Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

One of the highlights of reading the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer is the “Chick Wit” column by Lisa Scottoline. Lisa is best known as an author of mysteries and thrillers, but I adore her humor writing. In fact, if I wrote my humorous articles only half as good as hers, they’d be great.

Lisa’s “Chick Wit” usually makes me laugh out loud. Recently her column on April 11, 2010 ventured into genealogical territory on the subject of obituaries. While it was still humorous, the column was more poignant than “LOL” funny. She talks about reading obituaries:

I never saw them as being about deaths. I saw them as being about people, and I love people.

In other words, it’s not a death story. It’s a life story.

Read her entire column “Obits Make a Reader Feel Grateful” – you won’t be disappointed.

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Ancestor Approved

The “Ancestor Approved” award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou of Ancestors Live Here as a way to show appreciation to other genealogy bloggers.  It has since spread its goodwill throughout the blogosphere.  I’m honored to have received the award from two different bloggers: Karen at Ancestor Soup and Jean at Hoffman Family News.  Thank you!

Awardees of this honor are supposed to list ten things they have learned about any of their ancestors that surprised, humbled, or enlightened.  It has been fun reading all of these lists on everyone’s blogs.  You are also supposed to pass the award on to ten other bloggers who you feel are doing their ancestors proud, but I doubt there are ten genea-bloggers left that have not yet received this!  Here is my list of things that have surprised, humbled, and enlightened me:

  1. I was surprised to discover that I had a set of 2nd great-grandparents and one 3rd great-grandmother that immigrated to the U.S.   I believed that all four sets of great-grandparents arrived here as married couples, but one great-grandfather arrived as a young teenager and lived with his parents and grandmother.
  2. I was surprised to learn that my great-grandmother who came as an unmarried teenager was from the same town in Poland as her eventual husband who had been in the U.S. for two years.  For years I assumed she was from another country based on family stories that were not correct.
  3. I was surprised to learn that two of my great-grandfathers had brothers who also immigrated to the U.S.  No one in the family knew about these uncles.
  4. I was humbled by the courage of  most of my female immigrant ancestors who traveled to the U.S. either alone or alone with young toddlers and babies.
  5. I was humbled and saddened to learn that my great-grandfather’s first cousin, a Catholic Pole named Jozef Pater, was imprisoned at Auschwitz and died there.
  6. I was humbled to find out that some of my great-grandmothers had to bury more than one infant or toddler.
  7. I was humbled to discover my great-grandmother’s mental illness and wondered how she survived as long as she did in a hospital not known for its kindness.
  8. I was enlightened to learn the names of the towns that my immigrant ancestors came from and their long histories.
  9. I am enlightened by the community of genea-bloggers who are willing to help, befriend, and humor me without ever having met me.
  10. I am enlightened by my two beautiful nieces and my two handsome nephews that give me love, hope, laughter, and someone to eventually inherit, learn, and honor our family history.

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In 1944’s movie musical Meet Me in St. Louis, Judy Garland’s character is in love with the boy next door.  She sings about him in the appropriately titled “The Boy Next Door”, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane:

The moment I saw him smile,
I knew he was just my style,
My only regret is we’ve never met,
Though I dream of him all the while.

But he doesn’t know I exist,
No matter how I may persist,
So it’s clear to see there’s no hope for me,
Though I live at 5135 Kensington Avenue
And he lives at 5133.

How can I ignore
The boy next door?
I love him more than I can say.
Doesn’t try to please me, doesn’t even tease me,
And he never sees me glance his way.

And though I’m heart-sore
The boy next door affection for me won’t display,
I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

I just adore him, so I can’t ignore him,
The boy next door.

Fred and Dottie Kelly with their daughter Colleen.

The song is one of several Martin-Blane hits from the movie.  But did you know that it was based on a true story of a girl who fell in love with the boy next door?  Fortunately in her case, the boy did glance her way and married her or else they would have never inspired Martin and Blane to write the song!  The boy next door was Fred Kelly from Pittsburgh, PA.  Fred had an older brother that you may have heard of by the name of Eugene – otherwise known to the world as Gene Kelly who sang and danced to through the most beloved movie musicals of the 1940s and 50s.  Fred’s girl next door was Dorothy (Dottie) Greenwalt.

Fred and Dottie really did grow up on Kensington Street in Pittsburgh, but their actual addresses didn’t fit the music as well as 5133 and 5135.  Based on the 1930 census, 13-year-old Frederick Kelly lived at 7514 Kensington Street, and 8-year-old Dorothy Greenwalt lived at 7530.  It wasn’t exactly “next door”, but it was close enough for the youngsters to meet and fall in love.

Kelly household at 7514 Kensington St. in the 1930 Federal Census for Pittsburgh, PA.

Greenwalt household at 7530 Kensington St on the same page.

Fred and Dottie married during Broadway rehearsals for the Irving Berlin show “This is the Army” in which Fred was performing.  Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were also involved with the production, and they asked the newlyweds how they met.  Dottie replied, “I just adored the boy next door.”  Then the couple showed the writers their driver’s licenses to prove it!  Martin and Blane wrote “The Boy Next Door” with Fred and Dottie in mind.  The song went on to be a huge hit and was recorded by many other artists besides Judy Garland.

