Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

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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Sometimes we need a little humor in our blogging – especially after reading the latest edition of the COG and learning that all of us were this close to having our ancestry wiped out before we could even be born.  I haven’t written a strictly humorous post in a while with the exception of my monthly guest appearances at Shades of the Departed.  But it’s easy to find humor in the sheer act of blogging.  We’ve seen a number of talented genea-bloggers take a break from their genealogical articles to write about the hysterical nature of those words we have to use for comment verification on each other’s blogs.  But today I’d like to share one thing about this blog that has made me laugh recently, and it involves my “statistics”.

I’ve used Google Analytics on other blogs, and I love the features that allow you to find out everything about your visitors.  I mean everything – where they are from, how long they visited, what they looked at, and if they washed their hands before they left.  Well, maybe not that last one, but I bet those folks at Google are working on it.  I was disappointed that I can’t use Analytics on What’s Past is Prologue – you see, I’m too cheap to host the blog myself, so I’m using the free version.  And with the free version, Google Analytics is verboten.  But WordPress does give us economical folks a version of it.  Sort of.  It would be like calling a gumdrop a version of an ice cream sundae.  They are both desserts of sorts, but, ah, different!

One thing my cheapy free version of statistics gives me is the “search terms” that visitors are searching for when they unexpectedly land here.  I’ve gotten many laughs in recent months over these terms, and I’ve also scratched my head in bewilderment.  Wait, someone is searching for that? And the search engine points them to my blog?  I’m not sure if I should be offended or grateful for the free traffic.  “Hey, I can’t help you with that, but if you want to stay a while maybe I can interest you in something else…”  Here are some of the best of the strange, odd, and downright scary search terms that have directed folks to What’s Past is Prologue – with my comments, of course.   Note: These terms are all actual search terms as reported to me by WordPress! Let’s call it the 1st Edition of the Carnival of Strange Search Terms!


first communion photography tempest – The first 3 words I can understand – after all, I’ve shown many photos here including my father’s first communion.  And we all know what play the title of this blog comes from.  What I can’t fathom is what it means when you combine the terms together.  That must have been quite the stormy event!

what is an aunt – Seriously?  My 4-year-old niece already understands why I am called “Aunt Donna” and the lady across the street is not.

can’t find my marriage licenese – Note: It’s probably not here either.

piontkowski murder mystery – You’ve got my attention!  Just when I thought my great-grandfather was mysterious enough, now I have to wonder if there’s a murder mystery to solve, too.

rust genealogy – Father: Iron, Mother: Oxygen, Baby Rust born under the sign of Aquarius.


William Shakespeare’s marriage photos – I had no idea photography went back that far!

shakespear prologue car – Apparently automobiles are older than I thought as well.

squinny shakespeare – I have no idea what it means, but I’d love the answer to this one myself.


carnival themed wedding – Really?  Someone would actually do that?

wedding prosthesis – I don’t think I want to know.  Should this be in the “Kinky” category below?

stories of fraud marriage(2008-2009) – I sense a story here, and some slight hostility in the searcher.


plain girl pictures – Hey!  I think I’m insulted.

ugliest ballet tutu – I know what page this would have brought them to, but I want to know why you’re searching for it!

ugly women facesHEY! They must be mistaken, for this search term surely wouldn’t lead to the page with my photo on it!

impossible to pronounce polish name – Really, “Pointkouski” isn’t THAT hard.


what do houses of nj look like – Ours look like houses that the rest of the country lives in.  Really.

what’s in my soul – If you found the answer here, please let me know so I can market it.

why can’t humans live past 200 years old – We can live to 200?

what.section.of.phila.do.irish.live – we.let.them.live.anywhere.they.want.

what to do after a blizzard hits – Shovel.

six months two weeks one day and an hour – Equals the amount of time it would take me to figure out how this would lead here.


show me beautifull teady beer photos – How about if I show you a dictionary instead?

list of monks at west thornton in1880 – And this led you here because…?

hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy tattoos – Don’t panic, but the answer’s not here.

2009 meteor showers camping ground phila – You’ve obviously never been to Philadelphia if you believe you can see meteor showers here.  There’s so much light pollution, I don’t need any outside lights over here on the other side of the river – I can see just fine from the humid glow across the way.


kitten and cockatiel co-habiting – LOL – That should be a sitcom.

three flexible sisters from the 1920s – I can’t even imagine what the searcher was looking for.  Well, I can imagine, but why would I want to?

