Archive for the ‘Names & Surnames’ Category

Road side for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

Road sign for Mała Wieś, photographed by Zenon Znamirowski on January 18, 2010.

The theme for Week 3 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Tough Woman” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizeweter Piątkowska. Rozalia, or Rose as she was called in the United States, is my only great-grandmother of whom I do not have a photograph. In fact, I know very little about my paternal grandfather’s mother except what I have learned through my research. Based on what I’ve found, though, I have no doubt that Rose was a tough woman!

Rose’s story

Rose was born Rozalia Kizeweter on 08 August 1866 in a small village called Mała Wieś, which literally translates to “small village”. The town is in the parish of Przybyszew, gmina Promna, powiat Białobrzeski, województwo Mazowieckie, Poland.

Rozalia's name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

Rozalia’s name in her 1866 birth record from the parish records of św.Apostołów Piotra i Pawła church in Przybyszew

She was the sixth of at least ten children of Jan and Marianna Kizeweter. As a blacksmith, Rose’s father moved throughout the countryside among various small towns just southwest of Warsaw. Her parents were married in a town named Piaseczno in 1855 when her father was a 21-year-old journeyman blacksmith and her mother was 22 years old. The couple’s first child was born in Warsaw the following year, but then other children were born in four different towns over the years. By 1879, however, the family appears to be back in Warsaw and, beginning in that year, Rose’s siblings all get married in Warsaw.

In 1900, Rose married Jan Piątkowski on 14 May in the parish of św. Stanisława i Wawrzyńca, or Sts. Stanisław and Lawrence. According to the marriage record, her husband Jan was 28 years old and lived on Wolska Street while Rozalia was 34 and lived on Młynarska Street. Rose’s brother Władysław was one of the witnesses. At the time of the wedding, Rose’s father was deceased but her mother was still living.

Jan worked as a tanner, and the couple lived in the Wola section of Warsaw. A son, Józef, was born on 03 November 1903 and a daughter, Janina, was born on 29 December 1905. However, from the U.S. Federal Census I know that Rose also bore four other children before 1910 that did not survive.

On February 17, 1906, Jan left Poland for America with his brother-in-law, Ludwik Czarkowski. After arriving in New York City, they soon settled in Philadelphia. Each of their families would immigrate in the following year.  Rose sailed on the SS Armenia from Hamburg, Germany on 23 October 1906 with her son and daughter. They arrived in New York on 10 November. The physical description for Rose on the passenger list tells me that she had brown hair, blue eyes, and was 5’3″. She was 41 years old, her son turned 3 on the passage across the Atlantic, and her daughter was only ten months old.

The passenger list had X’s next to their names, which usually means they were detained at Ellis Island for some reason. At the end of the passenger list, I found their names and the reason for detention – they had to wire her husband, Jan, for money since she did not have enough to cover their transportation to Philadelphia. It is difficult to read, but she only had either $1 – or none – with her. Rose had to stay at Ellis Island with her children for two days and they were finally discharged on 12 November.

After settling in Philadelphia, Jan – now known as John – worked as a leather worker in a factory. The family had a surprise a few years later – Rose was pregnant with my grandfather, the only Piątkowski sibling to be born in the U.S. He arrived on 06 July 1910 and was named James. At the time of his birth, his mother was just weeks away from turning 44 years old. Today that would not seem unusual, but in 1910, women rarely gave birth at that age.

Little else is known about Rose’s life other than the simple facts found in records.  Her son Joseph (who eventually began to use the surname “Perk” in lieu of Piontkowski) got married in 1927 and had daughters Josephine in 1928 and Jean in 1930. I assume that John and Rose got to know their granddaughters as babies, but in 1931 their mother, Kathryn, died suddenly. The girls were put into a home because their father worked as a truck driver and was not at home to care for them. He remarried and had another daughter, Geraldine, in 1936, so Rose may have gotten to see her third granddaughter as well.

Daughter Jean was married by 1930 to William Rose Hynes and living in New York City, then Florida. She may not have ever seen her parents again after her marriage.  Research continues on the fate of Jean.

Son James got married in 1934 and had his first child, my father, later that year. My father has no memory of his grandmother but she likely got to know him briefly when he was a baby.

Rose died on 10 February 1937 from “chronic myocarditis.”  She was buried in Odd Fellows Cemetery on 13 February. John lived alone, rather unhappily, until August 1942 when he took his own life.

Although I know very little about her, Rose is my choice for a “tough woman” based on some simple facts:

  • At least four of her children as infants or toddlers.
  • After husband departed for America, she had to care for two children, a toddler and an infant, presumably by herself, for nine months.
  • She immigrated to America alone with a 3-year-old and a baby, spending two weeks on a journey that was likely uncomfortable, lonely, and, quite frankly, frightening. She didn’t speak the language in this new home, and she would never see her siblings (or her mother, if she was still alive at the time) again. Then after arrival she had to spend two days waiting for money to travel to Philadelphia.
  • She had a child at the age of 44. When this occurred, in 1910, she was at the age that other women would be a grandmother. I don’t care who you are or what century you live in, but I’m just slightly older right now and I can’t imagine having enough energy for an infant!

For these reasons, I salute my great-grandmother as a strong, tough woman. My grandfather once said that his mother was a tiny woman (as evidenced by her height listed as 5’3″ on the passenger list). But, despite her size and being dwarfed by her husband, she ruled the house and often told his father “how it was”. I wish I had a photograph of this amazing, strong woman!

A note on name spellings: Rose’s surname is spelled many ways in records of her siblings and parents. Kizeweter is the most common, but variations include Kizieweter, Kizewetter, Kieswetter, and similar variations beginning with a G, as in Gizeweter. The name Piątkowski (female version Piątkowska), translates into Piontkowski in English due to the absence of the letter “ą” which has an “on” sound. However, my grandfather changed some letters around…and now that’s my name.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter
  • Ahnentafel: #9 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Marcin Leopold Kizeweter (1837-?) and Marianna Ostał (1833-?)
  • Born: 08 August 1866, Mała Wieś, Przybyszew, Poland
  • Siblings:  Feliks Mateusz (1856-?), Katarzyna Marianna Slanina (1859-?), Józef (1860-?), Kazmierz (1861-?), Jan (1863-1863), Jan Józef (1868-?), Aleksander Józef (1871-?), Władysław (1873-?), Marianna Antonina Owczarek (?-?)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with Józef and Janina, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) on 14 May 1900 in Warszawa, Mazowieckie, Poland
  • Children: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Died: 10 February 1937 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 13 February 1937 in Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 3: Tough Woman

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'The Slav Epic' cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

‘The Slav Epic’ cycle No.15: The Printing of the Bible of Kralice in Ivančice (1914) by Alfons Maria Mucha which commemorates the first printing of the New Testament in the Czech language.

The theme for Week 2 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “King” and my ancestor is my 7th great-grandfather, Václav Jirsak (also spelled Jirsák). He was not a king, but his story is connected with kingship in various ways. First, the town of his birth is Králova Lhota in southern Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) – the very name of his birthplace, Králova, means “king”, and is so named because the land apparently was once owned by the Bohemian kings. But his personal story also involves leaving his Bohemian homeland due to the policies of its kings (and queen) against religious tolerance. Finally, his exile to a new country takes place because of another king’s invitation for persecuted Bohemians to settle a new land.

My ancestor’s story begins in Bohemia. The traditional land called “Bohemia” makes up about two-thirds of what is the Czech Republic today. But it was once a kingdom in the Holy Roman Empire. From 1526, the kingdom was ruled by the Habsburg monarchy. The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 was meant to solve religious disputes – princes were allowed to determine the religion of their subjects. The Hapsburg kings did not initially force their Catholic religion on Bohemia, which was mostly Protestant. But struggles over which religion would rule the land, so to speak, continued. The Thirty Years war was not only political, but also religious, and it was the battle between the Catholics and Protestants that influenced my ancestor’s personal story.

Queen Maria Theresa desired that her subjects share her Catholic faith as did Charles VII Albert, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.  It became a crime against the state to be Protestant. Many Bohemians, my ancestors included, subscribed to the Protestant reforms of Jan Hus who believed that the Scriptures should be available in the language of the people, communion should be available under both forms, and the clergy should not have political power. But under Hapsburg rule, these teachings were forbidden. Although it was a crime, the faith continued to be passed down in private.

Václav’s Story

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Václav Jirsak was born in 1715 to Jan Jirsak and Alžbĕta Chmelařová in Králova Lhota. The family was Protestant, and two years before Václav’s birth Jan was found to possess banned books of a religious nature and he was forced to confess to the Catholic faith.  In order to gain freedom of religion, widower Jan and his adult sons, Václav and Jan, decided to leave their homeland at the earliest opportunity. That opportunity came thanks to another king, Frederick II, King of Prussia.

In 1742 Frederick offered Czech refugees the chance to move to Silesia, now under Prussian rule. The Czechs were offered land and monetary support. That year the three Jirsak men emigrated to several colonies near what is Bralin, Poland today. Due to father Jan’s age, life in the new land was too difficult, and eventually he returned to Bohemia to live with his daughter, Dorota, and her husband, Jiří Zounar. Jan died there in 1751, but his sons remained in the new land.

Václav took on a leadership role in these new colonies. In 1749, at the age of 34, he helped to found the colony of Groß Friedrichstabor (today this town is Tabor Wielki in Poland), and by 1759, he was an “elder” at Klein Friedrichstabor in Groß Wartenberg (today this town is Tabor Mały in Poland). Václav was a farmer in this new community, and with his wife Kateřina had four daughters (Anna Marie, Marie, Alžbĕta and Anna) and three sons (Jan, Václav and Jiří).

The families that settled in these colonies are collectively known as the Česká exulantská – the Czech exulanti or exiles. They were able to maintain their religious beliefs (the evangelical church of the Czech Brethren) free of persecution. They also maintained their Czech language despite living under the rule of Prussia and later Russia.

Václav died in 1793 at the age of 77. His son and grandson, both named Jan Jirsak like Václav’s father, would continue the family’s migration through Prussia to Russian-ruled Poland in search of better opportunities for their families. In 1802, both men were among the founders of a new Czech settlement in Zelów, Poland. After another two generations, my ancestors would continue the migration farther east to the town of Żyrardów, and the next generation came to the United States. Other descendents of Václav Jirsak eventually made it back to Bohemia in the Czech Republic after World War II – nearly two hundred years after one brave man and his sons decided to move in search of religious freedom.