In my own family, I also discovered an instance of a girl marrying the boy next door – my grandparents.  In the 1930 census, we see 18-year-old Henry Pater living at 2506 Indiana Avenue in Philadelphia, and 22-year old May (Mae) Zawodny living at 2512.  While it is true that the couple lived at those addresses, the “facts” as shown on the census are a bit confusing.  First, both Henry and Mae were already married but are shown as living with their parents.  That they were living in separate addresses despite their marriage is likely true, because at the time of the marriage on 01 Feb 1930, Henry was only 17 years old.  The couple didn’t quite tell their parents right away, and it wasn’t until they were married in a church ceremony in June that they were able to live together.

The Zawodny and Pater households in the 1930 Federal Census for Philadelphia, PA.

Mae and Henry Pater with daughter Anita (1937).

In the Pater household, Henry is listed as single.  But the enumeration record for the Zawodny household is not correct at all.  The father, Joseph, is listed as a widow.  However, his actual living wife, Laura, is listed as a sister.  Mae is shown as married for two months, which is true, but she is listed as a “daughter-in-law” to Joseph, not as his daughter.  Also, her presumed husband is listed as Charles, who was in fact her brother and still single at 19 years old.  If only I could see film or video of the visit of the census-taker to their household…I am sure my grandmother was behind the mis-information!

While Henry and Mae didn’t have a song written about them like Fred and Dottie, they are yet another tale of a girl falling in love with “the boy next door” – or on the same street, anyway.  Have you looked closely at the census records in your family?  Did anyone fall in love with the boy (or girl) next door?

Source Information:

  • Kelly-Greenwalt Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll  1977; Page: 27B; Enumeration District: 229.
  • Pater-Zawodny Census Image:  1930 U.S. Federal Census, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll  2110; Page: 1B; Enumeration District: 914.
  • Photo of Fred, Dottie and Colleen Kelly used with permission from Colleen Kelly Beaman.   Please see her web site, Dance Kelly Style, for more information on Fred Kelly and the Kelly family’s legacy of dance.
  • For more even more information on Fred Kelly, see his biography on my Gene Kelly site.  To see a photo of his childhood home on Kensington Street, see the biography on Marc Baron’s site.
  • For more information on the Pater and Zawodny families, continue to read this blog or click on the surnames in the side bar!

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Lessons Learned from WDYTYA

Genealogy hit prime time television last month with NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? I haven’t been writing about it here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching!  At first, many genealogists were dismayed that the show didn’t highlight more of the “how to” of genealogy.  But, that’s not its purpose.  First and foremost, the show is meant to entertain.  But hopefully non-genealogists will get interested in tracing their family’s history after seeing some of the amazing discoveries that the stars made about their own families.

We are now just past the midway point of the show’s schedule. In just four episodes the show has highlighted various record sources and periods of history, and each story has had a powerful emotional impact.  Despite the fact that WDYTYA doesn’t highlight actual research techniques, there are still many lessons to be learned for those already involved in genealogical research.  Or at least reminders of things we’ve already learned but occasionally forget.   Here is what I have learned so far:

Episode #1 – Sarah Jessica Parker

In SJP’s search for more information on her mother’s family, researchers uncovered her 3rd great-grandfather’s obituary that also cited his father’s year of death.  But the information was later proved wrong with additional research.  Lesson:  Don’t trust everything you read in the newspapers; try to find primary sources for vital information. How many of us have been led down the wrong path by following a family story or second-hand information?  Try to verify information using primary sources if possible, which means a record created at the time of the event.

Episode #2 – Emmitt Smith

Emmitt’s story about his ancestors born into slavery was powerful.  He not only learned about his fourth great-grandmother, Mariah Puryear, who was born a slave, but he was shocked to discover that her father was likely her owner.  Lesson: We may learn things about our ancestors that we won’t make us proud.  Upon learning this information, Emmitt had a great response: the man is his ancestor, but he is not like that man.   Lesson: If you uncover something distasteful about an ancestor – and who among us has not – you might want to consider you have become something better. We should also remember that the “black sheep” ancestor also has ancestors, and some of those may be worthy of admiration.  Genea-blogger footnoteMaven provides the proper perspective with this insightful quote:

It is the wise Family Historian who understands that we can no more take credit for the accomplishments of our ancestors, than we can take blame for their failures.

Our knowledge of them is merely insight into ourselves. You can not change history, take care not to misrepresent it.

Episode #3 – Lisa Kudrow

Lisa Kudrow’s episode was an emotional tear-jerker as she learned about the death of her great-grandmother by the Nazis.  However, the lesson I learned from this episode came from an event that struck me as humorous.  At the Polish State Archives in Gdynia, a document reveals that Lisa’s presumed-dead cousin had a child in Gdynia.  Lisa became so excited at the prospect of finding a descendent.  She asks what records they could look to find the family – census records, tax records, surely there is something?  Archivist Krzysztof Dzieciolowski smiles and plops a large telephone book on the desk.  Lesson: Don’t overlook the obvious when searching for relatives! Occasionally research can be as simple as looking in the phone book!

Episode #4 – Matthew Broderick

Broderick wanted more information on his father’s family, and he discovered war heroes from World War I and the Civil War.  It was interesting that his grandfather was described as “ill-tempered” and the family didn’t talk much about the past.  Perhaps his grandfather’s ill temper came from his experience fighting in the Great War – he was a battlefield hero, but never talked about it.  Broderick also discovered that his 2nd great-grandfather died in battle during the Civil War.  Until the research for this episode, Broderick’s ancestor was buried in an unmarked grave.   Lesson: Just as we can uncover things we’d rather not know, we also can learn about great deeds.  It becomes our responsibility to honor our ancestors by remembering them.