2 ugly transvestites – That would be my description of my dad and his comedic buddy, but, excuse me, you’re not only looking for transvestites, but ugly ones?

naked paternal grandmother – Eeeeewwww!  Specifically wrong on so many levels.

schoolboys at crossdressing – I’ll second that eeeewwww and raise you a pedophile alert.

Bavarian naked women – The searcher was sorely disappointed in whatever page they were led to!

So there you have it!  The next edition of this search term carnival will include more bizarre, freakish, and unusual ways that bring me more traffic!  If you’re a geneablogger, do you encounter these strange and unusual researchers?  Tell me about your best search terms!  Until next time, I remain the Queen of Ugly Teady Beer Shakespearean Transvestite Marriage Photos.

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Drew Jul 1960It’s that time again…time for my monthly Weekend with Shades column at Shades of the Departed, The Humor of It.  This month’s topic – the Fotomat!  If you don’t know what a Fotomat is, well, that means you’re younger than I am.  Take a peek at how I try to describe it to my nieces in Fotomat – What’s That?

That guy in the photo is certainly old enough to remember the Fotomats – that’s my big brother in 1960 and the father of my nieces who don’t quite know what to make of the whole concept.  [In retrospect, I should have used this photo for my Weekend with Shades debut, Off With Their Heads!]

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It’s safe to say that most of my readers are genealogists.  I came upon a question today that may be of great interest to genealogists – what would you do if you couldn’t do genealogy?  I don’t mean you can’t find someone or have a “brick wall” that is hindering your research. I mean what if you had all of the desire, curiosity, and sheer determination that we genealogists have to dig up our roots, but you could not research your family history because you didn’t know who your parents were?  And the government won’t show you your own birth certificate?

I learned today that this is the fate of most adoptees in the United States.  Birth records in 44 states are completely closed to adoptees, so they are unable to learn the bare facts about their family history.  Privacy laws have been on the books for a few generations that deny access to adult adoptees to protect the privacy of the parents who chose to give their child up for adoption.  In theory, it’s understandable.  But in reality, is it practical?  Advocates of open access insist the issue is unrelated to the decision to find or know their birth parents, but is more about a right that nearly all of us have to simply have a copy of the birth record that all other Americans are allowed to have.  Those for open access argue that the family history, regardless of the reasons for the adoption, is important for health or genealogical reasons.  Opponents insist that the parents have the right to remain unknown.

I think adoption is a wonderful thing and a selfless act on the part of both parties – the birth mother/parents as well as the adoptive parent/s.  But does giving up a child to another out of love allow someone to remain anonymous?  Does knowing your parents’ names guarantee a relationship with them?

It’s a tough issue, and I’m no expert since I am not adopted nor have I given up a child for adoption.  But, as a genealogist, I honestly can’t imagine not knowing my ancestry.  I know many people who have no interest in their genealogy whatsoever.  But, what if you are like me and you do have that interest – yet you can’t even get a copy of your own birth certificate to surmise what nationality your ancestors were?

I learned about this issue because advocates of adoptee rights protested yesterday here at the Philadelphia Convention Center during the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Read more about their cause here. I wish them luck.  I don’t know what I’d do if I enjoyed genealogical research as much as I do but could not research my own genealogy.  What would you do?

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This and That

I’ve title this post “This and That” because it isn’t strictly a “Donna’s Picks” that highlights various other posts, but more of a little of “go see this” and my “comments on that”. Technically this should have been my second “Friday Five” post, in which I highlight five short things that aren’t extensive enough for a post of their own, but I am running a bit behind this week.

Rest in peace? First, many genea-bloggers have commented on a serious issue in Alabama first highlighted by Deep Fried Kudzu this past Friday.  In Oxford, Alabama, developers are well on their way to destroying a 1,500 year old Native American mound to make way for a new Sam’s Club (like we all need another).  We don’t know if this mound was a burial site or used for some other purposes, but the fact is that it is historical.  I found it odd that even if they find remains buried there, it may not be enough to stop its destruction! Equally disturbing was news from Chicago of individuals uprooting graves to re-sell them!  Aside from being completely disrespectful, I find practices like this to be immoral.  To me, we all have a moral obligation to respect the dignity of human life in all forms – including the final resting places of those that have gone before us on earth.  Besides, even if you lack respect for the dead, haven’t these people seen the Poltergeist films?  Scared my silly as a teenager and affirmed the value of respecting the dead!  What can we do?  Get the word out about the building project in Alabama, and work hard to protect our local cemeteries.