Note on name spellings: Václav is Czech but the name can also be listed as Wenceslaus, Wacław (Polish), or Wentzel (German). The surname Jirsak is also spelled Jirsák, Jersak, or Girsak. The feminine ending for Jirsak is Jirsaková.

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Just the Facts

  • Name: Václav Jirsak
  • Ahnentafel: #888 (my 7th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan Jirsak (1681-1751) and Alžbĕta Chmelařová (1694-1725)
  • Born: 04 Sep 1715 in Králova Lhota, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
  • Siblings: Anna (1711-?),Dorota (1712-?), Václav (1714-1714), Jiřík (1718-1719), Alžběta (1720-?), Jan (1722-1796), Lukáš (1724-1725)
  • Married: Kateřina (1723-1785)
  • Children: Jan (1746-1821), Anna Marie (1747-1780), Václav (1751-1788), Jiří (1753-?), Marie (1754-?), Alžběta (1758-1787), Anna (1760-1792)
  • Died: 03 May 1793 in Czermin (Poland)
  • My Line of Descent: Václav Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak-> Jan Jirsak->Anna Jirsaková Jelineková->Anna Karolina Jelinková Smetana-> Alžbĕta/Elżbieta Smetana Miller-> Elżbieta/Elizabeth Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me




  Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 2: King



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This year I am participating in the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. The theme for Week 1 is “Fresh Start” and my ancestor is my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater. She was so confusing to research over the years that I needed a fresh start!

I first began researching my family history in 1989. While research methods, family group sheets, and pedigree charts have been the staples of genealogy for a very long time, looking back at when I began my search only twenty-five years ago seems like the dark ages. The first available federal census to research was 1910. No census records were online. No passenger records were online. No vital records were available online. There’s a theme here: nothing was available online, the paper records were difficult to come by, and even the microfilmed records did not cover the vast amount of years or locations that they do today.

After duly interviewing my parents about everything they knew about their immigrant grandparents (which was not much), I began my search. Considering the lack of easily accessible records, I actually did really well – of course, if I began today, I would find exactly the same information, plus a lot more, in a fraction of the time. But in the case of Elizabeth Miller Pater, I did not do very well. In fact, I made the biggest rookie mistake a genealogist can make – I made an assumption, lacked evidence of the genealogical “proof”, and continued researching. If the assumption had been correct, no harm done except for making professional genealogists cringe in horror. But – I was wrong! So for a certain period of time – a few years – I was actually researching the wrong Elizabeth Miller.

I based my research on a few facts from my mother. We assumed my great-grandparents married in Poland, but when I found my great-grandfather coming to the U.S. at the age of 14 – quite single – I realized that she did not come over under her married name. Therein lay the problem – pick a country and I can find you several dozen women named Elizabeth Miller. Whether it was Ireland, England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Autria, Hungary, Slovakia, or anywhere else, there were women named Elizabeth Miller. I limited my search to Polish (or Russian, given that Poland was under Russian rule, but my mother claimed that Elizabeth herself claimed she was Bohemian. Since my grandfather was born in 1912, I knew she immigrated before then, so “Bohemia” would have been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I don’t remember my rationale at the time, but for some reason I found a teenaged girl with my great-grandmother’s name and thought I found her. The uncle she traveled with was not a name familiar to my family. But I persisted down the wrong research path. If I only knew more about the genealogical proof standard back then! Fortunately, I started fresh and began the research again. This time, things made more sense, names matched, and documents verified my mother’s stories (yes, she was technically Bohemian – she was descended from Bohemian immigrants to Poland). It wasn’t easy, but I finally “found” the only great-grandmother I actually met.

Lesson Learned: Don’t assume! Verify information with sources until you’re reasonbly sure you have the correct person – especially when dealing with a common surname. And if you’re stuck, sometimes it pays to put all of your research aside and get a fresh start!

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth Miller Pater

Elizabeth Miller Pater: Left, approximately 23-27 years old. Right, approximately 64 years old.

Elizabeth was born Elżbieta Miller in 1890 in or near the town of Żyrardów in the Mazovia province of Poland (województwo mazowieckie). Although her parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were born in Poland, they were all of Czech descent. Her parents, Jan Miller and Elizabeth Smetana, were born in Zelów in the Łódź province but moved to Żyrardów as children with their parents. Żyrardów had a large Czech community, and most residents worked in the linen and textile factory that the town was built around in 1833.

Elizabeth was one of at least seven children (research on the family continues). Her family spoke Czech at home, but also knew Polish and Russian. They, and the other Czech families, were all of the Protestant faith – the Czech Brethren or Evangelical Reformed church. Despite the fact that Poland was predominantly Catholic, Żyrardów was a large town with groups of Germans and Czechs and had an Evangelical Reformed Church, a Lutheran church, and a Jewish synagogue in addition to the Roman Catholic church.

Elizabeth’s brother Emil immigrated to the U.S. in 1905; his wife and daughter followed later that year. They settled in Philadelphia, PA, where there was a community of other immigrants from Żyrardów. Emil had two more children in Philadelphia by the time his sister Elizabeth immigrated alone in 1909 at the age of 18. The passenger arrival record provides a physical description: light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”. In 1910, she is living on the same street as her brother and is listed as a border in the household of another family named Miller. Although they are also from Żyrardów, I have not yet found a family connection.

Living just blocks away was another family from Żyrardów, the Pater’s. I can only wonder if Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater had known each other as children in Żyrardów. Louis had been in the country since 1907. But just sixteen months after Elizabeth arrived, the couple got married. They married in Camden, NJ, rather than Philadelphia – perhaps because Louis had just turned 17 and may have required parental permission in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was older by almost three years. Her brother Emil and her fellow border, Olga Olczak, served as witnesses. Olga was also from Żyrardów and would eventually become a relative of sorts to the Miller family through marriage.

Despite being from the same town, the couple were of two different religions. Louis Pater came from a Polish Catholic family. Elizabeth remained Protestant. It is just an assumption, but since Louis’ parents were also living in Philadelphia, I think it may have been a source of contention. My only proof of this is finding a baptismal record for my grandfather, Louis and Elizabeth’s oldest child, in the Catholic church near the Pater family’s home in Langhorne, PA. But years later when my grandfather went to marry in the Catholic church, he received a dispensation because he himself was not aware that he was baptized Catholic.

Louis and Elizabeth had five boys: Henry (my grandfather), Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene. Unfortunately, two of her sons died rather young, both from tuberculosis. Louis was only 24 when he died in 1940. His brother Victor was 31 and died just a few years after the same disease took his 22-year-old wife.

Both Louis and Elizabeth worked in the textile factories in Philadelphia. Elizabeth worked as a hosiery topper from the 1930’s through the 1950’s at Gotham Hosiery, which was located on Erie Avenue. The family lived on Hope Street, then N. Hancock Street, then N. Waterloo Street – all in the same Philadelphia neighborhood.

Elizabeth and siblings

From left to right: Alfred “Fred” Miller, his wife Mary, possibly Fred’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, unknown woman, Eddie Schultz, Mary Miller Schultz, Henry Schultz, and unknown man (possibly Walter Schultz)

Elizabeth seemed to be close to her siblings. Her brother Emil went back to Żyrardów sometime around 1910. He was apparently one of the exiles to Siberia around 1915 and died in Russia. His wife and son would later return to the U.S. and were close with Elizabeth. Their sister Mary immigrated in 1912 with her husband, Ludwig Schultz, and they lived in New York City. In 1913, brother Alfred immigrated with his five nieces and nephews, the children of Mary and Ludwig. Alfred lived in New York City and both of his brothers-in-law, Louis Pater and Ludwig Schultz, were witnesses for his marriage in 1921. The Schultz family eventually settled in Metuchen, NJ. In 1920, Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Sophie, immigrated to the U.S. accompanied by their mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller. Sophie moved to Philadelphia but their mother lived with both Alfred and Mary. Mother Elizabeth died in Metuchen, NJ, in 1944. Elizabeth’s brother Ludwik remained in Żyrardów his entire life and owned a shoestore. The remaining known siblings, Paweł and Karolina, apparently died in exile to Siberia or in Russian prison. More research is being conducted to fill in these blanks on the family tree.

Elizabeth’s husband, Louis, passed away in 1957 at the age of 64. Elizabeth lived on Waterloo Street a few doors away from her sister-in-law, Victoria Pater Koruba. Elizabeth died from congestive heart failure on 28 July 1972 and was buried in Greenmount Cemetery. At the time of her death, she left behind three sons, seven grandchildren, and at least two great-grandchildren (including me). As much information as I’ve been able to gather on Elizabeth’s relatives, I’ve had a problem finding out information about the children of her sons Eugene and Walter (Walter decided that the surname Pater was unlucky and used his mother’s maiden name of Miller instead). Maybe it’s time for a fresh start with that research as well.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller
  • Ahnentafel: #13 – my great-grandmother
  • Parents: Jan Miller (c.1851-c.1913) and Elżbieta Smetana (1858-1944)
  • Born: 21 November 1890, Żyrardów, Poland
  • Siblings: Paweł (unk-bef.1919), Emil (c.1881-bef.1919), Mary (1884-1969), Karolina (1885-19??), Ludwik (1894-aft.1977), Ferdinand Alfred “Fred”(1896-aft.1969), Zofia “Sophie” (1903-bef.1969)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS President Grant, arriving in New York City on April 16, 1909
  • Married: Ludwik (Louis) Pater on 27 August 1910 in Camden, NJ, USA
  • Children: Henry (1912-1972), Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Naturalized: 13 December 1954
  • Died: 28 July 1972 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 31 July 1972, Greenmount Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Written for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition – Week 1: Fresh Start 


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On April 17, 2009, I wrote a post that asked “Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?” I only had one photograph of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, but I wondered if others existed. I’ve had trouble tracking down my mother’s first cousins because they were born in the 1940’s and some used the rather common surname of Miller instead of Pater.

Here’s the one photo that I posted back in 2009 – Elizabeth is the woman seated in the middle:

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

Elizabeth Miller Pater and unidentified friends/family at a picnic in 1947.

On August 30, 2012, I wrote about “A Great Discovery” – finding a photograph of Elizabeth on her 1954 naturalization certificate. Here’s a copy of that photo:

My great-grandmother!

My great-grandmother!

I was thrilled to receive it, and it came as a surprise since none of my other ancestors’ naturalization records had photographs. I didn’t want to be greedy, but I still wondered if anyone had more photographs of my great-grandmother.