I look forward to the remaining episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? What other lessons shall we learn?

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What’s Past is Prologue has been named one of Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs!  Many thanks to all of my readers and friends who voted for me.  It is truly an honor to be recognized.  I am also honored to be in the company of the other 39 Best – for they truly are the very best that genea-blogging has to offer.  Visit Family Tree Magazine’s site and read the names and descriptions of all of the Fab Forty!  Thanks also to Family Tree Magazine’s managing editor, Diane Haddad, and Maureen Taylor, The Photo Detective, who wrote the article about the Top 40 and said such nice things about all of us.

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Genealogists everywhere are excited about the two upcoming television shows that will highlight genealogy and family history.  First we have Faces of America, which premieres on 10 February on PBS.  Then there is the long-awaited Who Do You Think You Are? which finally starts on 5 March on NBC.  Naturally we will all be watching, meaning “we genealogists”.  But secretly we hope that many non-genealogists will tune in and become so fascinated by what we do that they will all want to do it.  Did you ever wonder what would happen if millions of Americans discovered the joy of genealogy?  If these shows are successful, maybe the copies would begin – that’s usually what happens on network television.  Wouldn’t it be great if the evening television schedule had a genealogy-related program EVERY night?  I can see the schedule now…

Lost – a show about what to do when you feel completely lost in your search and provide examples of how to find those frustrating elusive ancestors.

Cold Case – an investigative show in which “madness Monday” and “brick wall” cases are analyzed and solved.

How I Met Your Mother – provides a special focus on marriage records and how to find them.

Law & Order – hosted by our own geneablogger and lawyer, Craig Manson, this show will highlight law-related genealogy topics like copyright issues as well as outline sources to find out more about those “Black Sheep” ancestors who served time.

Heroes – focuses on our ancestors who served in the military and will include how to find military records as well as present dramatized portraits of our veteran relatives.

The Forgotten
– brings Unclaimed Persons to the small screen to highlight the group’s efforts at using research tools to help identify “the forgotten” unclaimed in morgues.

The new NCIS spin-off, NARA, will be a dramatic series about a team of NARA archivists fighting to preserve our nation’s historical records.

Stay tuned!  Tell me your own ideas in the comments!

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It’s Back!  The Return of “Donna’s Picks”! [Insert dramatic music here]  “Donna’s Picks” is my occasional feature to highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.   Sit back and enjoy the following links:

Online Language Tool – I read about this on a mailing list, but before I could post about it the blogs were already talking!  Several blogs related to Polish genealogy wrote about it, but I’ll credit Jasia at Creative Gene as the first one I read.  Read I won’t Be Going Bald Anytime Soon! in which she highlights a new complete Polish-English (and English-Polish) online dictionary at the University of Pittsburgh.

Genealogical Records - Multi-blogger Lisa, this time from A Light That Shines Again, re-posted an “oldie but goodie” about her great-great-grandfather’s naturalization papers.  Rather than just a dry transcription, Lisa set up the historical context in which he lived.  Read her fascinating look at Tierney family treasure: Patrick’s naturalization papers, 1876.

Genealogical Philosophical Question of the Week
– Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online asks To Subscribe or Not To Subscribe to Ancestry – That is the Question.  Let him know what your answer is – it’s one we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another.

Blah – Do you have a hard time being happy in January?  For inspiration, read JoLyn’s How to be Happy in January from a year of happy.

Happy 101 – Speaking of happy, Becky at kinexxions has awarded me “The Happy 101 Award”.  I am about to make an “Awards” page here at What’s Past is Prologue since most times these round-robin kudos don’t have anything to do with genealogy.  However, they are very nice to receive and this one is no exception, so thank  you, Becky!  I’ll comply with the first requirement: list ten things that make me happy.  That’s easy!  In no particular order of importance, they are:

  1. sunshine
  2. palm trees
  3. my nieces and nephews
  4. red wine
  5. dark chocolate
  6. time spent with good friends
  7. Gene Kelly
  8. being in Rome, Italy
  9. the beach
  10. making someone laugh

SNGF - Each week, Randy Seaver at Geneamusings comes up with “Saturday Night Genealogical Fun”.  This week the emphasis is on the fun when he asks, “What’s your superpower?” Genealogical superpower, that is!  I thought I’d add my answer to this post.  My unique ability is helping folks find their elusive immigrant ancestor on passenger lists – specifically early 20th century through Ellis Island.  If you have someone you’re sure was a “stowaway” because you can’t find them, put me to the test!  Send me an email (see About Me) or leave a comment with details.  I’ll find out if it’s my super-power after all…

Donna, Super-Finder of Passenger Arrival Records - finding your family tree one twig at a time!

Hat tip to The Extraordinary Flying Condor, aka The Educated Genealogist, for the fun “Hero Factory”!

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As of tomorrow, January 6, 2010, What’s Past is Prologue will be two years old!  I had to laugh when I realized how similar my blog’s growth has been to that of a baby, and this baby is about to enter the “terrible two’s”!   In the beginning, the new blog gets all the care and attention it needs…later, not so much.  The 2-year-old child behaves badly simply because his or her desire to communicate is greater than his or her ability to do so.  If that’s the case, this blog entered the terrible two’s early, for last year the desire to post was greater than the time and the ideas to do so.  Maybe I should follow the advice to parents of toddlers – provide predictable routines for the toddler.  If I give myself more structure, more routine, What’s Past is Prologue will continue to grow.