Then and Now! For a while I’ve been thinking about shooting some “now” photos of either places in old photographs or of people in the same poses and places.  I was planning on a photographic “then and now” series, but The Genealogue highlighted a site this week that did this to perfection in film!  Visit Elliott’s home movie reconstructions to see his handywork.  I especially love his “Dad Reconstruction” and “Mom Reconstruction” in which he filmed his parents doing things they did in the original home movies.  Brilliant!

Irène Némirovsky – If you don’t know who this woman is, I encourage you to check out this piece on the “Woman of Letters” Exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.  I first learned of Irene’s story through the publication of Suite Française.  If she could write such a beautiful work in such circumstances, then I can only imagine the great works that were lost as a result of her death in a Nazi concentration camp.  The survival of the manuscript itself is a fascinating story as well.  The exhibit runs through 30 August, so if you are in New York City this summer be sure to take a look.  The museum set up this site about Irene, her life and death, and her amazing works.

Genealogy Wise – I followed the crowd and joined GenealogyWise, the new “social network” for genealogists.  My profile is here.  While I like the concept, I still don’t quite see the point. While there are many more groups to join than on Facebook, it appears that most users are not starting new discussions in these groups, but leaving comments that amount to vague information about their surnames.  Don’t we already have a multitude of surname boards that serve the same purpose?  I’ll give it time – the site has not even officially debuted yet!  But, take note of one thing I have discovered so far.  On Facebook, I entered all of my surnames within my profile, so if you search for one of those names you’ll get me as well as people with that surname.  On GenealogyWise, a basic search for a name only gives you users that bear that name – to search all of the surnames that people entered in their profile, you have to do an “Advanced Search”.

Laugh of the Week – when I sent a cousin some research on her branch of the family, her response was, “So, are you finished your genealogy now?”  [insert long pause for raucous laughter from all of my fellow genealogists]

Stay Tuned – Coming Soon at What’s Past is Prologue – Some things I am working on include an entry for the 76th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy on summer vacation memories and another postcard for the 3rd Festival of Postcards on signs.  My vacation story is a doozy, and I am still debating which of two postcards to illustrate signs – the more personal story, or a photo of a much bigger sign?  Also, for the last few months I have been working on a post about my Miller ancestors and relatives.  Every time I am about to post the series, I seem to find more information.  Not that it’s a bad thing, but it keeps delaying it.  I am actually quite tired of the Miller family by this point, so I hope to post “The Millers’ Tale” in the next two weeks!  Thanks for reading…

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Friday Five

Posts have been irregular of late, so welcome to my “Friday Five” – five short thoughts, tips, links, or comments that either aren’t lengthy enough to form a whole post or they actually have nothing to do with genealogy!

1 – The case of John Barnes and Stephen Damman

I was surprised that this piece of news wasn’t picked up by more genea-blogs.  John Barnes is convinced that he is not really a member of his family.  After too many unanswered questions about his birth, he began to research missing children.  After learning of the case of Stephen Damman,  a toddler kidnapped outside of a New York bakery in 1955, he wondered if he was the missing boy.  Remarkably, the adult Barnes resembled the photo of the toddler – most notably his eyes and a similar facial scar.  Damman’s sister, who was a baby at the time of the kidnapping, met with Barnes and noted a resemblance to her father.  A “do it yourself” DNA test indicated the possibility that they were related.  The FBI got involved to perform a more detailed DNA test to determine if Barnes was indeed the boy who had been missing for over 50 years.  Sadly, at least for Barnes and the Damman family, the DNA test showed that he is not.  Barnes’ own father is still alive and incredulous that his son thinks he was either adopted, switched at birth, or kidnapped.   What struck me about this story is the fact that at one time or another, most of us have wondered if we’re related to our own parents and siblings.  “Surely I was adopted!  I am nothing like him/her/them!”  But just about all of us that were not adopted have to admit that, whether because of shared physical traits or personality traits, we are our parents’ child.  How sad it must be for Mr. Barnes to feel so disconnected from the family he grew up with that he believes he does not really share their blood.  Perhaps he does not – I have not read any mention of a DNA test to prove his relation to his own father.  But it is also sad for the elderly Mr. Damman, who had a glimmer of hope after years of missing his son, and also for his daughter who hoped to to know her brother.  She and Barnes both said they felt a “connection”, which made the finding even sadder.  This was an interesting genealogical mystery involving DNA testing, but it did not have the happy ending that everyone wanted.