Well, someone did…all this time, a photograph of Elizabeth Miller sat in a box in a basement three thousand miles away from where Elizabeth lived, owned by someone whose surname I never heard of when I began my research many years ago. The naturalization document led to a search for the original bearer of the name “Elizabeth Miller” – her mother – since the alien registration document indicated a parent lived in the United States. I tried the mother’s name first and found a possible match. A death certificate confirmed some information, and led to more questions with the name of the informant. That in turn led to more research on that name…and suddenly a missing piece of the family puzzle was found.

My great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater had a sister named Mary Miller Schultz who lived in Metuchen, New Jersey. My mother always said she had relatives in Metuchen, but she assumed it was on the Pater side. Mary had some photographs of her sister (as well as another sister and two brothers…more on that in a future post!), and she passed those on to her youngest daughter, Julia. Julia married a gentleman of Italian descent in 1935 and the couple moved out to California.

Following the trail led me to Julia’s daughter – my second cousin once removed! We had the opportunity to meet last June, and my “new” cousin graciously pulled out a box of photographs and family documents that had belonged to her mother. Actually, the word “box” doesn’t adequately describe it – to me, it was a treasure trove! I was able to fill in many missing details about my great-grandmother’s siblings. With a name like Miller, it was difficult to pinpoint the correct people, but now I know more about them as well as their spouses and children. As for photographs, not only did my cousin actually have a photo of my great-grandmother – but she had THREE! And two of the three included my great-grandfather as well. As if that wasn’t enough to cause a genealogy happy dance (and tears of joy), I am also now the proud owner of three photographs of my great-GREAT-grandmother – Elizabeth’s mother. And one of her father! And some of two of her sisters and two of her brothers!

But all of those photos and their stories will be told in future posts. For now, here is my newest prized possession. Fortunately, the photograph was labeled with my great-grandparents’ names – I’m not sure I would have recognized them given that the only photos of her are shown above and the sole photo of my great-grandfather is from 1947 when he was 53 years old. The amazing photograph below shows the couple on (or near) their wedding day, August 27, 1910, in Camden, New Jersey. My great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater, had just turned 17 years old days before. He immigrated to the U.S. from Żyrardów, Poland, in August, 1907 with his siblings to join their parents. The bride, Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller, was 19 years old and immigrated from the same town in April, 1909.

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater, August 1910

It may sound dramatic, but the gift of this photograph was a dream come true. The moral of this story: don’t give up searching for family photographs! Because you never know which photos were shared with siblings and which descendants inherited and saved all the goodies!

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

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

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

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927) and Marie Echerer (1875-1919)
  • Born: 11 April 1913, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 13 April 1912, St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA
  • Siblings: Marie (1898-1990), Joseph (1902-1986), Max (1905-1974), Julius 1908-19??), Charles (1909), Laura (1911)
  • Married: James Pointkouski on 13 January 1934 in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was later blessed at St. Peter’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: James and Jean
  • Died: 14 January 1998
  • Buried: 17 January 1998, Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
From left to right: Mabel, Carol, Marie, Helen holding Robert with Suzanne below, and Margaret holding Drew. Marie and Margaret are sisters & Helen is their sister-in-law. Marie is holding her granddaughter Carol, Mabel's daughter. Helen is holding her grandchildren, and Margaret is holding her grandson (my brother). Photo date - around spring of 1960.

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

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from Genealogical Records:

  • Grandmom’s middle name, according to her baptismal record, was Hermina. No one knew where the name came from until I found Uncle Herman Goetz in my research, her father’s half-brother who was also her godfather. The reason why no one in the family remembered Uncle Herman is because he died in 1918 and she likely didn’t remember him at all.
  • She was probably named after her maternal grandmother, Margarethe Fischer Echerer (1845-1895).
  • Grandmom barely knew her parents. Her mother died in 1919 about six weeks before Grandmom’s 6th birthday. Then in 1927 when she was not quite 14, her father died.
  • Although she was born in 1913, she is completely missing from the 1920 and 1930 census!
  • Her first child, my father, was born less than seven months after the wedding.
The Pointkouski family circa 1960

The Pointkouski family circa 1960

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

  • According to my Aunt Jean, when Grandmom was born she was so tiny that she could fit into a shoebox. Her parents weren’t sure she’d survive – they had two children in between her brother Julius and her that only lived for one day. 
  • My grandmother always said that her Aunt Laura was very good to her. Laura was Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, her father’s sister. After her parents died, Aunt Laura and her husband, Uncle Max, were the closest thing to parents she’d have. Uncle Max died in 1941 and Aunt Laura in 1943 – while I’m sure Grandmom would have liked their support for much longer in her life, at least by then she had a husband and children of her own.
  • A description of her parents was passed down, but I’m not sure if the memory came from my grandmother or her older siblings – likely the siblings since she was so young when her mother died. But, her mother was remembered as a very short, fiesty woman who ruled the household – and ruled her husband, Joseph, whom she called “Sepp” for short.  Although he was taller than his wife, he but obedient to everything she said.
  • Grandmom met my Grandpop at her brother Max’s store. Grandpop worked as a truck driver delivering ice cream, and Max’s soda fountain was on his route. He spotted Margaret one day, and excitedly asked Max, “Who’s that?” Max looked around, “Her? Aw, she’s just my sister.”
  • My Grandmom was called “Aunt Margie” by her nieces and nephews. She seemed to be very close to them, especially her nieces Marie and Mabel who were only 7 and 11 years younger than her (her sister Marie’s daughters). After Grandmom died, I found some correspondence in her house that she had saved over the years from her niece Helen and nephews Bob and Carl, all children of her brother Joseph.
Grandmom and me, 1977

Grandmom and me, 1977

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother From Knowing Her:

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

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

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Surname Saturday


Meaning/Origin – The Bergmeister surname is not listed in the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, which is the reference book I usually use for my German surnames. However, in German berg means “mountain” and meister means “master”. According to Wikipedia, a Bergmeister was a mine manager or foreman in German-speaking Europe who, along with the Bergvogt, was one of the officials serving on a mining court (Berggericht). 

Countries of Origin – The surname Bergmeister is German. According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Austria with 21.83 individuals per million, Germany with 5.55, and Italy with 2.64.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Norway (0.28) and the United States (0.24).

Spelling Variations – Variations include PERGMEISTER or PERMEISTER. The name was originally spelled with a “P” but evolved into the “B” spelling by the 18th century. Other spelling variations may include similar names beginning with “BURG” or ending with -MASTER, -MEIER, -MAIER, -MEYER.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria and Germany.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Austria.

SOURCE: Dynastree Surname Mapping database, http://www.verwandt.at/karten/detail/bergmeister.html, accessed January 26, 2013.
Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Germany.

Distribution of the BERGMEISTER surname in Germany.

SOURCE: Dynastree Surname Mapping database, http://www.verwandt.de/karten/absolut/bergmeister.html, accessed January 26, 2013.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Jörg Bergmeister (b. 13 Feb 1976) is a race car driver from Germany. There was also a rather famous (and really cool-looking) motorcycle built in Bavaria in the 1950’s called the Victoria Bergmeister V 35.

My Family – My BERGMEISTER family comes from a small town in Bavaria, Germany called Puch which is located near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. My Bergmeister ancestors arrived in this town in April 1688 and apparently originated from Tyrol in the Pflersch valley near Gossensaß. Today this area is in the Bolzano province of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northern Italy. For many years I wished I had Italian heritage only to find out that my Bavarian-Tyrolean ancestors come from what is actually Italy today.

My earliest documented ancestor so far with this name is Jakob PERMEISTER, a miller born in Tyrol who immigrated north to Puch by 1688 and purchased a mill. My line of descent is as follows (all were born and died in Puch and worked as millers until my great-great-grandfather): Martin (1689-1752) > Johann Paul (1721-1784) > Joseph (1763-1840) > Jakob (1805-1870) > Joseph (1843- before 1885) > Joseph (1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau – 1927 in Philadelphia, PA, USA) > Margaret (1913-1998). This last Joseph was my great-grandfather who immigrated to the U.S. While the earlier generations of his family are well documented, I have yet to find the death date for his father Joseph, who worked as a flour merchant for the family’s mill.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page. Today I am in contact with not only second cousins who descend from the same immigrant great-grandfather, but also with cousins in Germany who descend from other lines from both Joseph born in 1763 and Jakob born in 1805.

My Research Challenges – The challenge is finding records to connect the Tirol Bergmeister family with my ancestral line living in Puch in the late 1600’s. My fifth cousin once removed is diligently working this back in Germany. We would like to connect our Puch line with another family of Bergmeisters originating in Hördt in the Rhineland-Palatinate area of Germany (whose descendants immigrated to Philadelphia, PA, USA thirty years before my great-grandfather did). My challenges are 1) to continue with the research until the records end, 2) attempt to “connect” the various Bergmeister families to one common ancestor, 3) find the death record for my great-great grandfather some time before 1885 in or around Munich, and 4) contact descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother, Ignaz.

Other Bergmeister Families – As noted above, there is a branch of the family from Hördt that likely connects to our Puch branch back in the mid 1600’s. The name is uncommon enough for us to reasonably assume that all Bergmeister’s are related if you go back far enough!

Surname Message Boards – None that I have found.

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

This post is #12 of an ongoing series about my family’s surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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St. Francis Xavier, missionary, saint, and eponym!

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… X is for Xavier. While Xavier as a first name has gained popularity in the last decade or two, for centuries it was used as a middle name combined with Francis. Why? The first-middle name combination of “Francis Xavier” comes from the man first known to use it, St. Francis Xavier.

Francis Xavier was a Catholic missionary priest and co-founder of the Jesuits who lived from 1506 to 1552. Although he was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in Navarre (present-day Spain), he came to be called Francisco Xavier because of his family castle named Xavier (or Javier, or Xabier). The name is derived from the Basque word etxaberri, which means “new house.” While studying in Paris, Francis met Ignatius Loyola – they and five others founded the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as “Jesuits,” in 1534. He was ordained a priest three years later. He is remembered for his years as a missionary in India, Indonesia, and Japan where he brought Christianity to thousands.