And did it ever grow in its second year – thank you so much! While the number of posts decreased – from 146 in 2008 to only 93 in 2009 – the number of visitors dramatically increased from almost 23,000 in the first year to over 35,000 in the second.  The busiest month of the year was November with 3,600 visitors in the month (but the busiest day remains in 2008 on the day after the vice-presidential debate thanks to Joe Biden’s “shout out” – he did mean this blog, right?).

I’m always surprised by which posts visitors are viewing.  The all-time favorite has been Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online, written in June, 2008, with over 3,600 views.  Many of my older posts have high counts, but surprisingly, the post with the third highest count – 2,071 – was written in this second year (the honor goes to I Remember Betsy in March, 2009).  Two other big posts from this year were More on Philadelphia Marriage Records with 890 hits, and an earlier piece on a similar topic, When You Can’t Find Grampa’s Marriage Record, with 631 hits.  Of course, I have a whole list of “least read” posts, too…  Fortunately, they weren’t any that required a lot of work or research on my part, so that’s okay.  Sometimes the best of hitters strike out!

Any blogger will tell you that the numbers don’t really matter that much, because we all have our own personal favorites.  Even if it is only read by a handful of people, the posts that are most meaningful to me remain meaningful.  What I lacked in quantity this year, I made up for in quality, and I have quite a few favorites throughout the year.  I hope you enjoyed them, too.

My favorite research-oriented posts were January’s The Slesinski Sisters 3-part series, in which I discovered who my great-grandmother’s sisters were after seeing their photographs (the series begins here), and September’s The Millers’ Tale, another 3-part series, in which I attempted to determine if three families named Miller with unique connections were related or not (the series begins here).  But my best research-related post was short and sweet – or I should say, sweeter.  In October’s A Sweeter Sweet 16 I learned the names of four more of my great-great grandparents!

Although this blog is primarily about genealogical research and records, the posts that mean the most to me are those that are personal reflections and memories.  No other blogging vehicle allows us to write about those memories better than the Carnival of Genealogy, or the COG.  As always, some of my COG posts are my personal favorites – even though I would have never thought to write on these topics without the suggestion.  Whether it was about my aunt or uncles, my ancestors’ hometown history or the history in my own backyard, or my miserable memories of winter or ecstatic memories of Rome, the COGs in 2009 were a delight to write – and to read others’ entries!

The COG isn’t the only genealogy-related carnival in town anymore.  I enjoyed finding examples in my collection for the new Festival of Postcards – my favorite was June’s A Bavarian Main Street that blended my great-grandfather’s past with my own.  I have a tie for my favorite Smile for the Camera post – either March’s Brother and Sister or August’s A Different Kind of Bling.  Poignant or humorous?  You might find either when you stop by around here…

Speaking of humor…my favorite “fun” posts this year were March’s Ancestors on Facebook and August’s What Are They Looking For? The latter post, about the unique search terms people use to “find” my blog, will be repeated with new and exciting – and strange and unusual – search terms!  You really can’t make some things up…  What I did have to “make up” this year were humorous articles related to photography for Shades of the Departed.  I took great delight in being a guest columnist for the lovely footnoteMaven’s blog, which became a full-fledged online magazine in November.

In last year’s post celebrating my very first blogiversary, I wrote, “One of the other “best” things about this venture is the rest of the ‘genea-blogging’ community.”  It’s a sentiment worth repeating.  I thank all of the friends who have left comments on my posts, encouraged me through emails, inspired me through their blogs, and amazed me by subscribing and visiting time and time again.  Thank you – here’s to another year of blogging!

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This post was originally published on December 21, 2008, but I wanted to repeat it for new visitors who missed it last year. Uh-oh…we never did research the Big Guy’s ancestry – I hope we all still make the “nice” list this year!  Merry Christmas to all!

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the ‘net
Bloggers were quiet, even the Graveyard Rabbit.
Some were snowed in, all covered in ice
With some frightful weather that’s really not nice.

Others were busy with presents and wrap,
While some settled in for a long winter’s nap.
But then Genea-Santa made it home from the mall
And with urgency put out a very frantic call.

“Oh genea-bloggers, can you help me so?
Someone has asked for their ancestors to know.
I’m used to toys, books, and games on the list,
My elves tried Ancestry.com and can’t get the gist.”

“Can you please help?” good Santa did ask,
“So I can complete this impossible task?”
Before Old St. Nick barely finished his post
The bloggers started to answer, from coast to coast.

First Sheri, then Jasia, and Terry from Monroe County,
Then Randy, then Lisa, and Thomas upped the bounty.
Many sources did footnoteMaven then cite,
while Donna and Becky joined in the plight.

Steve and Miriam and DearMyrtle too
Used Census and newspapers to find every last clue.
The charts were all filled and ready for Santa’s sack,
Combined we had traced twelve generations back!

Santa was impressed, the pedigree had nary a hole
“Can you help me find my folks from the North Pole?”
We said we’d try, maybe next year.
Our promise left him jolly and full of good cheer.