2 – The Empire that was Russia

On Facebook, Thomas MacEntee posted a link to the amazing photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, the photographer to the czar in 1905.  He developed (no pun intended) a way to take color photographs using three colored filters.  When the images are combined, it results in a color photograph.  I knew our ancestors didn’t live in a black and white world like most photographs show us, but seeing these vibrant photographs of old scenes is amazing.  See the photos at the Library of Congress Exhibit.  Although I cherish even the few black and white photos I have of my ancestors, wouldn’t it be amazing to see them in color?

3 – Wireless Printers and Scanners

I’m shopping for a wireless printer-scanner.  Does anyone have any recommendations?

4 – Local Historians

My local historical society found my local history article from the COG in May, so this week I’ll attend a meeting and likely join their group.

5 – Laugh of the Week

Footnote.com or footnoteMaven.com?  LOL  That really cracked me up!  I must confess that I visit Maven’s site far more than the records site!

That’s all, folks.  Have a happy 4th of July and enjoy the 3-day weekend if you are lucky enough to have one!

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While footnoteMaven is off to California for the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, I’m blog-sitting today over at Shades of the Departed with my monthly “Weekend with Shades” column, The Humor of It.  In keeping with the season, today’s article is “Vacation Lampoonery” with some tips on taking photographs that help you remember the humorous side of your summer vacations!

1985: Lou and Donna in front of St. Peter's, Rome, Italy.  My first real vacation - with lots of lampoonery!

1985: Lou and Donna in front of St. Peter's, Rome, Italy. My first real vacation - with lots of lampoonery!

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My Favorite Finds

I just spent more time than I want to admit working on Bill West’s Genea-bloggers’ Just Make Up Some Lyrics Challenge!  I’m used to making up lyrics to songs on the radio – yes, people think I’m strange.  So I was lucky that Bill had such an excellent idea.  I’m still strange, but now I have company!  Oddly enough, I had seen the original post of the challenge as well as some of the great contributions so far.  I even commented on footnoteMaven’s post today that I had better post mine before someone “steals” my song.  Imagine my surprise when I saw Bill’s response to his own challenge.  It was posted almost two weeks ago, but I somehow missed it.  Ooops!  It seems as though Bill is singing MY song!  But our surnames are different, and so are our rhymes, so I am going to post my lyrics anyway.  Great minds think alike, so I’m sure Bill won’t mind (I could use a flutaphone accompaniment though).  I knew I should have chosen “Disturbia” or “Superfreak” or something more original…oh well, there is still time to submit another song to the challenge!

My Favorite Finds (to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music)

Finding Pfaffenhofen, as Echerer’s birth place,
Lots of Bergmeister’s to meet and embrace,
The census online; genea-blogs of all kinds,
These are a few of my favorite finds!

Piontkowski grandfather, changing his name,
Finding his arrival was just like a game,
Finally found it, nearly losing my mind.
One more example of a wonderful find!

Zawodny’s in records, but Miller’s a mystery,
Pater’s from Poland, all part of my history,
Slesinski photos showing family tree binds,
These are a few of my family tree finds!

I can’t find them!
What’s the spelling?
Handwriting’s really bad!
I simply remember my favorite finds,
And then I don’t feel so mad.

[Submitted for the first-ever Just Make Up the Lyrics Challenge: Family Names – see the rules here.]

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It’s that time again…time for my monthly Weekend with Shades column, The Humor of It, at Shades of the Departed.  After being sick this month, I had a hard time finding the humor in anything, but I found some inspiration in events that happen around this time of year – and seeing how silly my old photos of those events looked certainly helped!  This month’s column is called Rites & Wrongs of Passage.  It tries to find the humor in those two events that were oh-so-important long ago – the prom and graduation.  Once again, I have a special photo (two for one this month) to invite you to join me at Weekend with Shades.

Lou and I at my senior prom; my friend Kathy as one seriously cool graduate.

Lou and I at my senior prom; my friend Kathy as one seriously cool graduate.

Yes, I know footnoteMaven doesn’t refer to these sorts of shades, but I can’t resist.  Besides, I want to see how many shades photographs I can find – it’s my own personal photo carnival each month to entice you to wander over to Shades of the Departed for my column.  Come to think of it, you should also wander over every weekend because there is a stellar collection of columnists, as well as during the week for the illustrious footnoteMaven’s own writing.

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In 1937, my dad also knew how to spend a weekend with "Shades"!

In 1937, my dad also knew how to spend a weekend with "Shades"!