It is not uncommon for a surname to become a given name, but what I find amazing is the widespread use of “Francis Xavier” together. The name “Francis” was always popular, and many men (or women) named Francis (or Frances) might be named after another popular Catholic saint, St. Francis Assisi. As popular as St. Francis of Assisi is, however, I’ve never seen “Assisi” – another place-name “surname” – used as a middle name. Likewise, I have many men named “Ignatius” in my family tree in either the German form of Ignaz or the Polish form of Ignacy – but none of these use “Loyola” as a middle name which would imply they were named after St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Francis Xavier, however, seems to have something rather unique about him in that both of his names are often used together. This would make more sense if perhaps the names were popular in either his home country, present day Spain, or in the countries where he ministered like India. Many names gain popularity in certain areas due to a local saint with the name.  But the names “Francis Xavier” seem to be popular worldwide. The name combination appears as Francisco Javier in Spanish-speaking countries, Francesco Saverio in Italy, Francisco Xavier in Portugal, François Xavier in France, Franciszek Ksawery in Poland, and Franz Xaver in Germany.

A little over two hundred years after St. Francis Xavier lived, his names were used in my family in Bavaria. Franz Xaver Gürtner, my 4th great-grandfather, was born on 04 September 1781 in Reichertshofen, Bavaria. His daughter, Barbara, would grow up to marry Franz Xaver Fischer (born 06 October 1813 in Agelsberg, Bavaria) in 1841. Both men are found in records listed by both “Franz Xaver” or “Fr. Xaver” as well as by just “Xaver.” In German, the name is pronounced as Ksaber.

Another Bavarian 4th great-grandfather, Ignaz Echerer (born 26 July 1765 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria), had a brother named Franz Xaver Echerer. Although St. Francis Xavier traveled around the world, as far as I can tell he never visited Germany – yet his name is very popular throughout the country centuries later.

St. Francis Xavier had a big impact on the world, especially in the countries he worked like India. However, his name had an even bigger impact in my opinion. I even have a distant cousin living today with the name Francis Xavier. Xavier is one of the only English names beginning with “X” so it stands out as unique despite the centuries of other men named F.X. How many Francis Xaviers (or just plain Xavier) are in your family tree?

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) in Old Town Warsaw. Yes, my great-grandfather lived on Beer Street!

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… W is for Warsaw! When I officially began my family history research and my father told me his grandfather, Jan Piątkowski (John Piontkowski) was from Warsaw, Poland, I thought: Yeah, right! Being a native-born Philadelphian, I am familiar with people “borrowing” my city as their place of birth because no one ever heard of the tiny suburban town they were born in. The fakers exclaim: “Well, it’s near Philadelphia!” So when I heard my great-grandfather was from Warsaw, I wondered exactly where he was born. My other great-grandfather said he was from Warsaw sometimes too, but he was from a town 27 miles away. Close doesn’t count when you’re searching for birth records.

But then a funny thing happened…I discovered he really was from Warsaw! Thanks to numerous Warsaw church records that are available online, I found my great-grandfather’s baptismal record that confirmed his birth as he reported on his Declaration of Intention. My Piątkowski family was from Warsaw!

Prior to this discovery, I visited the city in 2001. I unknowingly visited some of the family’s sights such as the Archcathedral of St. John (Archikatedra św. Jana). At the time, I had no idea my great-grandfather was baptized there. Technically, of course, it is not the same church – most of Warsaw was completely demolished in 1944-5. It is estimated that 80% of the old buildings were destroyed, including most of the Old Town area and the churches. Eventually the buildings were rebuilt – some are exact replicas of what once stood, others are not.

There is still a lot of research to do (or more accurately, there is a lot of deciphering Russian to do), but so far I have discovered that my great-grandfather’s father, Stanisław Piątkowski, was in Warsaw by 1863. It was then he married Apolonia Konopka in Holy Cross Church (Kościół św. Krzyża). Neither was originally from the city: Stanisław was from Mogilev (Belarus) and Apolonia was born in Konopki in the Augustów province.

Stanisław was listed in records as a “private official” and a valet. I have yet to determine for whom he worked, but there is one characteristic of Stanisław that sets him apart from EVERY SINGLE OTHER POLISH ANCESTOR – he could write his name. My factory workers and craftsmen – even some merchants – could not. I continue to wonder what a private official did in late nineteenth century Warsaw. At that time, Warsaw was undergoing a population boom – the city’s population more than doubled in twenty years.

Not all church records are available yet, but so far I’ve discovered two other sons of Stanisław and Apolonia, Jan’s marriage record and two children’s baptisms, and several records for the family of the brother of Jan’s wife, Rozalia Kizoweter (aka Kizeweter or Gizeweter). Since the addresses are provided in the church record, on my next visit to Warsaw I can re-visit some of the streets where they lived!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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“Do not be afraid! Open, in deed, open wide the doors to Christ!” ~ Blessed Pope John Paul II, October 22, 1978, homily at the Mass beginning his pontificate

In honor of the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith” which opens on October 11, 2012, genealogy bloggers whose ancestors were members of the Catholic Faith are celebrating by showing some of the churches that inspired or comforted our ancestors or were otherwise part of their lives. Since the majority of my ancestors were Catholic (and so am I), there are a lot of churches in my family’s history. For this celebration, I chose to highlight one because I had the opportunity to walk through these doors of faith on a trip to Poland in 2001. The photos below are from that journey.

St. John the Baptist ( św. Jana Chrzciciela) church in Mszczonów, Poland

My great-great grandmother, Antonina Rozalia Pluta, was from the town of Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland. She was baptized in św. Jana Chrzciciela (St. John the Baptist) Church in 1863 and married Józef Pater there in 1885. Antonina’s parents, Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska, were also baptized there (1843 for Ludwik and 1840 for Franciszka) and married there in 1862. The earliest record I have found for an ancestral sacrament at the church is the baptism of my 4th great-grandfather, Jan Wojciechowski (Franciszka’s father), in 1816 – although, as you will see below, the church in 1816 was not the same as the church in 1863 through today.

The church has a very long history, as does the town. From the town’s website, I learned that the first church on the grounds was erected at the turn of the Twelfth Century and made from wood. In the years 1430-1440 Prince Ziemowit IV built a brick church, which was completely destroyed in the fire of the city in 1603. It was rebuilt 1660, but  burned down again in 1800. For many years after this fire, church services were held in a wooden chapel. The current brick church was built between 1861-1864. The cornerstone was blessed by the Archbishop of Warsaw on 11 May 1862 and the church was dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

A plaque on the church listing the names of the pastors from 1658-1982.

[Written for the “Doors of Faith” celebration at The Catholic Gene]

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Naturalization Certificate of Elizabeth Miller Pater, who was naturalized on December 13, 1954 at the age of 64.

Of all the great discoveries I’ve made in over twenty years of genealogical research, one of the most amazing was made just this last month! It didn’t add a generation to the family tree or uncover new names, but it brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Several months ago while finding my ancestors on the 1940 Census, I realized something that I should have realized a long time ago: my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater wasn’t naturalized, at least not in 1940. Even though her husband (Louis Pater) was naturalized in 1925, wives had to file separately. I searched for her papers in the same court that her husband used, but nothing was found. It finally dawned on me that she would have had to file for the Alien Registration Act in 1940. There were two things I desperately wanted to find regarding Elizabeth: her birthplace and a photograph. Would her alien registration papers help me?

I filed a request with USCIS, and they quickly located her index file. I found out that she was naturalized in 1954. I then sent for a copy of the full file. After many, many months of waiting, it finally arrived. It contained 30 pages of information, some useless and some priceless! Not only did the file include her petition and certificate for naturalization in 1954, but also her alien registration forms from 1940. I could probably write several posts about the complete documentation, but here are the highlights:

What Made Me Smile

I have written before about how difficult it was to find Elizabeth on the passenger arrival records. With a surname like Miller (or Müller), there were plenty of candidates. But I did find her eventually (see the link above). According to her passenger arrival record, she came from Żyrardów, Poland, which I assumed to be her birthplace. In the naturalization file, the first smile on my face was at the fact that the U.S. Government couldn’t locate her – at first – on the arrival records either.

Apparently my great-grandmother wished to apply for Social Security benefits, and she couldn’t get them without either proof of birth or proof of citizenship. She remembered the exact date she arrived – April 16, 1909 – but she could not remember the name of the ship. She mis-identified the port of entry as Philadlphia instead of New York, so the folks at the Immigration and Naturalization Service could not find the record. I guess Steve Morse’s site didn’t exist back then or it might have been easier for them!  The letter said:

Referring to your citizenship application in which you allege arrival at Philadelphia, PA on Apr. 16, 1909 via S.S. unknown, you are advised that all records at the port at which you claim entry have been examined and no record referring to you has been found.

I laughed….yeah, I couldn’t find her at first either! But eventually, they did, once they searched for the port of New York and looked under her maiden name. She was trying to remember an event that took place 45 years before, so her memory was a bit fuzzy on the details.

I also smiled because every paper in the packet identifies her birthplace as Żyrardów, which I assumed, and her birthdate as 21 November 1890, which I knew from other records. This made me smile because more than one researcher has been unable to find evidence of her birth in Żyrardów on that date. I know that should make me sigh, not smile, but my own conclusion based on my extensive research was exactly what she said.

What Made Me Cry

A recurring theme on this site is my desire to find photographs of my ancestors because I have so few. I even entitled one post about Elizabeth “Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?” I did have one, and I didn’t want to be greedy because one is so much better than none at all. So when I saw Elizabeth’s photo included in the naturalization documents, I cried. It was tears of joy, but it was the first time in my life I found a new photo of a great-grandparent – the few photos of six of my greats have been with me since childhood. This one was new. She’s a bit older, and looking not-too-happy, but it brought me great joy to see her. And also to see a resemblance-she immediately reminded me of my Aunt Joan, Elizabeth’s granddaughter.


As I casually read through Elizabeth’s Alien Registration papers (no photo required with those, in case anyone is wondering – I will transcibe the questions on the form in a future post), one little word raised my eyebrows and would have knocked me over had I been standing up.  The question:

13. I have the following specified relatives living in the United States:

Parents: (one, none, or both) _______

Her response? One.

Um, wait… WHAT?  SHE HAD A PARENT IN THE UNITED STATES IN 1940? I had a great-great-grandparent here in the United States! That, my friends, was news to me. When she came to the country in 1909, she came alone (at age 18), and there was never any indication that either of her parents came here.

I have suspicions it was her mother (yet another future post on why I recently had those suspicions). Either way, again the surname of Miller is a bit problematic. I have found one candidate on the 1940 census for her mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, and none for her father, John Miller. Both were born in Poland, likely in the town of Zelów in the Łódź province, and lived in Żyrardów in the Mazovia province since before Elizabeth’s birth in 1890 and at least at the time of her immigration in 1909. Much, much more to come on this new development as I track down which parent was here, when they came, and where they lived. And the obvious…that one parent here in 1940 was also required to register as an alien (assuming they hadn’t been naturalized prior to 1940)!