So he subscribed to our blogs, to join in our fun
And said he’d return when his hard work was done
Santa signed off, having found what he sought
“Merry Christmas to all, may your searching not be for naught!”

-with many apologies to and great appreciation of Mr. Clement Clarke Moore…(and apologies to the many genea-bloggers I left out for space and rhyming constraints!)

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A few months ago, I somehow managed to go away on a 3-week vacation but wrote and scheduled at least ten blog posts to hit while I was out of the country.  But for the last two weeks I’ve been sidetracked by normal everyday life and just gave up on blogging.

Well, these things happen.  When they do, it’s really hard to pick up that pen/keyboard again and get back to it.  It helps that while I was gone, my readers still read my older posts.  And not one, but THREE FOUR different bloggers have awarded me the “Kreativ Blogger” award.  I try my best to be creative, but I’m not sure I can live up to the kreativ moniker!  Here’s the obligatory 7 random facts about me, which I’ve tried to relate to genealogy and blogging…

1. I’ve met only one geneablogger in person so far.  I’m convinced he moonlights as Santa Claus.  Take note: Santa and Randy have never been seen together.  Coicindence?  I think not…

2. My hero is Chris Dunham.

3. I know footnoteMaven‘s real name.  Don’t try to get it out of me…she knows where I live, AND she knows how to handle various weapons.

4. I really want to be the separated-at-birth triplet sister of Steve and Jasia.

5. Every time I see my nieces and nephews, I try to give them new nicknames.  This week we’re reindeer – Dancer, Vixen, Dasher and Cupid join Aunt Donner.

6. My 20-year genealogical mission: to explore strange old ancestors, to seek out new facts and photos, to boldly split infinitives and go where no geneablogger has gone before!

7. All I really want to do is direct.

So there you have it – more things about me you really have no need to know.  I would love to pass this on to seven other bloggers as required, but I’m late to the party and most of the usual suspects have already
received the very same award.  Do read those who have nominated me though:

  • Mother Superior Sheri Fenley, the Educated Genealogist herself, on 11/17.  I don’t like to cook either, but if you come clean my toilets for me I’ll cook you dinner.  Just don’t vacuum, please!
  • Katie from You Are Where You Came From (a very Past Prologue-like idea!) on 11/19.   Anyone who is a sucker for a good pun is a friend of mine!
  • Tonia from Tonia’s Roots on 11/25.  Not only is Tonia from one of my favorite states, but she has some really interesting family history facts!
  • UPDATE: Cheri from Those Old Memories on 11/30 right after I wrote this post!  I wish the days were longer, too, Cheri, and I would have caught your post before I posted this.

Thanks, ladies!  I appreciate the “love” and I hope it motivates me to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging!

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As a Polish-American interested in genealogy, I quickly learned that pronunciation is the key to everything.   How can you properly research a family if you can’t say the language correctly? I realized that there are American English pronunciations of Polish surnames and place names, and then there is the real way it is pronounced in Polish.

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the Polish language with its “different” letters and consonant combinations, and I can usually figure out how a word is pronounced.  But sometimes…I get stumped.  Just the other day I learned that my great-grandmother was born in a town near Warsaw called Przybyszew.  Przybyszew?  Where do I begin?  I’d like to buy a vowel, Pat!

Fortunately, I discovered an awesome website thanks to Zenon Znamirowski from PolishOrigins.com that allows you to hear Polish words pronounced by Polish speakers!  So, how do you say Przybyszew?  Click on this link to hear it!

The site, Expressivo, is a text to speech program.  To test it out, you can enter up to 200 characters of text here and listen to the results read by several voices: Eric (male US-English), Jennifer (female US-English), Carmen (female Romanian), Jacek (male Polish), or Ewa (female Polish).  To hear Polish names or place names, I highly recommend using the two Polish voices to hear a true Polish pronunciation.

Here are several of my ancestors’ names and the towns they lived in – click the link to hear it in Polish:

Many Americans may have seen these town names in Poland and thought they knew how to pronounce them.  Try it, then click on the link and see if you were correct – you might be surprised!

Łódź Gdańsk Kraków Wrocław Częstochowa Poznań

You can tell that I had a lot of fun “playing” with this site, but other than it being cool to hear your ancestor’s name and hometown properly pronounced, why is it important?  Because knowing the correct pronunciation in an immigrant’s native language can often help you find your ancestor in records that are not spelled correctly, but are written as English-speakers heard the foreign tongue pronounced.  Obviously, this does not only apply to the Polish language, but any language other than American English.

[Submitted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: Tips, Tricks, and Websites]

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The word prompt for the 18th edition of the Smile for the Camera carnival is Travel: show us your family and how they traveled.  Well, that’s a hard one…other than my immigrant ancestors arriving in the U.S. by ship, I don’t know of any other travelers in the family – and I certainly don’t have any photos of them.  I seem to be the first bitten by the travel bug.  Until I remembered that my father did travel – courtesy of the United States Navy!  Here is a photo of him (on the right) and his buddy on their ship, the USS Cadmus.