Well, I’m back from my trip to San Diego!  But it seems I’m on my way again, at least virtually…  Join me at Shades of the Departed for my  Weekend with Shades monthly column, The Humor of It.  This month’s post is entitled There’s Always One:

When it comes to taking a group photo, there always seems to be one – one person who completely, unequivocally messes up the shot.

Read the rest over at footnoteMaven’s place – I’ll see you there…I’m the one with my shades on.

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…at Shades of the Departed!  My friend footnoteMaven apparently thinks I’m humorous, so I’m spending the weekend at her place.  Please visit the debut of my monthly Weekend with Shades column, The Humor of It.  This month’s post: Off With Their Heads!

Ava and Nicky celebrate Aunt Donna's "Weekend with Shades" debut!

Ava and Nicky celebrate Aunt Donna's "Weekend with Shades" debut!

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I rarely have time to even read Randy’s Saturday Night Fun Challenges on a Saturday night, much less respond to them.  But tonight, I do have some time, and this one is not so challenging for me to answer!  If Randy had chosen any other line, it would have been harder.

The challenge is this:  Provide a list of your paternal grandmother’s patrilineal line. Answer these questions:
* What was your father’s mother’s maiden name?
* What was your father’s mother’s father’s name?
* What is your father’s mother’s father’s patrilineal line? That is, his father’s father’s father’s … back to the most distant male ancestor in that line?
* Can you identify male sibling(s) of your father’s mother, and any living male descendants from those male sibling(s)? If so, you have a candidate to do a Y-DNA test on that patrilineal line. If not, you may have to find male siblings, and their descendants, of the next generation back, or even further.

Here are my responses:

My father’s mother was Margaret Bergmeister (1913-1998), born in Philadelphia, PA.

  • My father’s mother’s father’s name was Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927), born in Vohburg a.d. Donau, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was also named Joseph Bergmeister (1843-unknown before 1885), born in Puch, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was Jakob Bergmeister (1805-1870), born in Puch, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840), born in Puch, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was Johann Paul Bergmeister (1721-1784), born in Puch, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was Martin Bergmeister (ca 1689-1752), born in Puch, Bavaria, Germany.
  • His father was likely Jakob Bergmeister / Permeister but this info is still being researched.

My grandmother Margaret Bergmeister had three brothers –

  • Joseph Bergmeister (1902-1986), who had three sons: Joseph, Robert, and Carl.  There are three males descended from Joseph and Robert, and Carl had no children.
  • Max Bergmeister (1905-?) had no sons.
  • Julius Bergmeister(1907-?) had no sons.

Even if I did not have three male second cousins with the Bergmeister surname (two of whom I have been in touch with so far) and therefore candidates for the Y-DNA of my grandmother’s patrilineal line, I am also in touch with fourth and fifth male cousins with the common ancestors of Jakob (b.1805) or Joseph (b.1763) shown above.  I haven’t looked into any kind of DNA testing, especially for this line, because there are plenty of Bergmeister men – both in the genealogical records and in my email in-box!  Thanks, Grandmom, for having an easy patrilineal line to research!  Click on the Bergmeister Family tab above for more info on this line.

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Today it was announced that actress Betsy Blair died on March 13 at the age of 85.  Unless you are a fan of classic film and/or Gene Kelly in particular, you might not recognize her name.  Her obituaries seem to highlight two main facts about her life: she was the first wife of Gene Kelly, and as an actress her most memorable role was her  Oscar-nominated performance in 1955’s Marty with Ernest Borgnine.  For me, the news of her death was more than just a headline because I had the opportunity to meet her on three different occasions.

In late 2001, I was contacted by Gene and Betsy’s daughter, Kerry, concerning a benefit showing of Singin’ in the Rain.  My Gene Kelly web site, The Gene Scene (1994 – 2012), was about seven years old and had a large enough following to be of use in promoting the event.  I asked Kerry a rather bold question: “I’m traveling to London in a few months…would your mother meet with me?”  I knew Betsy resided in London with her second husband, filmmaker Karl Reisz.  To my surprise, I received her phone number and the instruction to call her when I arrived.  I did, and I was further surprised with an invitation to her home for tea.  I wanted to meet her, but I didn’t expect such graciousness to a stranger.