That’s the great thing about genealogy – you’re always discovering and finding something to smile about (or sometimes cry about). And, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be surprised. Here’s to more great discoveries!

[Written for the 121st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Great Discoveries]

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When it comes to business and commerce, my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early years of the 20th century spent their lives working for others whether it was in textile mills, bakeries, or other factories. Some of their American-born children, however, had that good old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit. One of my maternal grandmother’s brothers owned a butcher shop for many years on E. Norris Street in Philadelphia. I don’t have any photos of the shop, or of my grand-uncle Casimir Zawodny for that matter. But I do have a great photo of two of my paternal grandmother’s brothers who used their ingenuity to become businessmen at a young age. May I introduce you to Max Bergmeister, proprietor of the Lawrence Ice Company, 920 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, PA:

Julius and Max Bergmeister, the Lawrence Ice Company, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1925

Max (born 1905) is the young man leaning on the rear of the truck. His younger brother Julius (born 1908) stands at the front. I’m far from a Photo Detective and did not do much research into the time period of the photo, but based on the style of the truck and the apparent youth of the brothers I would date it to 1925-1928. The scan of the photo is not of the highest quality, but there are a number of great details in the photo if you zoom in. For example, the building directly behind the front of the truck appears to be a telegraph or telephone station (note the sign with the bell in the upper left). The store is a stationery story that sells notions – this is just visible through the windshield of the truck. The confectionary store (behind rear of truck) serves Reid’s ice cream (“It’s the Best”). Just behind Max’s head you can see signs for the Ringling Brothers Circus that was coming to town on May 16. The most interesting thing I found while zooming in on the photo is the profile of a man or woman in the window on the second story to the left of the ice cream sign.

Max started out in the ice business, but by the 1930’s he owned what was called a “soda fountain” in those days. My dad was the envy of the neighborhood because his uncle had a candy and ice cream store! He owned the business for many years. His brother Julius worked as a driver, but at some point he became a Philadelphia fireman and had a long career with Engine Co. 51 in the same neighborhood. Another driver used to deliver ice cream to Max’s store – a young man named James Pointkouski (see a 1937 photo of James and his ice cream delivery truck here). One day James noticed the girl behind the counter. Excited, he asked Max, “Who is that?” Max responded with an indifferent shrug, “Oh, that’s just my sister.” I guess I should be grateful to Max for being a businessman, because at that moment his friend and deliveryman James met his future wife, Margaret. It would take many more years before they would become known as my grandparents.

[Written for the 120th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Business and Commerce]

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And they all have a name that begins with J… Top Row: Jane, Jozef, Julius, Donna Joan. 2nd Row: James, James, Jean, Josef. 3rd Row: Jane, Nicholas James. Bottom Row: Joseph, Anita Jane, Joan, James.

The Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge has been rather, er, challenging so far… I was particularly stumped with the letter “J” and I wondered if I should talk about the Joy of genealogy or the Journeys I’ve taken during my research. But the fact is that “J” is actually quite prominent in my family – that is, as the starting letter of names!  The J-names are hanging on every branch of my family tree. Sure, there are some Maria’s and Anna’s (and tons of Maria Anna’s and Anna Maria’s in Bavaria) as well as several Elizabeth’s. For the men I have a few named Louis, Karl, and Ignatz or Ignacy. But one letter is prominent by far – the letter J.  Therefore, J is for J Names!

Starting with my father’s paternal side, there is my grandfather James. James named my father James, who in turned named his son James, who in turn used James as a middle name for one of his sons. My grandfather James named his daughter Jean after his sister Jean. His brother, Joseph, named one daughter Jean and another Josephine, and his son is named John Joseph. The father of James, Jean, and Joseph? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the next branch of the family tree, grandfather James married Margaret. She can be forgiven for her lack of a J-name by the sheer number of J’s in her ancestry. Her brother Joseph was named after their father, Joseph, while brother Julius was named after Uncle Julius. Joseph’s father, Joseph, had a father named Joseph. In fact, if it wasn’t for the elder Joseph’s father, Jakob (son of Joseph!), there would be an unbroken line of seven generations of men named Joseph Bergmeister starting in 1763 until today with my 20-something cousin in Texas. Oh, and the father of the Joseph born in 1763? John (Johann in German).

On my mother’s side, neither grandparent has a J-name, but my mom’s middle name is Jane. My middle name, Joan, is the same as my mom’s sister Joan. Their father’s grandfather was named Joseph (Józef), the son of John (Jan). Their father’s other grandfather? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the final branch, my mother’s mother’s family, my great-grandfather was named – how did you guess? Joseph! He named a daughter Jane and one of his sons had a Joseph and a Joyce. My great-grandmother has sisters named Jane and Josephine. The sisters’ dad’s dad was Józef and their mom’s dad was Jan.

Really, I’m not making this up…it’s all in on the family tree!

Sure, there are some other names on the family tree, but none come close to the amount of J-names. Oddly enough, I have yet to uncover a single surname that starts with the letter J. Maybe I will find one in my research one day. If I do, I can place a sure bet that if I find a man with a “J” surname, his first name will almost certainly be Joseph or John and if it’s a woman she’ll likely be Jane, Jean, Joan, or Josephine!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…I is for Imieniny! Imieniny is the Polish word for name days. Many countries celebrate name days or feast days which were originally based on saints’ feast days in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. As a primarily Roman Catholic country, Poland enthusiastically celebrates imieniny. However, my family history research discovered something rather unique about Poland’s imieniny. Many Polish Catholics used the liturgical calendar not to celebrate a feast day after a child was named – but to actually name the child.

In several of my Polish families, every child’s name is based on a saint’s feast on or near the date of birth. At first I thought my great-grandfather, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, was named after his maternal grandfather, Ludwik Pluta. But I soon noticed a naming pattern among the Pater children – they were not being named after relatives, but after the saints on whose feast they were born. My great-grandfather was born on 24 August 1893, and his grandfather was born on 21 August 1843. The feast of St. Ludwik is 25 August!

This wasn’t just a coincidence – every single child of my great-great grandparents Józef and Antonina Pater is named after a saint’s feast near their birthday – and Józef and Antonina and their siblings are as well! Based on my research, the Pater children did not pass on this tradition when it came time to name their own children.

Not every Polish ancestor followed this tradition, but many did. I last wrote about this tradition in a post called Polish Names and Feast Days in 2008 –  the third post written for this blog. As my research continues, I’m finding more and more ancestors named after the saint’s feast near their birth.

I always thought the imieniny naming tradition was fun and it would certainly take the stress off of parents who debate over names for their child – just let the church’s calendar decide for you. Then again, there is a certain risk involved, for not every name is equally liked! Your first name is very important for your sense of identity, so I can’t help but wonder how name choices affect people. Just by the random chance of the day you were born could have christened you Adam (24 December) or Zenon (22 December), Aniela (31 May) or Zuzanna (24 May).

Of course, if you weren’t named after the saint whose feast happened to fall on your day of birth, you can always celebrate your imieniny anyway by finding the corresponding saint on the calendar. Any reason for a party (and cake) is a good reason, so take a look at the list of names and celebrate your name day!

[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge]

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Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series…D is for Double Cousins! The term “double cousin” applies when cousins share ancestry through more than one line. For example, if siblings from one family marry siblings in another family, the couples’ children are first cousins through both their father’s side and their mother’s side; hence: double cousins! Double first cousins share both sets of grandparents whereas “regular” first cousins share one set.

Elizabeth and Stanley Zawodny

So far I’ve only found one instance of double cousins in my own family. My grandmother, Mae Zawodny Pater, had a brother and a sister that married siblings in the Tiernan family. Helen Zawodny (1905-1977) was the daughter of Joseph and Laura Zawodny.  Helen married John Tiernan (1901-1960), the son of Thomas and Sarah Tiernan, in 1923.

In 1930, Helen’s younger brother, Stanley (1909-1980), was living with Helen and John. In 1934, Stanley married John’s younger sister, Elizabeth (1911-1999). Therefore, the children of Helen & John and Stanley & Elizabeth are double cousins. Stanley and Elizabeth had three children (after the surname changed from Zawodny to Zowney) – all are still living today so I won’t name them for privacy reasons. Helen and John only had one child, Thomas, but unfortunately he died as a young child. Therefore the double cousin relationship in my family only existed briefly.

How many double cousins are in your family tree?

 [Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge] 

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Józef Pater's prisoner photo. Source: Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau

Who was Józef Pater?  I came upon Józef by accident while searching for my 2nd great-grandfather of the same name. I discovered that this particular Józef was my ancestor’s nephew, his brother Marcin’s son. What I learned with that search result was a forgotten story of a family – my family – who perished in the Holocaust.

If Józef’s cousins in the United States knew of his fate, it never reached the ears of their descendents. Most of what I learned about my courageous cousin came from sources written in Polish, but even those sources were limited and hard to find. The few facts I was able to piece together paint an interesting portrait of the man.  Who was Józef Pater?  He was an artist, a decorated soldier, a government employee, and a leader in the Polish Resistance.  He was a son, brother, husband, and father. He was Catholic, and he was Polish. He died at Auschwitz. Who was Józef Pater?  He was my cousin.

Józef Pater was born on 31 July 1897 in Żyrardów, Błoński powiat, Warszawske gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire. He was the son of Marcin and Paulina (nee Dreksler) Pater, both 37 years old. The family moved to Częstochowa by the time Józef was in middle school. Beginning in 1914, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow to study painting.

As a teenager – as early as age 15 – Józef Pater became involved in politics by joining the Polish Socialist Party – Revolutionary Faction (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna – Frakcja Rewolucyjna), or PPS. The PPS was a pro-Polish independence party founded in 1892 that sought ideals such as equal rights for all citizens (regardless of race, nationality, religion and gender), a universal right to vote, freedom of speech, assembly, and press, and basic labor laws such as minimum wage, an 8-hour workday, and a ban on child labor. The “Revolutionary Faction” developed in 1906 under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski and the primary goal was to restore a democratic, independent Poland.

In November 1914, at the age of 17, Józef Pater served in the Polish Legions, a Polish armed force created in August of that year also by Józef Piłsudski.  The Legions became an independent unit within the Austro-Hungarian Army.  Józef Pater’s service began in the 1st Squadron of the 1st Lancer regiment in the First Brigade led by Piłsudski.  In July 1916, Pater was in the 6th Infantry regiment.  During these years, the Polish Legions, many of whom like Józef were citizens of Russia, took part in many battles with the Imperial Russian Army.