Aboard the USS Cadmus, circa 1956-58

The expression the Navy used for recruiting for many years was “Join the Navy and See the World” – in my father’s case, this was true.  He was only in the Navy for two years, but he managed to travel quite a bit.  The USS Cadmus, AR-14, was a repair ship.  She made her first transatlantic crossing in 1957 to Scotland, France, and Spain.  The following year the ship had exercises in the Mediterranean.  My father has very fond memories of his time in the Navy, and he still remembers those ports of call.  It would be the only time my father ever traveled outside of the United States.  Here is a photo of the USS Cadmus:


USS Cadmus, AR-14

[Written for the 18th Edition of Smile for the Camera Carnival: Travel]

Related Post: Even and Ocean Can’t Separate a Son’s Love for Mom

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Shades of the Departed - The Magazine

Shades of the Departed - The Magazine Debuts

w Shades

Stuffed in a photo booth with our shades on, 1986.

Once a month I invite you to read my Weekend with Shades column, The Humor of It, over at one of my favorite blogs, Shades of the Departed.  Well, this month is special because the lovely and talented footnoteMaven has done what few in the blogosphere do…she has created something new, creative, and different.  Rather than publish the columns every weekend on the blog, she has taken a month’s worth of great articles and created an online magazine!  Please visit Shades of the Departed – The Magazine for the link and viewing instructions.  It is original, creative, and simply stunning to view.  Yes, I am one of her columnists, but that is not why I am praising it – I feel lucky to be among the writers she features on her blog, and I hope what I give her is “good enough” for such a brilliant idea!

So, be warned, this new magazine is so brilliant, you might just have to put some shades on!  And if you’re interested, my article about The Photo Booth begins on page 54!

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This week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (SNGF) by Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings asks

1) Pick one of your four great-grandparents – if possible, the one with the most descendants.

2) Create a descendants list for those great-grandparents either by hand or in your software program.

3) Tell us how many descendants, living or dead, are in each generation from those great-grandparents.

4) How many are still living? Of those, how many have you met and exchanged family information with? Are there any that you should make contact with ASAP? Please don’t use last names of living people for this – respect their privacy.

I seem to always use my Bergmeister Family as an example for SNGF, but that is the family in which I have not only had success in tracing ancestors backward, but also success in tracing cousins forward.  So for my example of my family’s increase, I will use my great-grandparents Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) and Marie Echerer Bergmeister (1875-1919).  Their descendants are:

  • 5 Children (all deceased) – I only remember meeting 2.
  • 14 Grandchildren (8 living / 6 deceased)  – I only met 3 of the living and 1 deceased.
  • 30 Great-grandchildren (28 living / 2 deceased) – I met 7 and “e-met” 6 more.
  • 48 Second great-grandchildren (all living, not counting some adopted and step-children) – I’ve met 9.
  • At least 2 Third great-grandchildren so far…

    As best I can determine, Joseph and Marie Bergmeister have 99 descendants so far – not bad for a couple that didn’t live long enough to see their youngest child reach adulthood.  Marie was just shy of 44 years old when she died.  Joseph died at age 54, but he was able to see his first 3 grandchildren before he died.

    Research on this branch has been satisfying because of all the second cousins I have come to know, mostly via email.  At least one descendant of each of the four other Bergmeister children are in contact with me, and we are beginning to discuss the possibility of a family reunion!  Stay tuned here for more details.  I still have work to do in getting to know some more of my cousins, but this is by far the branch of the family that is the most interested in our history.

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    Family Tree Magazine (not a magazine I have written for in the past) wants to highlight the Top 40 Genealogy Blogs in their May 2010 issue.  In addition to many of the blogs I read daily written by many people who have become good friends, What’s Past is Prologue has been included among the nominees!  You can find it in the Personal/Family category.  Other categories include All-around, Local/Regional, Cemetery, Photos/Heirlooms, Heritage, News/Resources, How-to, Genealogy Companies, and Genetic Genealogy. Footnotemaven (also a nominee) has a list with links to each and every nominee in this post.  Thanks to those who nominated my blog, and thanks in advance for your votes!  The voting period is open until November 5th. 

    Don’t forget to vote for your favorites!

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    October is Polish-American Heritage Month!  The Polish American Center describes this event as “a national celebration of Polish history, culture and pride.”  Even if you don’t have any Polish ancestry, it’s a great time to learn more about Polish history and culture.  Last year What’s Past is Prologue hosted a month-long Polish History and Culture Challenge – all contributions can be found in this post.  I’m not quite as organized this year, but I want to offer some tips on celebrating your Polish heritage with the Top Ways to Celebrate Polish-American Heritage Month:

    If you have Polish Ancestry…

    • Locate an immigrant ancestor’s place of origin ~ Ancestry magazine has a great guide to help here.
    • Find a church record for one of your ancestors ~ here are some translation aids to help once you find it.
    • Find and translate the Słownik Geograficzny entry for your ancestor’s hometown ~ here’s a guide to assist.
    • Learn the origin and meaning of one of your Polish surnames ~ read my interview with author Fred Hoffman, and then run out to buy his books on Polish surnames!
    • Join a Polish genealogical society ~ such as the Polish Genealogical Society of America.

    And even if you’re not Polish…

    • Read a book by a Polish author ~  Many are available in English translations.  Are you a science fiction fan? Try Stanisław Lem.  Enjoy non-fiction?  Try Ryszard Kapuściński.  In the mood for sweeping romantic historical epics?  Definitely try Henryk Sienkiewicz.
    • Learn about an event in Polish history ~ Several important anniversaries occurred or will occur in 2009, such as the 230th anniversary of the death of General Casimir Pulaski (father of the American Cavalry) and the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
    • Watch a Polish movie ~ Try Three Colours (Polish: Trzy kolory), the collective title of the trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa, or Katyń, directed by Andrzej Wajda.
    • Make a recipe for some Polish food ~ who wouldn’t want some pierogi?  Did you hear about the Polish nun who has become a best-selling cookbook author?
    • Learn how to polka! ~ Sheri gave us a good intro to the polka for my Polish History and Culture Challenge!

