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Archive for the ‘Names & Surnames’ Category

The word prompt for the 20th edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival is Valentine!  Here’s a photo of a couple who were each other’s valentines for a long time – my grandparents.  When the photo was taken, they had been married for 23 years.  James Pointkouski first saw Margaret Bergmeister working at a stored owned by her brother.  He was friends with the brother, and immediately asked him who she was.  Like a typical brother, he replied, “Her? Oh, she’s just my sister” as if that meant she was nothing special.  But she was special to “Jimmy” and he immediately pursued her and eventually married her.  Her brother didn’t mind!

James and Margaret Pointkouski, 1957

Submitted for the 20th Edition of Smile for the Camera: Valentine

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How is Josef Bergmeister related to “my” Josef Bergmeister?

Our story began when I discovered a reference to a Josef Bergmeister who died fighting for Germany in World War I.  This Josef was from Puch, the hometown of my great-grandfather of the same name.  The town is very small, so I assumed they were related.  Thanks to Ancestry’s release of the Bavarian World War I Personnel Rosters, I learned more about Josef, including when he was born, his parents’ names, and how he died in 1916.  In fact, I learned about many other Bergmeister men, too.  Although the indexing is not yet complete (see the main search page for more details), there are thirteen Bergmeister men listed.  Of these, eight are directly related to my great-grandfather – including Josef whose name was inscribed on the memorial in Puch.  With the help of my cousin Armin Bergmeister, I’ve assembled the following tree showing the names of the Bergmeister men up until the World War I timeframe. Click on the image to enlarge.

The soldier Josef and my great-grandfather Josef are first cousins once removed.  Josef’s own first cousin, Anton, also died in the war just weeks before him.  With their deaths, the Bergmeister family in the town of Puch ended.  Other Bergmeister relatives had moved to other towns in Bavaria as well as the United States, but nearly three hundred years of the Bergmeister family in Puch came to an abrupt end.  Both Josef and Anton were second cousins to my grandmother and her three brothers that were born in the United States (and their German-born sister).

My great-grandfather also lost two of his second cousins in the war, Sigmund and Hermann.  Two of his third cousins (Andreas and Magnus) fought as well as his third cousin’s son, Anton, and his 5th cousin Ignatz.

I chose to focus on the soldier Josef for this story, but each of the soldier’s stories – as gleaned from the rosters – is worth remembering.  Unfortunately, we have no photograph of Josef, but thanks to my cousin Armin I can share a photograph of one of these Bergmeister soldiers, Sigmund – Armin’s grandfather.  Sigmund died on 15 August 1916 at the age of 31, leaving behind one child.   His brother Hermann died less  than two years later at the age of 24, leaving behind two children.

Lieutenant Sigmund Bergmeister, 1885-1916

There are many men named Josef on the Bergmeister family tree.  I am currently familiar with cousins from three distinct lines of descent: 1) my own family’s descent through Josef (son of Josef, son of Jakob, son of Josef), 2) the line descended from Johann (son of Castulus, son of Jakob, son of Josef), and 3) the line descended from the soldier Sigmund (son of Sebastian, son of Simon, son of Josef).  In my own American line, the name Joseph Bergmeister was passed on and is currently owned by a handsome young man, my second cousin once removed.  He is the sixth straight Joseph/Josef Bergmeister – and would have been the 8th straight if it weren’t for his 4th great-grandfather, Jakob.  There is also a current Josef Bergmeister in Germany, my 3rd cousin once removed and a very charitable host along with his brother Hans and their wives.  They are both descended from the Castulus line. (See a photo of Castulus as well as my Josef on The Bergmeister Family page!)

So, one mystery was solved.  Thanks to the Bavarian military rosters, I now know more about Josef Bergmeister, the previously unknown soldier, as well as many other Bergmeister cousins my great-grandfather left behind when he came to America.

But wait!  Now there’s a new mystery…how are we all related to the other five men named Bergmeister listed in the personnel rosters?  We already have a hint that the “other” Philadelphia Bergmeister family is originally from the town of Hoerdt and is related to at least one of these men.  As to how far back we have to go to connect the two, and who the other four men are, those are mysteries still waiting to be solved!

Need help figuring out relationships and what “removed” cousins are?  See The Family Relationship Chart

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What happened at the battle that cost Josef his life?  How were his American cousins affected by the same war?

In Part 3 we read Josef Bergmeister’s service record and discovered that he died as a result of injuries sustained during the battle of Fleury-Thiaumont in July, 1916.  Today’s post will discuss this battle in more detail.

The town names of Fleury and Thiaumont may not be familiar, but surely everyone has heard of the Battle of Verdun, the bloodiest and perhaps the longest battle in history.  The Battle of Verdun was a series of battles from 21 February – 19 December 1916 between the German and French armies on the Western Front.  The numbers alone paint a picture of what happened there.  In the end, an estimated 250,000 men were killed, and another 500,000 were wounded.  Approximately 40 million artillery shells were used by both sides during the fight.  The battlefield itself was not very large – just a long and narrow piece of land.