A short biographical sketch of Józef Pater that I found in Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944 indicates that beginning in November 1916, he worked in boards of recruitment in Siedlce and Łuków. However, it is highly likely that Pater was part of the Polish Legions that were involved in the so-called Oath Crisis.  When the Central Powers created the Kingdom of Poland on 05 November 1916, it was essentially a “puppet state” of Germany and not independent at all. In July 1917, the Central Powers demanded that the soldiers of the Polish Legions swear allegiance and obedience to Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.  Based on the example of their leader, Piłsudski, the majority of the soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the Legions declined to make the oath. The soldiers who were citizens of Austria-Hungary were sent to the Italian front as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army, and the soldiers from the rest of occupied Poland were sent to prisoner of war camps.  Since Pater is listed later in life as a member of the Association of Former Political Prisoners of the former Revolutionary Faction, it is assumed that he was one of the young soldiers interred for refusing to take the oath.  Later, in 1932, he was the president of the Kutno branch of the Association of Former Ideological Prisoners.

On 04 October 1917, the 20-year-old Józef Pater married Helena Feliksa Palige in All Saints Church (Wszystkich Świętych) in Warsaw.

Signatures on the marriage record of Jozef Pater and Helena Palige.

From November 1918 to November 1920, Józef Pater served as a volunteer in the Polish Army. At some point he must have continued his studies at the Academy, for he was awarded a diploma in 1921 as an artist-painter.  Pater rejoined the army in November 1924 and served there as non-commissioned officer in 4th air regiment.  He retired from military service on 31 December 1929.

While I have little more than dates and assignments about Pater’s time in the military, I found one fact that speaks volumes: he was decorated four times with Cross of Valour and also with the Cross of Independence with Swords.  The Cross of Valour is a Polish military decoration created in 1920 for one who has demonstrated deeds of valor and courage on the field of battle.  Józef received the decoration the maximum amount allowed – four times.  It is unknown if he received the commendation for his actions with the Legions in World War I, or if it was for any actions during the Polish-Soviet War from 1920 – 1923.  The Cross of Independence is one of Poland’s highest military decorations.  There are three classes, and the Cross of Independence with Swords is the rarest of the three.  Developed in 1930, it was awarded to those who laid foundations for the independence of Poland before or during World War I. Józef Pater received this honor in 1931.

Józef Pater may have been a painter, but I’m not sure he ever painted for a living because following his busy military career he began to work as a clerk for the government.  From 1930 to 1933 he worked in the towns of Toruń, Kutno, and Grodzisk Mazowiecki, and from January 1934 to June 1935 he worked as a clerk in the Broadcasting Agency of the Polish Radio in Warsaw. In 1935, Józef Pater became town councilor in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and he still held this position when Poland was invaded by Germany in September 1939.

The invasion by Germany was far more than a military occupation.  According to Poland’s Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski, the Germans attempted to remove Polish culture and way of life through closing the banks, devaluing the currency, confiscating possessions, destroying libraries, forbidding the teaching of Polish history, and banning Polish music.  Himmler would announce on 15 March 1940:

“All Polish specialists will be exploited in our military-industrial complex.  Later, all Poles will disappear from this world. It is imperative that the great German nation considers the elimination of all Polish people as its chief task.” (Piotrowski, 23)

Within a month of Poland’s invasion (by one source, another says a few months later), Józef Pater became the chief commanding officer (listed in narratives as having the rank of “Major”) of a Polish Resistance group called the Gwardia Obrony Narodowej (National Defense Guard) or GON.  In April 1940, the GON was joined with the Związek Czyny Zbrojnego (Association of Arms) or ZCZ.  This group joined with several other Resistance groups in October 1940 to establish the Konfederacja Narodu, or National Confederation – the main Polish underground organization throughout the war. The National Confederation organized a single armed force for the good of the Polish nation.

Józef Pater became one of the many leaders of the underground.  From January 1941, he was in charge of police and security issues for the movement.  Most participants in the Resistance movement were known to each other only by code names.  Józef Pater used the names of “Inżynier” – in English, “Engineer” – as well as the name “Orlot,” which does not have a direct English translation but is a fighting eagle.

The symbol of the Polish Underground is the flag of the Armia Krajowa; the symbol on the flag is a combination of letters "P" and "W" for Polska Walcząca or Fighting Poland.

The role of the Polish Underground during the German occupation was twofold.  First, they were to do everything possible to make the lives of the German military as miserable as possible.  That meant sabotage, disruption of supply lines or communication, theft, damage to equipment, and similar acts. In addition to acts of destruction, the Resistance movement also sought to keep hope alive for the Polish people. Since the only authorized press was German, the Underground published and disseminated accurate information about the war to the Poles as well as getting the message out of the country. In addition, the Underground movement’s message fostered a sense of fierce pride among the Poles and offered hope that their culture and nation would survive.

On 15 February 1941, Józef Pater – and presumably his wife, Helena – were arrested in Grodzisk Mazowiecki and sent to Pawiak Prison in Warsaw.  Pawiak was used by the German Gestapo for interrogations, usually brutal in nature, as well as for executions.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Catholics and Jews were sent to Pawiak – approximately 37,000 were executed there, and 60,000 were sent to various concentration camps.

In a book called Meldunek z Pawiaka I was able to learn about Józef’s character as well as the bravery of those involved in the underground movement.  Franciszek Julian Znamirowski, commander of the ZCZ, became friends with Józef Pater in 1940 as co-conspirators when their two resistance organizations joined forces.  Znamirowski survived the war and described Pater in a letter to author Zygmunt Śliwicki in 1970:

“The man was courageous, generous, friendly, a great patriot, the soul of a painter, and devoted to his family.  He downplayed the danger.  He lived in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with his family. He had a radio and listened to messages, sending them in a secret letter. At this he was caught, and we lost him. When I learned about the arrest and his confinement in the Pawiak, without much thinking I decided to move out and help him escape.”

It was rumored that Pater had typhus and was in the prison hospital, so Znamirowski obtained fake documents that identified him as a doctor of infectious diseases.  Znamirowski told the guards that he was Pater’s family doctor, and he bribed them with money for entry to the prison.  He described Pater as being very surprised to see him.  Contrary to the rumor, he was not sick at all.  He was wearing pajamas, and the two retreated to the bathroom to talk without fear of wiretaps.  They talked “freely about everything” for an hour.

Znamirowski explained that he was there to help Pater escape – he believed it was possible.  However, Józef’s wife, Helena, was also imprisoned there.  Józef feared that if he escaped without her, there would be reprisals and she would suffer even more.  He asked Znamirowski if he could return with enough money to buy their way out of the prison with the guards.

Znamirowski recalled in 1970:  “He [Pater] asked urgently for help by buying him out, and it was a lot of money.  We were not able to collect the cash.  He was being interrogated, but he did not incriminate anybody. He held out heroically. He authorized me to take over the organization and manage it in accordance with his ideas.”  It was the last time Znamirowski ever saw him.

On 17 April 1942 Józef Pater was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oświęcim.  He was registered as Polish political prisoner and received the number 31225.  He died there on 24 June.

Józef’s wife, Helena Palige Pater, was presumably arrested at the same time and also sent to Pawiak.  On 22 September 1941, she was transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp and was killed (date unknown). Ravensbrück, located in northern Germany, was known as the women’s concentration camp.

Józef’s older brother, Bronisław (born 06 September 1890), was also involved with the Resistance. On 17 January 1943 he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp and was killed (date unknown).

One source (Za Murami Pawiaka) reports that there were two sons of Józef and Helena that were also killed in the camps.  Another book, Słownik biograficzny konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944, reports that one son, also named Bronisław (born 1920), was killed at Majdanek; however, there is conflicting information because there were two men named Bronisław Pater, one the brother and one the son of Józef. One of these two was transported to Majdanek on 17 January 1943 and never returned.  They may have both died at that particular camp, but I lack the appropriate evidence to say for sure.

Reports differ widely on the number of deaths in the country of Poland at the hands of the Nazi regime. The commonly accepted number is six million Poles – both Catholics and Jews – died, which was roughly 17% of the total population of Poland before the war. It is estimated that of the six million Polish deaths, three million were Jewish and three million were Catholic. As the Jewish population of Poland was much smaller, Germany killed about 85% of Poland’s Jewish population and about 10% of Poland’s Catholic population.

Józef, Bronisław, Helena, Bronisław.  Their names were forgotten in my family.  May we never forget them again.


The brothers Józef and Bronisław Pater are first cousins of my great-grandfather, Louis (Ludwik) Pater and his brothers (Wacław, Stefan) and sisters (Franciszka, Ewa, Wiktoria).  Louis’ father, also Józef Pater, is Józef’s uncle and a brother to his father, Marcin Pater.  My ancestor Józef immigrated to America in 1905.  His nephews would have been 15 and 7 years old at that time.  My great-grandfather Louis did not leave Poland until August, 1907, and he was living with his adult sister, Franciszka.  Given that Franciszka married Paweł Niedzinski (Nieginski) in Częstochowa in June, 1906, it is likely that both branches of the Pater family left Żyrardów and were living in Częstochowa together.  Louis/Ludwik was nearly 14 years old when he left Poland; cousin Józef was 10 and Bronisław was 17.

This post has literally been a couple of years in the making.  I had help with some initial research by footnoteMaven, and I would not have known much without some translations by Maciej Róg.  I was further assisted with both research and translations by Matthew Bielawa .  Their help is greatly appreciated!

Source: Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945

Sources used for this post:

Vital Records:

Parafia Matki Bożej Pocieszenia (Żyrardów, Błoński, Warszawske, Vistula Land, Russian Empire), “Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1897 [Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths 1897],” page 160, entry 637, Józef Pater, 31 Jul 1897; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl,  Archiwum Państwowe m. st. Warszawy, Oddział w Grodzisku Maz. (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=1265d&sy=134&kt=1&skan=0635-0638.jpg)

Parafia Wszystkich Świętych (Warszawa, Warszawaske, Regency Kingdom of Poland), “Akta małżeństw 1917 [Records of Marriages 1917],” page 67, entry 133, Józef Pater and Helena Feliksa Palige, 04 Oct 1917; digital images from Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych, http://metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księgi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Świętych w Warszawie (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?zs=9264d&sy=341&kt=1&skan=133.jpg)

Death record 12625/1942, Józef Pater, 24 June 1942. Biuro informacji o byłych więźniach, Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau (Office for Information on Former Prisoners, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau)


Dębski, Jerzy and State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Death Books from Auschwitz: Remnants. München : K.G. Saur, 1995.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof.  Ilustrowany Przewodniak Po Polsce Podziemnej, 1939-1945. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1996.