    Polish-PrideKiss Us, We’re Polish (and Proud…)!

    As always, I encourage my readers to also check out some great blogs of my fellow Polish-American genea-bloggers:
    Steve’s Genealogy Blog ~ read about Steve’s visit to Poland, or see samples of expert translation of vital records!
    Creative Gene ~ Jasia writes about “genealogy and more” including her Polish heritage, Detroit Polonia, and Polish crafts!
    Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research ~ Al’s blog gives you exactly what’s in the title of his blog – solid genealogy research that serves as an example to us all!

    If you have a blog about Polish genealogy, history, heritage, or culture, tell us about it in the comments!

    (Polish Pride image from the Polish Heritage Gift Shop – buy your favorite Pole an expression of pride today!)

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    pope john paul ii shadesIt’s time for my monthly “Weekend with Shades” column at Shades of the Departed, The Humor of It.  This month read all about my obsessive search for photos of my ancestors and my hopefully humorous musings on what to do if you don’t have any in “Will the Real Pointkowski Great-Grandparents Please Stand Up?”

    I’d choose the nice Polish fellow sporting shades pictured here to be my ancestor, but if he was my ancestor he wouldn’t have been pope!

    Previous “Weekend with Shades” columns:

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    The Good

    The Social Security Death Index, called the SSDI, is a wonderful took for genealogists.  The SSDI is available for free on various sites, including Ancestry.com and Genealogy Bank.  Steve Morse even has a one-step search tool for it.  The SSDI is useful because it provides the birth and death date for individuals that applied for a social security card.  More importantly, if you request a copy of the person’s actual application, called the SS-5, you may find out the parents’ names as well as where the person worked at that time.   If the person was an immigrant, they often state their full birthplace including the town (but many times just put the country of birth).

    This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

    This great-aunt was so "great" about identifying her place of birth that it led me right to my great-grandmother's birthplace.

    The Bad

    Some beginning researchers give up too soon – if they don’t find the name in the index, they assume that that individual never applied for social security.  That is not always the case – the index was compiled around 1962, and many earlier deaths were not included.

    I have several ancestors who actually applied for social security but were not listed in the SSDI.  Both died prior to the 1962 cutoff for indexing:

    • Joseph Zawodny, 1880 – 1944, applied 04/01/1938
    • Louis Pater, 1893 – 1957, unknown date of application

    You won't find him in the SSDI.

    You won't find him in the SSDI.

    The Ugly

    Did you know that the name in the SSDI can be spelling incorrectly?  Both of my grandparents are listed as POINTKOWSKI in the SSDI.  I have a copy of my grandfather’s SS-5 from November, 1936 – one year after President Roosevelt began the Social Security program.  On the application, he quite clearly spells his name as POINTKOUSKI.  I guess he never bothered to correct them once they started sending him checks!  It’s a good thing they didn’t ask for much in 1936 in the form of documentation.  If he had to produce his birth certificate, he would have had a difficult time explaining why it lists his last name as KINCOSKI.  His parents’ actual surname was PIONTKOWSKI, but neither seems to have applied for social security prior to their deaths in 1937 and 1942.

    Some researchers get frustrated when they can’t find their ancestors in the SSDI.  However, when it first came about it did not include several categories of workers including state or city employees or those that were self-employed.  This explains why two of my grandmother’s brothers are nowhere to be found – one was a fireman, and one ran his own business.  Also, if for some reason a person’s death was not reported to the Social Security Administration, it will not be listed in the SSDI.

    Read more about the SSDI at Joe Beine’s Death Indexes site – The Social Security Death Index

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    Are these my grandparents or someone else's who showed up in my packet of photos?  (They're mine, and is perhaps the only photo of one of my grandparents with SHADES!)

    Are these my grandparents or someone else's who showed up in my packet of photos? (They're mine, and is perhaps the only photo of one of my grandparents with SHADES!)

    It’s time for my monthly Weekend with Shades column at Shades of the Departed, The Humor of It.  This month read all about a developing genealogist…me!  I didn’t realize it back then, but working behind a photo developing counter in college taught me skills that later became useful as a genealogist. It wasn’t funny at the time, but hopefully it is now!  Do you remember when you used film in your camera and it had to be developed into prints?  Did you ever pick up your photos and they were not your photos?  Hey, don’t blame me, I just worked there.  Read all about it at A Developing Genealogist.