During the Battle of Verdun, the town of Fleury changed hands between the German and the French sixteen times.  The town was completely destroyed and is uninhabited today.  To the German army, the small town was the gateway to Verdun, which in turn would lead directly to Paris.  During the month of June, 1916, the Germans fought hard to move into the town.  By the end of June, it was reported that it was unbearably hot.

On 23 June, the Germans launched a chemical attack with 110,000 grenades of poisonous gas.  Although many French soldiers died from the chemical attack, their gas masks withstood the gas better than the Germans had expected.  But the chemical gas, constant bombardment from artillery, and the oppressive heat were all affecting the troops; both sides described the terrible stench from corpses rotting in the heat.  Josef Bergmeister’s first cousin, Anton Bergmeister, from the 10th Infantry Regiment, was killed here on 24 June at the age of 19.

By mid-July, the Germans were in control of Fleury, but there were many small attacks in the area in an effort to gain high ground and some fortifications.  On 12 July, the French received orders to regain Fleury.  A fierce battle was fought from 15-19 July in which each side attempted to gain more ground.

A photo of Bavarian soldiers in the trenches at Fleury used with permission from The Soldier's Burden, http://www.kaiserscross.com/40047/124001.html.

Josef Bergmeister’s brigade (8th Company, 11th Bav. Infantry Regiment, 12th Bav. Brigade, 6th Bavarian Division) has missed the fighting in this area and had been fighting in St. Mihiel.  His regiment went into the front lines on 17-18 July and suffered such losses that a telegraph was sent to immediately send 500 replacement troops.  Did Josef know that his cousin Anton was killed at Thiaumont just weeks earlier?

Josef was injured by an artillery shell on 18 July in his arm and leg.  After being transferred to a hospital, he died on 01 August.  His comrades and his enemies continued the fight, and with each battle the area around Fleury and Thiaumont is captured and re-captured over and over with little meaning to the overall war effort.  Thousands lay dead on the battlefield.

Josef’s entire division left Verdun on 5 August, and by early September they were fighting another well-known and long series of battles: the Somme.  The division again endured considerable losses.  The Battle of Verdun continued through December 1916.  The final statistics show French casualties at Verdun as 371,000, including 60,000 killed, 101,000 missing and 210,000 wounded. Total German casualties are recorded as 337,000 men. The statistics also confirm that at least 70% of the Verdun casualties on both sides were the result of artillery fire.  Men like Josef Bergmeister that were taken from the battlefield to hospitals were given burials in cemeteries, but it is estimated that 100,000 men remain on the battlefield today – buried where they fell.

The site The Soldier’s Burden offers a detailed glimpse into the lives of the soldiers on all “sides” of the war and gives testament to their struggles and losses.  On a page recounting the battle in which Josef Bergmeister died, another Bavarian soldier, Hans Heiß of the Bavarian Leib Regiment, describes the battle.  I have reprinted most of the description with permission here:

A red streak in the starry night, then another, then another. They burst into red stars. Are they fireworks? A game? No, they are serious, deadly serious. Whizzing over Fleury and Douaumont. The Frenchies had noticed that we were being relieved and had called up an artillery barrage. A barrage meant hell!

Run Comrades, run for your lives!

There is the railway embankment… a ghostly area, keep running. The first salvo comes screaming in… flames, smoke… keep running… move forward. Into the hollow ground beyond… here hell opened up! Whizzing, Howling, gurgling the shells come in. Black earth, smoke and flames shoot up into the air. A wall of death.

Panting, the breath is stilted. Jumping from shell hole to shell hole… through! then FORWARD! Keep running!

Up the embankment, stumbling, falling. The heart beating in the throat…falling, getting up, continuing. Foam on the lips… up there, the large shell crater… get into it! Once there you can get your breath back. Almost there, there where they are all headed for.

Whizz, bang! Flame and smoke… right in the heavy shell hole! Don’t go in, pass it by!

Here they crawl forward, blood stained and blackened by smoke “Kamerad! Kamerad! For God’s sake… help me!” “And me!” “And me!”

Cannot, have to get forward into position… don’t listen, don’t look! Go past! Move… faster!

…. There! There! It is terrible, someone is burning. He tosses his burning backpack away but his uniform is burning. Ha, ha, ha! Laughing, laughing at the sky…he has gone mad.

Burying the head in the sand. See nothing, Hear nothing, think nothing!  Think nothing!

Then it was over and we could move forward.

It will be four days in the front line now. Four endless, terrible, desperate days. And four terrible nights. And if we survive… the same road through hell back again.