Kunert, Andrzej Krysztof. Słownik Biograficzny Konspiracji Warszawskiej, 1939-1944.  Warszawa: Instytut Wydawniczy PAX, 1987.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Lukas, Richard C. Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Piotrowski, Tadeusz.  Poland’s Holocaust. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1998.

Wanat, Leon. Za Murami Pawiaka. Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1972.

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“One hour, okay?”  He looked at me skeptically. “Then you have to come back to me. We have places to go!”

“One hour – got it!” Wow, even time travel has restrictions. I turned on the machine and within a minute I was back in 1940 and walking the streets of Philadelphia. I didn’t have much time, but fortunately I had a good idea of where to go. I was a bit nauseated at first, but my focus became clearer and I could see where I was – Thompson Street. I needed to turn down Venango Street to get to Mercer Street, my first destination.

The weather in Philadelphia on April 4, 1940 was warmer than the previous day – nearly 63 degrees and dry. People were going about their daily business and the streets were not deserted – people were out walking. Cars were few. I could hear faint sounds of Big Band music coming from a house fortunate enough to own a radio. The music was great, but I also love the fashions of the 1940’s – there’s a guy in a suit and a fedora walking down the street. I look great dressed up in a skirt, blouse, and pumps – and only in 1940 could I get away with wearing a hat!

I quickly found Mercer Street. I knew the real census enumerator had been there the day before; I was just an interloper. I hoped my plan would work to avoid any suspicion as to who I really was. I tried to look official and get to know the neighbors on my way to almost the center of the block – 3553 Mercer Street. As I passed by #3505, a young girl came out carrying an even younger girl.  Were they sisters? I heard the older say, “Come on, Peanut, I’ll get you home.”  Oh my, I thought, that’s Rita Mroz and – no way!  Rita lived with her 3 sisters, 2 brothers, and Polish-born parents, but the little “Peanut” she was carrying was definitely not her sister. In fact, she was heading right towards my destination!  I watched while Rita safely delivered the young girl back home.

There it is!  3553 Mercer Street.  A 7-year-old girl sat on the front step, looking quite unhappy that her younger sister arrived back home.

Wow, this is too much! If I could only tell Aunt Joan about this, she would laugh so hard!  “Hi!” I said, “I love your curly hair.”

“I’m not allowed to talk to strangers,” replied the girl. And with that, she ran inside.

I knocked, and a handsome man came to the door. I was momentarily stunned, but I quickly recovered. “I work for the Government,” I stammered. Well, at least that’s not a lie. I explained that although the census enumerator had been there the day before, I was a supervisor performing a spot-check to ensure that the responses were recorded properly.

“Sure,” said the man, “come on in.”

As I sat down, I tried to look around without looking like I was casing the house for a future robbery. I could smell something wonderful – Oh my God, it’s Nan’s chicken soup! I silently wondered how I could ingratiate myself to the point of being invited for dinner. I heard a female voice call out from the kitchen, “Henush, who is it? Whoever it is, we don’t want any.” I thought, Hi, Nan! If she only knew…

The Pater Family, circa 1937

Her husband yelled an explanation back and I saw her take a peek from the kitchen. She looked so young! And pretty!

“Now, let’s see,” I said. I acted professionally and began asking all of the enumerator’s questions. “Name?”

“Henry Pater.” Boy, I thought, Mom was right about those grey eyes! He’s so much more handsome than any photo I ever saw.


“Twenty-eight.” Wow, kudos for telling the truth, Grandpop. Once we got to the same question for his wife, Mae, I heard her yell, “Twenty-seven!”  He looked over his shoulder and whispered, “I told the enumerator yesterday 31, but she’s really 32. Just don’t tell I told you!”

I learned about 7-year-old Joan and 4-year-old Anita, the “peanut” I saw earlier. Upon hearing her name, she appeared and hid behind her father’s leg. “This is Anita,” he said, “but I like to call her Chick!”  Anita giggled.

Finally, Henry told me his father-in-law, Joseph Zawodny, also lived there. Henry told me that Joseph was married. I didn’t need to ask where his wife was – I knew she was in a mental hospital. I would visit her on another trip back to the past. Where are you, I thought.  As if he heard me, I saw an older man peer out of the kitchen and ask Henry something in Polish. If only I could answer back or get the chance to talk to him! There is so much I want to know, and I’d like to know him so much.

I knew my time was running out.  Reluctantly, I thanked the Pater family and took my leave, waving bye to little Anita on my way out. I’m off to see your future husband now.

How do I get from the Port Richmond neighborhood to Northern Liberties fast? Sometimes future technology has its advantages, and I found my way more quickly than I thought possible.  Suddenly I was walking along Germantown Avenue. I couldn’t go up and down every street with my limited time – when I saw the meat packing plant on the corner of 3rd and Thompson, I knew I was in the right place. The census-taker wouldn’t walk these streets for two more days, but fortunately my destination was right on the corner so I didn’t have to fake my way through several houses.

Right on the corner at 1300 Germantown Avenue, I spotted a young boy sitting on the front step. I was stunned and forgot where I was. “Nick?” I asked.

The Pointkouski Family, circa 1938-9

The curly-haired boy looked up at me and smiled. “No, I’m Jimmy and I’m 5. I’ll be 6 this summer,” he said proudly, blue eyes sparkling.

“Oh,” I said, “it’s nice to meet you, Jimmy! I have a nephew named Nick – he’s 4 going on 5 this summer and he sure looks a lot like you!”

Suddenly a woman came to the door and she didn’t look happy that I was talking to her son. After I explained about the census, she invited me in and once again I tried to look around the home’s interior. This house rented for $5 more than my last stop, and I wanted to see if it was worth the extra money.  I also couldn’t stop looking at the woman, Margaret Pointkouski.  As I took down the information she provided, I questioned the spelling. “That’s with a U, not a W?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s right.”

Margaret looked so – what was the word? Young! She was 28 years old – well, that’s what she told me, but I knew her 28th birthday would actually be the following week!  Just then the door opened and a young man entered. “Well, hello!” he said as he tipped his hat and leaned over to kiss Margaret.

Just as with Henry, the 29-year-old James looked so much more handsome than any photos I had ever seen. I couldn’t help but smile back.  When he heard who I was, or at least who I was pretending to be, he commented that he didn’t know there were “lady census takers”.

At that, Margaret rolled her eyes, “Oh, Pop!”

I said, “They thought some people might answer more questions from a woman.”

“Sure,” the elder Jimmy said, “I’ll tell you anything!”  He added, “I hope you get all of your info recorded.”

“Oh, I will,” I assured him. Just maybe not today.

The Pointkouski household was small with only the couple and their young son, Jimmy. I was bursting to tell Margaret that she would get pregnant late the following year and have a daughter, but I knew it wasn’t my place to speak of such things.

I asked my questions – not the ones I wanted to ask; I could not ask those questions. Like where are your siblings living right now? I hadn’t visited them yet. Oh, there were so many questions I could not ask. But I asked the “official” questions and I was very happy to hear the answers. All I kept thinking was: this is so cool!

I said my good-byes to 1940 and powered down the machine. Suddenly my boyfriend appeared, “Time’s up – let’s go out to eat. Did you find everyone you were looking for?”

“Not everyone, but it’s a start.  They’ll all still be there when I go back.”


[Written for the 117th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: 1940!]

I actually wrote this the night before the carnival topic was announced. I’ve told a few stories on this blog, but I never presented factual information in such a fictional way.  Technically, I’d call this creative non-fiction. To me, talking about finding a genealogical record (on my “machine”, aka my laptop) can sound a little boring, at least to non-genealogists. But how could a science fiction lover like myself resist seeing that search for the record as time travel! The idea took hold and would not let go.  Face it – bringing up those images, walking through the neighborhoods, reading all about the families – it is the closest thing we can get to time travel!

The Census facts came from the actual 1940 Census (source citations upon request, I used Ancestry to access). I saw the path the enumerator took and learned about the neighborhood layout from a combination of current maps and a 1942 map of Philadelphia courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. What was the weather like on those April days in 1940? Well, I learned about temperature and precipitation totals from The Franklin Institute! I knew about fashion from the movies and my parents. I have an idea what the characters looked like from photographs. As for the personalities of the individuals – everything I know, I learned from my parents. Of my grandparents, I knew my maternal grandmother the best.  Second would be my paternal grandmother, with my paternal grandfather third.  Least of all, I knew, or rather didn’t really know, my maternal grandfather – he died when I was five years old and I only met him a few times. I’m glad I could get to know them all in the 1940 Census!

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Recently Ancestry.com put up a new set of records called “Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.” The collection contains a wide variety of miscellaneous records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  I actually found a few items of interest in the collection.  One subset of records comes from the Wackerman Funeral Home, a funeral home which still exists today but is no longer in its former location.  In these records, I found information on the funeral arrangements for my great-grandmother, Marie Bergmeister, who died in 1919 at the age of 43.  Marie (or more usually, Maria) left behind a husband, Joseph, and five children – including my grandmother Margaret, the youngest, who was not quite six years old.

The funeral home record for the costs of Marie Bergmeister's funeral, 1919.

I knew that my grandmother’s family was poor, but it was interesting to compare the bill for my great-grandmother’s burial to some of the others who died at the same time.


  • $55 – Gray crape
  • $65 – Chesnut
  • $90 – Square chesnut with ext handles
  • $125 – Solid maple
  • $200 – Solid mahoghany


  • $14 – Pine
  • $35 – Chesnut


  • $10.50 to $13.00


  • $5 – Low Mass
  • $25 – Solemn Requiem

A more costly funeral found in the same records.

