in your 40s? Where did your daughter disappear to and whom did she marry?

Next around the table is one of my other great-grandmothers, Elizabeth Pater (1891-1972), who was born Elżbieta Müller (or Miller). I actually met her! But, she died when I was five so I have no memory of her. I want to meet her because my mother says I have her eyes…and because I can’t figure out what town she was actually born in even though some records say she was born in Żyrardów. So, Liz, was your family really from Bohemia originally? Why did they go to Poland? You were in the US for less than a year when you married Louis, who had been here for three years…what’s up with that, Liz? You were both from the same town – did you promise to marry as young teenagers? Did you have any other siblings here besides your brother Emil? When he went back to Poland in 1910 with your nieces, what became of them? Tell me about your mother-in-law since you’re my only great-grandmother who didn’t have an ocean between the two of you!

My Bergmeister-Echerer ancestors from Bavaria are the only ones not yet represented. As much as I’d love to meet one of my great-grandparents, I decided to reach farther back. Way back…I’ve researched back to the 1600s with the Echerer family and they are still located in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm as shoemakers. But for this event I’ve chosen my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg (also Karl Nick, 1767-1844), whose daughter married one of those Echerer shoemakers in 1844 just months before his own death. Karl was the stadtzimmermeister (Town Master Carpenter) of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm around 1800, roughly two hundred years ago. He was also the son of the stadtmaurermeister, or Town Master Mason, Phillip Nigg (or Phillip Nick). I’m fascinated by what life was like in the town back then. So, Karl, how’s work as a carpenter? Tell me what happened when Napoleon’s troops came around near Pfaffenhofen. When Napoleon declared that all monasteries had to be “secularized”, you went to Scheyern Abbey to literally measure the church to determine its worth for the state – was that problematic for you, or was it simply part of your job? Why did you decide to become a carpenter like your father-in-law instead of a mason like your father and grandfather? What was it like having eleven children? I think Karl would be fascinated by the 21st century, even more so than the other guests who were born in the late 1800s. There would be a language barrier since he probably spoke only German, but we have a translator already present – Joe Zawodny spoke German!

All in all, I think there would be some VERY interesting conversation around the table! But, you know how family gatherings go…Isn’t it always the same with these family dinners? After a couple of hours I’d have a hard time keeping Joe away from the wine, keeping Rose out of the kitchen where she’d show the cook how gołąbki should really be made, keeping Liz away from my boyfriend, and keeping Karl from demolishing and re-building my poorly-constructed house. Okay, folks, it’s time for you to go home!

[Submitted for the 41st Carnival of Genealogy: Dinner with 4 Ancestors]