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    UPDATE: More info has been found…see my October 25th post, A Sweeter “Sweet Sixteen”

    Whether we know their names or not, we all have sixteen great-great grandparents.  Randy Seaver’s latest edition of Saturday Night Genealogical Fun has challenged us to list them all with their birth and death dates and locations, as well as figure out our nationality percentages as a result.  While I did some rough math last night and commented back to Randy on Facebook, I decided to put this into a blog post today.  For one, it readily shows something I already knew – while certain “branches” on my family tree are quite full and sprout quite high – back ten generations from me at its highest point – the sad fact is that part of my family tree remains a bare twig.  As a genealogist, I hate that!  As you will see below, it’s the far left part of my tree – my patrilineal line.  Some might even argue that’s the most important, at least for the Y-DNA line of my brother and his sons.  Another fun part of this exercise was to see all of the surnames I have uncovered so far.  Here are my sixteen great-great grandparents:

    1. Unknown PIONTKOWSKI, father of Jan Bołesław Piontkowski.  Birth and death unknown, presumably from Warsaw, Poland where Jan was born. Nationality: Polish

    2. Unknown wife of #1, mother of Jan Bołesław Piontkowski.  Birth and death unknown, presumably from Warsaw, Poland where Jan was born. Nationality: Polish

    3. Leopold KIESWETTER, father of Róza Kieswetter.  Birth and death unknown.  Presumed nationality: Polish

    4. Unknown wife of #3, mother of Róza Kieswetter.  Birth and death unknown.  Presumed nationality: Polish

    5. Josef BERGMEISTER, father of Josef Bergmeister.  Born 09 February 1843 in Puch, Bavaria, son of Jakob Bergmeister and Anna Maria Daniel.  Died before 1884, unknown place.  Nationality: German (Bavarian)

    6. Ursula DALLMEIER, mother of Josef Bergmeister.  Born 17 March 1847 in Aichach, Bavaria, daughter of Joseph Dallmeier and Ursula Eulinger.   Died between 1897 and 1919, presumably in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. Nationality: German (Bavarian)

    7. Karl ECHERER, father of Maria Echerer.  Born 31 May 1846 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, son of Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg.  Died after 1882 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria. Nationality: German (Bavarian)

    8. Margarethe FISCHER, mother of Maria Echerer.  Born 21 January 1845 in Langenbruck, Bavaria, daughter of Franz Xaver Fischer and Barbara Gürtner.  Died 04 October 1895 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany. Nationality: German (Bavarian)

    9. Jozef PATER, father of Ludwig Pater.  Born on 21 September 1864 in Ruda Guzowska, Poland, son of Jan Pater and Teofilia Zakrzewska.  Died on 11 August 1945 in Philadelphia, PA, USA.  Nationality: Polish

    10. Antonina Rozalia PLUTA, mother of Ludwig Pater. Born on 21 June 1863 in Mszczonów, Poland, daughter of Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Anna Wojciechowska.  Died on 12 December 1938 in Philadelphia, PA, USA. Nationality: Polish

    11. Jan MÜLLER, father of Elżbieta Müller.  Birth and death unknown.  Presumed nationality: Bohemian

    12. Elizabeth SMETANA, mother of Elżbieta Müller.  Birth and death unknown.  Presumed nationality: Bohemian

    13. Wawrzyniec ZAWODNY, father of Jozef Zawodny.  Born around 1853 in unknown location to Szymon Zawodny and Katarzyna Ratajewska.  Died 13 December 1917 in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Nationality: Polish

    14. Katarzyna MARIANSKA, mother of Jozef Zawodny.  Born around 1853, presumably in Komorowo, Poland, to Stanisław Marianski and Marianna Radomska.  Died 29 July 1923 in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Nationality: Polish

    15. Wincenty SLESINSKI, father of Wacława Slesinska.  Born around 1851, presumably in Wilczyn, Poland, to Jozef Slesinski and Elżbieta Michalowska.  Died 01 January 1919 in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Nationality: Polish

    16. Stanisława DROGOWSKA, mother of Wacława Slesinski.  Born around 1860, presumably in Wilczyn, Poland, to Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubicka.  Died 30 December 1918 in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Nationality: Polish

    Of 16 great-great grandparents, 13 can be named.  As for the facts, I have definite birth and death dates for only 3, definite birth and unknown death dates for 3, unknown birth and definite death dates for 4, and all dates unknown for 6.  Do you know what that means?  It means I have a lot of genealogical research to do!  In the early days of my research, I got so excited at the ability to go back and back and back on certain lines that I forgot about following up the more “recent” folks with all of the necessary and pertinent data.

    Nationality-wise, this makes me:

    • 62.5% Polish – 10 great-greats (6 definite, 4 assumed to be Polish)
    • 25% German – 4 great-greats
    • 12.5% Bohemian – 2 great-greats that are presumed Bohemian based on info I have so far

    I have identified strongly with my Bavarian roots, yet it only comprises 25% of my genes.  Perhaps that identification comes from the fact that this side was so much easier to search so far!

    Some random facts about my sweet sixteen –

    • #9 and 10 are my only 2nd great grandparents to immigrate to the United States, making my paternal grandfather the only grandparent to know his own grandparents.
    • #15 and 16 died two days apart from each other
    • I have photographs of none of my sixteen 2nd great grandparents and I have photographs of only six of their children, my great-grandparents.
    • My maternal grandmother’s grandparents all died between 1917 and 1923, long after their children came to the U.S.  They lived close to the border of German-occupied Poland and Russian-occupied Poland, but I do not yet know if their deaths were related to World War I.  My grandmother never met her grandparents, but had they also immigrated she would have known them since she was born in 1907.

    Thanks for more genealogical fun, Randy!  It is embarrassing that my tree is a bit barren in spots, but I’m glad I can name as many and I can.  Many people today can not name their 8 great-grandparents…yet they don’t seem bothered by it at all.  Ask a genealogist to name their 16 great-greats, and now you’ve got some angry folks who realize they have to work harder!

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