Visiting Betsy Blair in 2002

Visiting Betsy Blair in 2002

Betsy Blair was always described in magazines or biographies as the plain “girl next door”.  When she invited me into her home, she became the “grandma next door” and immediately made me feel welcome.  As we chatted, I was a bit starstruck – here was a woman who, at the age of 18, was married to one of Hollywood’s hottest emerging stars and was the friend and hostess to many of the biggest film stars of the 1940’s and ’50’s.  Did it seem surreal to you, I asked, to have Judy Garland, Phil Silvers, and Lena Horne sitting around your living room on a Saturday night? She smiled and paused, as if thinking of how to describe it.  She finally shrugged and said, “It was all so normal – at the time, it was so new – I didn’t realize there was anything unusual about it!”

Betsy had the unique ability to immediately make me feel as if we had been friends for years.  She became as interested in my life as I was in hers.  I didn’t ask questions as if I was interviewing her; we merely conversed.  She understood that I admired the man who had once not only been a Hollywood star, but also the love of her life, and it was almost as if our mutual (if different) love for Gene bonded us together for that brief time.  We talked about many things over the course of an hour, including the old studio system for making movies, her current work, movies today, Gene’s widow, Stanley Donen, and Gene’s reputation as a perfectionist.  She told me that while filming On the Town, Frank Sinatra didn’t really want to rehearse the dancing, so he’d joke and fool around.  Gene and Stanley would pretend the cameras were rolling so they’d get some practice time in!

The Kelly Family, 1942

The Kelly Family, 1942

A few months after my trip, I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet her once again – this time with her daughter in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the benefit showing of Singin’ in the Rain.  At a dinner before the showing, it was Betsy who sought me out and rushed across a crowded room to say hello as if I was an old friend.  More of her “down to earth” personality emerged throughout the evening as she shared a smoke with fans outside the theater and answered questions from two young Gene fans.  One rather young fan excitedly asked a rather personal question, “What was it like to kiss Gene Kelly?”  She smiled in my direction and gave a rather eloquent answer to the child: “When you love someone, it’s very special to kiss them – no matter who they are.  Gene and I were married and in love, so it was very special.”

In 2003, Betsy published her memoirs, The Memory of All That.  She told me about it during my first visit with her – including that the title was not her first choice.  Her favorite title was Lucky in Love but since the book wasn’t only about her love life, the editors “didn’t like it”.  She said, “I’m not sure who’s really going to want to read it anyway – there’s no scandal in it!”   I met her again at a book signing in New York City, and again it was like a family reunion.

Betsy’s modesty is apparent even in her name – she wasn’t Liz, a flashy star’s name, but plain and simple Betsy.  She was born Elizabeth Boger in Cliffside, NJ.  After taking dancing lessons for years, she went to New York City at the age of 16 to get a job as a dancer.  She met Kelly when she auditioned for a show at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe.  There she mistook him, the show’s choreographer, for the busboy; he hired her anyway.  Gene was, at the age of 28, twelve years older than Betsy.  She appreciated his sophistication, and he became smitten.  Over the next two years, Gene advanced from choreographer to Broadway star to a Hollywood contract, and their relationship also grew.  The couple married literally on their way to Hollywood.  In 1942, their first and only child was born, Kerry.

In the late 1940’s, Betsy appeared in some films.  But her most famous “role”, at least according to news reports, seems to be the accusation that she was a communist.  It almost lost her the role in Marty, and she became blacklisted moreso for her support of others who were blacklisted rather than any involvement in communist activities herself.  Gene and Betsy divorced in 1957, but she never had anything bad to say about him afterwards (nor did he about her).  She later married Karel Reisz and continued to work in films in Europe.

This weekend, newspapers and film sites will remember Betsy Blair as Gene’s wife, Karel’s wife, Ernest’s co-star (despite other film appearances, that was her most lauded role), and more.  What you may not read about is her unassuming and gracious nature, her intelligence, and her wit.  I wish I could have known her better, or longer, but I am grateful that my life was able to brush hers briefly.  Good-bye, Betsy – I’ll miss you!  Requiescat in pace.

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Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

Photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr

But what’s the question?  Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know that it’s the meaning of life, the universe and everything.  But on Sunday, March 8th, 42 happens to be the next mile-marker on my own personal odometer.  (Coincidentally, I just found out that March 8th was also the date that Hitchhiker’s radio broadcast premiere 31 years ago – oh, the cosmic implications!)