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Sto Lat – 100 Years

If my grandfather Henry Pater was still alive, today would be his 100th birthday.   This post is in his honor:

Henry Marion Pater (1912-1972)

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Louis Pater (born Ludwik Pater, 1893-1957) and Elizabeth Miller (born Elżbieta Müller, 1891-1972)
  • Born: 25 March 1912, Langhorne, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 04 April 1912, Our Lady of Grace RC Church, Penndel, PA
  • Siblings: Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Married: Mae Zawodna on 01 February 1930 in Bromall, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was blessed on 21 June 1930 at St. Adalbert’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: Joan and Anita
  • Died: 17 October 1972
  • Buried: 20 October 1972, Oakland Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan Pater and Richard Zukowski

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from Genealogical Records:

  • All four of my grandparents were first generation Americans; however, my grandfather Henry Pater was the only grandparent to actually know his own grandparents, Joseph Pater (1864-1945) and Antonina Pluta Pater (1863-1938).  He also is the only grandparent to have met one of his great-grandparents, his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1909 and died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • Henry was five years younger than his wife – although I would not know this from the marriage license alone since they both lied about their age.  At the time of their marriage, Henry was 17 and Mae was 22, but the record says he is 22 and she is 21!  He is also the third generation Pater male to be younger than his wife: his father Louis was 2 years younger than his mother, and his grandfather was 1 year younger than his grandmother.
  • The young age at Henry’s marriage is likely why he was married “twice” – my grandparents lived a few doors away from each other.  After their civil marriage, they each went home to their parents’ house.  Neither set of parents were happy when the news was eventually announced.  They had the marriage blessed in a Catholic Church at the insistance of the bride’s father, Joseph Zawodny (I didn’t learn this fact from the records, but I did learn the addresses and the dates of the marriages.)
  • Henry became a very young grandfather.  His first grandson, my cousin Richard “Ricky” Zukowski, was born in 1951 when Henry was 39 years old. Sadly, Ricky died at the age of 15 months. Henry would have to wait another seven years to become a grandfather again.
  • Records alone would have left me confused about Henry’s middle name if my mother didn’t know the truth. On his birth record, his name is Henry M. Pater. His baptismal record lists no middle name. His marriage record indicates the “M” is for Marion.  His death record mistakenly lists it as Martin. However the marriage record, in his own hand, is the correct name.

Henry and Mae Pater

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from My Mom:

  • Henry worked as a knitter in hoisery mills, and was quite accomplished at it.  He preferred working the night shift when he could operate several knitting machines at once.
  • When Henry was introduced to his future son-in-law (my father) for the first time, he said, “Call me ‘Hank'” which caused my mother and grandmother to double over in laughter because he had never, ever used that nickname before.
  • Henry called my mother “Chick” – apparently a nickname he got from a book.  His other daughter Joan was called “Jub”.  And his wife, my grandmother, was “Killer”.
  • Henry liked to read. I wonder if that’s where I got the reading gene? I wish I knew what sorts of books he liked to read.
  • Although Henry was born in the United States, he learned Polish from his parents, aunts & uncles, and grandparents. His wife Mae also learned Polish from her Polish-born parents. When the couple married and had children, they frequently communicated in Polish if they wanted to discuss something without their girls listening in on the conversation.

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In my quest to prepare for the 1940 Census by documenting all of my relatives and their potential 1940 addresses, I realized there was a relative or two I never found in earlier censuses.  One such relative was my great-grandfather’s half brother, Herman Goetz. Herman and his brother, Julius Goetz, left a rather good paper trail except I was never able to locate Herman – with certainty – in either the 1920 or 1930 Census.  The name “Herman Goetz” was not exactly “John Smith” but it was a common name among German immigrants, and I never really tried to determine if any of the Herman’s I found was “my” Uncle Herman.  Did he move out of state?  Did he return to Germany?

In genealogy, as in life, sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.  I couldn’t find Herman in the 1920 Census because he died.  It’s almost comical that I never considered that possibility until I discovered it, quite by accident, in one of Ancestry’s newer databases: Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.

There does not appear to be a complete list of what records are included in this collection, but in my searching of various surnames I’ve found some hits in funeral home records and some Catholic cemetery records.  I found Herman in the Record Books for the John Kimmerle Funeral Homes.  He died on 11 October 1918 from pneumonia and was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery on 18 October.  His sister, Hilaury “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman, paid for the burial.

His death in 1918 finally answers the question of why my father never heard of him – my grandmother barely knew him since she was only 5 years old when he died.

When I first began my genealogical research, I asked my dad about relatives and he said to look for his mother’s “Uncle Julius Goetz”.  Neither of her parents was named Goetz, so I wasn’t clear how he was an uncle until I found her parents’ marriage record. Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer were married in November 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern (Bavaria), Germany. The record indicates that the bachelor Joseph was the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

My great-grandfather’s mother re-married a man named Goetz, so any children from her second marriage are half siblings to my Bergmeister’s.  While I have a record in Julius’ hand that lists Ursula as his mother, I only have circumstantial evidence that Herman is also her son. (The circumstantial evidence is his “connection” to both Julius and the Bergmeister family – I can now send for his death certificate to verify his parents’ names.) Even if he was a step-brother to both Julius and the Bergmeister children, he was certainly involved in their lives based on the documents I have found. Here is Herman’s “paper trail” in the United States:

22 Apr 1911 – Herman sets sail from Antwerp aboard the S.S. Finland.  He is listed as Herman Götz, a 26-year-old locksmith from Regensburg whose father, also named Herman Götz, lives in Regensburg. He is traveling to his brother, Julius Götz, who is living at 500 Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. On 03 May 1911, Herman’s ship arrives in New York City.

24 Mar 1913 – Herman receives a marriage license to marry Florentina Bottner. He is living at 6078 Kingsessing Street (the address of his half sister, Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, and her husband, Max) and was born on 14 May 1885 in Germany. Florentina lived at 3458 Amber Street and was born on 14 Aug 1877 in Germany.  Parents’ names were not requested on the license, and neither had been married before.

11 Apr 1913 – My grandmother, Margaret Hermina Bergmeister, is born and apparently named after her Uncle Herman. She is baptized on 13 July 1913 and her godparents are Uncle Herman Goetz and Aunt Laura Bergmeister Thuman.

12 Aug 1914 – Herman’s wife dies. Her death certificate lists her name as Mrs. Flora Goetz with the same birth date as the marriage license above. Although she is listed as married, the information is provided by her mother and the address given is that of her mother’s and the same as provided in her marriage license. She died from peritonitis “due to ruptured uterus during child birth”.

12 Sep 1918 – Herman registers for the draft. His draft card shows he is living with his sister and brother-in-law at 6078 Kingsessing Street and Laura is listed as his nearest relative. He was born on 14 May 1885.  He is naturalized, although I have not yet found his papers. He is employed as a machinist at Standard Roller Bearing Co. at 49th and Merion. His physical description: tall, stout, grey eyes, red hair.

Front of Herman Goetz's WWI Draft Registration Card.

11 Oct 1918 – Herman died from pneumonia based on information found in the funeral home records. His address is the Thumans’ address on Kingsessing Street, which is directly across the street from the cemetery in which his is buried on 14 Oct 1918, Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

What little I do know of “Uncle Herman” is sad – although he quickly found love in his new country, his wife died in childbirth the following year and he died only four years later at the age of 32.  It is also the beginning of a very sad chain of events for my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. First, in October, 1918, his half-brother Herman dies.  Less than six months later, in February, 1919, his wife Maria dies at the age of 43, which leaves him as the single parent of five children.  Later that year, in November, his brother Ignaz Bergmeister dies at the age of 43.  Joseph would only live to 54 himself, dying in 1927. Of the Bergmeister and Goetz siblings, despite the young deaths of Herman Goetz and Joseph and Ignaz Bergmeister, their sister Laura Thuman lived to 73 and Julius Goetz lived to 84. There was a 16-year age difference between Hilaury and Julius, however, so Julius was the sole surviving sibling for many years after Laura’s death in 1943.

Although my grandmother never knew her “namesake” Uncle Herman, I assume she had some familial relationship with Uncle Julius.  Although my father knew who he was, he didn’t recall meeting him and their lives overlapped by quite a bit – Julius did not die until 1971.

If it wasn’t for the “accidental” searching of this new record collection on Ancestry, I would not have solved the mystery of what happened to Uncle Herman any time soon. Although Pennsylvania death indexes were recently made available, I would not have ordered any record for a man with the name Herman Goetz without more evidence as to the correct one, which I now have. I hope to eventually find a photograph of both Uncle Julius and Uncle Herman – I recently learned the name of Julius’ grandson and plan on contacting him soon.  Even if I can’t see what Herman looked like, I’m glad I learned what I did about him so his too-short life can be remembered. That’s what family is for…

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In everyone’s family there seems to be a “birthday season” in which many family events fall in the same month.  In my family, February is not one of those months.  So I was rather surprised as I looked through some of my genealogical data that February had a huge significance in the life of one of my ancestral families, the Bergmeister family.  I’m sure that after you “collect” hundreds of ancestors, there are bound to be a lot of common dates among the data.  But the sheer preponderance of February dates is striking.  I first noticed the coincidence just back in my grandmother’s generation, because both of my great-grandparents and one of their children had February dates.  But the closer attention I paid to the family, the more February events turned up.

To start, we have to go way back – seven generations before my grandmother!  I will call this Generation 0, and the sole February event is the death of Elisabeth Bergmeister, wife of Jakob, on 25 Feb 1725.

In Generation 1, the son of Jakob and Elisabeth, Martin, marries Ursula Pedenpöckh on 16 Feb 1716.

In Generation 2, Martin and Ursula’s son, Johann Paul, was born on 25 Feb 1721.

In Generation 3, J. Paul’s son, Joseph, was also born on 25 Feb in the year 1763, his father’s 42nd birthday.

In Generation 4, Joseph’s son, Jakob, married Anna Maria Daniel.  Anna Maria Bergmeister died on 02 Feb 1871.

In Generation 5, Jakob and Anna Maria had two children born in February.  The first was my great-great grandfather, Joseph, who was born on 09 Feb 1843.  His brother, Castulus, was born on 25 Feb 1845, his grandfather’s birthday (except his grandfather was deceased by then).

In Generation 6, Joseph had a son, also named Joseph (my great-grandfather), who was born on 12 Feb 1873.  Joseph the younger’s wife, Maria Echerer, also had a February birthday – she was born on 27 Feb 1875.  She would also later die in February, on 05 Feb 1919. Joseph’s sister, Hilaurie Bergmeister Thuman, would also die in February on 06 Feb 1943.

In Generation 7, my grandmother’s older sister, Maria, was born on 27 Feb 1898, her mother’s 23rd birthday.

I haven’t looked more closely at the dates I’ve collected for my father’s cousins and their children to see if this trend continues.  The February dates stopped in my immediate family, but I bet I have some cousins celebrating birthdays this month…after all, it’s a family tradition!

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