I plan on taking a birthday break from blogging by spending the weekend gazing at palm trees, so I came up with a different and unusual way for my friends to wish me a “Happy Birthday” greeting.  After all, my friends are different and unusual.  Since you all also have a wonderful sense of humor, I do hope you’ll join in by posting a comment about THE BEST TIME WE NEVER HAD.  That’s right – your best fictional memory of our fun.  For those of you that think I’ve lost my mind along with my youth, let me explain…

I’m borrowing this idea from another blog I read called Darwin Catholic.  For the last few years, she has celebrated her birthday by asking for “completely made up and fictional” memories.  And the results are pretty funny.  Since my friends’ humor IQs tip the scales, I thought this would be a unique challenge.  (I’m counting on Thomas, Joe S., Killa, Jasia, MO, and various members of the Bucs clan at a minimum!)  Come on, give the old gal a laugh while I’m sipping pina coladas on the beach!

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Ancestors on Facebook?

Janet Hovorka, the Chart Chick, had a link to her sister’s blog.  Her sister talks about how great it is to use Facebook to meet up with old friends and plan a family reunion.  Then she asks an intriguing question:

…wouldn’t a genealogical version of facebook, devoid of time and space, be intriguing? Locate family members, link generations, pictures, tidbits, get to know your long losts…. I’d love to “friend” my 3rd great-grandmother Magdalena Straubhaar Schwendiman and have a bit of wall-to-wall with her. And I’m sure I’d love the status reports from my great-grandfather Joseph Hatton Carpenter. He had some jolly songs and anecdotes and was somewhat of an English character. Hmmmmm…

You had to do it…here I am off from work on a snow day and feeling in a creative mood.  Well, let me think…what would it be like to have my ancestors on Facebook?  See my take on what it would be like if my ancestors were on Facebook (click on the image to see a larger view):

Maybe we don't really need more family in our life - LOL!

Maybe we don't really need more family in our life - LOL!

I can see it now…what groups would my grandparents join?  Would my grandmother “friend” her sisters that did not get along?  Would the feuding brothers be friends?  Further back, would the German-speaking ancestors befriend the Polish-speaking ones because they share common descendants?  Who would be addicted to bumper stickers, flair, and games?  What would my great-grandparents be “fans” of?

The “what-if” possibilities are endless – and humorous! If we could communicate with our deceased ancestors, we’d not only have more Friends, but more people commenting on our status, photos, and friends. Hmm, maybe we all already have enough advice in our lives!

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“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!

History – A few weeks ago Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, wrote about a new oral history project. The West Point Center for Oral History will interview veterans of World War II through the present conflicts and archive their stories on the site.  According to the site, it “will serve as a powerful learning tool for West Point cadets and as an important research center for historians and the general public.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Plus, my second cousin on the Bergmeister side is the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at West Point, so here’s a little “shout out” to my family!

Genealogical Records – Have you ever had difficulty deciphering old handwriting in records?  Seriously, who has not had difficulty!  Read “What’s That Say?” by The Polish Genealogy Project for a great primer on how to figure out handwriting in various languages through the ages.

Genealogy Blog – Well, it’s not specifically genealogy-related, but the Strange Maps blog is a delight to genealogists, history lovers, and anyone who loves maps of all kinds.  Some have a unique genealogy twist though, like the 11-year-old boy’s drawing of his immigration!  Don’t click through to the site unless you have some time to kill, because there are so many interesting posts you’ll have a hard time leaving.  Consider yourself warned.

Genealogy Blogger Challenge – It’s not a challenge, per se, but Craig Manson came up with a great idea for bloggers to post their Names, Places, & Most Wanted Faces.  Several bloggers have already posted their lists.  I’m still deciding and/or writing some posts, but my names and places are listed on the sidebar to the right if anyone wants a sneak peak.

A New Carnival in Town – see the very first edition of the latest genealogy-related carnival, the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival!

Blogging – If you are always on the look-out to improve your blog or your writing, check out Seven Expert Tips for Outstanding Web Writing at ProBlogger.

That’s all of Donna’s Picks for today.  Here’s a Happy Blogiversary wish to footnoteMaven who is celebrating two years as a genea-blogger.  In blog years, she’s a veteran!  I’d also like to send out some get well wishes to Terry, Ernie, and Becky – come back soon because I miss your posts!

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The “Donna’s Picks” feature returns after a lengthy hiatus!  I may not have “picks” every week anymore, but I will occasionally highlight other blogs, posts, or articles that may be of interest to my fellow genealogists.  For this comeback edition, enjoy the following links!

History – In this news article from Science Now, read about an interesting archeological find in Germany.  Researchers now believe that the Romans were in Germany for centuries later than previously assumed.

Genealogical Records
– Genealogy and Family History posted an informative article called “Before Ellis Island: Passenger Arrivals at Castle Garden, New York“.  Ellis Island gets more attention, but if your ancestors arrived earlier this article might provide some clues on where to look for evidence of their arrival.

Genealogy Blog
– I would like to highlight one of the “newer” genealogy blogs, They that go down to the sea.  Amy has been blogging since November about her Canadian, Scottish, English, Swedish, and American roots.  “Blogling” Amy describes her blog as follows: “While I like charts and graphs as much as the next researcher, my real passion lies in family stories, treasured family objects, and images.  If there was such a thing as an ‘interdisciplinary genealogist,’ I would be one.”  I am certainly enjoying her stories, and I’m sure you will, too!

Genealogy Blogger Challenge – Miriam at Ancestories asks, “Who Are Our Brickwall Ancestors, and Why Aren’t We Blogging About Them Regularly?” Good question!  From the resultant applause in the comments, we’ll be reading much more about everyone’s “brickwall” ancestors – and hopefully helping each other, as Reagan said, break down those walls!  If you’re not sure how to post your problem, Miriam even provided a very useful format to use.

Blogging – A blog about books and reading I’ve recently discovered called Sophisticated Dorkiness is presenting a “Blog Improvement Project” – “a year-long challenge that will consist of twice-monthly activities to improve your blog.”  Week One’s focus is Setting Goals.  Whether you are a new blogger or have been blogging for a while, if you are looking to improve your work than this project may be the challenge for you!

Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – Finally, over on the PHILLY-ROOTS list, a Rootsweb mailing list, one helpful genealogist has been transcribing and posting lists found in her own newspaper research, such as death notices or marriage license notices appearing on particular dates.  This is especially helpful to other researchers since even non-subsribers can find these names via an archive search of the mailing list.  The researcher, Debbie, closes her posts with “Do a good deed for someone today” – she is certainly doing good deeds for other genealogists – perhaps we can follow her example.  The next time you run across some information that isn’t related to YOUR family, why not consider posting a message to a mailing list so that others can benefit?  There are over 30,000 mailing lists on the Rootsweb-Ancestry network – find one for your surname or locality of interest.  If you don’t want any more email in your in-box, you can subscribe via RSS to read in any blog reader.

cog64That’s all for this week!  Don’t forget the deadline for the 64th Carnival of Genealogy this week (see the end of the 63rd edition for details)!

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Happy Blogiversary

partyI’m posting this a few hours before the Big Day, but January 6th is the one year blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue!  It took me a year to realize the irony of the random date I chose to begin this blog, for January 6th is traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany.  In addition to its use as the feast of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child (and their realization of Who He Is), the word has taken on the broader meaning of the original Greek word, which according to Webster can refer to a “sudden manifestation or perception of the meaning of something” or “an illuminating discovery or realization”.  I’m surely not suggesting that my blogging has caused any ephiphanies for my readers, but the act of writing this blog has definitely been an epiphany for me!  In retrospect, it was the perfect day on which to start a blog.

I’m also glad I started blogging at this time of year, when it’s natural to review the “old” year and set goals for the “new” one.  I’m amazed that I’ve had just over 23,000 visitors in the past year!  I appreciate each and every one of you – because, no matter how much fun I have talking to myself, it’s much more fun when I realize that someone is actually reading my musings.  I considered posting a “year in review” list of my favorites, but I realized that I’ve done this not too long ago, twice.  In September, I celebrated my 100th post with a look at how well I did or did not meet my original intent from my welcome message.  Later that same month, I participated in the “Getting to Know You” challenge and mentioned some of my personal favorites.

Just to update, my “top posts” from September are still my top posts, just with higher numbers!  I’m still too wordy, and my goal of offering “research tips” seems to have been overcome with a need to write personal reflections instead.  I think all blogs are a work in progress, and the one thing I am happy with is the fact that I’ve kept it going.  Best of all, I still have a lot of ideas!  If I was retired, had a clone, or had twelve more hours each day I could post more often, but I will aim for three times a week until there is more time or more of me to devote to it.

One of the other “best” things about this venture is the rest of the “genea-blogging” community.  Not only have I made some great friends, but I have continually been inspired by their blogs.  Now I’m armed with new tips to find my ancestors and inspiration to write and create more and more until I run out of time.  Thanks to all of my new friends, those who have left all of the great comments, those who subscribe, and the silent, lurking, yet faithful readers who come back again and again.  I didn’t quite know what to expect, but my personal epiphanies about genealogy, writing, friendship, and life in general have been many.  Thank you for your support!

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