Two men pass carrying in a wounded man wrapped in a shelter half.  A whizz and a bang. Flame and smoke, all three men are swept away, the medics and wounded man ripped apart, gone forever. No! No! No further! Throw it all away, the backpack, rifle, gasmask… and now run! Run! Run far away.. far away from this hell…

Fleury today. The depressions remain from the artillery fire. Photo courtesy of Chris Boonzaier.

New York Times headline, December 31, 1918.

Meanwhile, in the United States German immigrants were far from the battlefield, but life was difficult in other ways.  The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  Germans living in the U.S. were warned to obey the law and surrender any weapons, explosives, or radios.  Any who did not comply were arrested.  Any non-naturalized German that was believed to be aiding the enemy were arrested and interred.  By December, 1917, all male Germans in cities with populations over 5,000 had to report to either the post office or police station to register; the same rules applied to female Germans the following May.

Most of these records no longer exist, but I did once see the list of Philadelphia “enemy alien registrations” (now missing).  In it were the names and addresses of my great-grandparents, Josef (now known as Joseph) and Marie Bergmeister, and their 20-year-old German-born daughter, Marie.  My great-grandfather had not yet declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, but he had lived in the country since 1900.  Their four American-born children were safe from the registration requirements.

The Joseph Bergmeister living in America, despite being considered an “enemy alien” required to register with the authorities, was also required to register for the selective service act.  On 12 September 1918, he registered for military service with the U.S. draft board in Philadelphia, PA, but he was never called into service by the U.S. military.  Joseph’s brother Ignatz also registered with the draft board in Elizabeth, NJ on the same day.

Joseph Bergmeister's WWI draft card. Note that the German-born "Joseph" still signs his name Josef!

My relatives left no diaries or letters to reveal what they thought about these regulations, or about the war with their homeland, or if they knew the fate of their cousins in Germany or even kept in touch after immigration.  One can only wonder what it felt like to suddenly be considered “the enemy” in the country you called home for so many years.

In Part 5, the final post in this series on the Bavarian Military Rosters, we will discover how closely the two Josef Bergmeister’s are related and see how many Bergmeister men were involved in the war fighting for Germany.

Sources:

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Josef Bergmeister’s WWI Military Record

Who was Josef Bergmeister? How did he die?

In Part 1 of this series on Bavarian Military Rosters, I discovered an “unknown soldier” in the German Army that was likely related to my great-grandfather of the same name.  In Part 2, I presented what the Bavarian Military Personnel Record Books, or Kriegsstammrolle, looked like during World War 1.  Today we will explore the personnel record of the mysterious Josef Bergmeister – and finally learn the details of his short life and death.

Here is Josef’s personnel record (click on the image  – when it appears on the page, click again for a close-up):

Record for Josef Bergmeister. SOURCE: Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 > Band 00278-04011. Infanterie > Band 000344-02336. Infanterie-Regimenter > Band 01198-01258. 11. bayer. Infanterie-Regiment > 1227. Kriegstammrolle: Bd. 1

Before transcribing and translating the record, there are some sites will offer other researchers some assistance.  First, one must be familiar with German handwriting.  The best site I have seen on this topic is How to Read German Handwriting.  In addition, it may be useful to become familiar with some German military terms.  A good resource is the German-English Military Dictionary, which was compiled by the U.S. military in 1944.

First, the transcription of Josef’s record:

1.  Iaufende Nummer: 462

2.  Dienstgrad: Inf[antrist]

3.  Vor- und Familienname: Josef Bergmeister

4.  Religion: kath[olisch]

5.  Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt): Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern/ Datum der Geburt:19.04.1894

6.  Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe): Ökonom / Wohnort: Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

7.  Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist: ledig

8.  Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern: Johann und Therese Bergmeister, Ökonom, Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Oberbayern, Bayern

9.  Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron: 11. I[nfantrie)-R[egiment], 8. Kp [=Kompanie]

10.  Dienstverhältnisse: a) frühere, b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung:

a)  ./.

b) 1915   1.7. b. II./E. 13. Inf. Rgt. 1. Rekr Depot als Rekrut
1915   12. 7 z. Rekr. Depot III b. A. K Komo F versetzt
1915   30.9 z. 10. I. R. 11. Kp. in Feld
1915   5.11. z. 8./11. I. R. versetzt

11.  Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen:  ./.

12.  Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen: 20.09.15 – 15.7.16 Kämpfe auf den Maashöhen; 15.7. – 8.7.16 Kämpfe um Fleury und Zwischenwerk Thiaumont

[Written in the section underneath: ]  Pocken- Typhus- und Cholera-Schutzimpfung vorgenommen
Am 18.07.1916 dh. A. G. [= durch Artilleriegranate] am r[echten] Fuß u[nd] l[inken] Arm schwer verwundet u[nd] ins Feldlaz[arett] No. 5 der H.gr. I. d. eingeliefert. Am 20.7.1916 ins Etappenlazarett Pierrepont (:Schule:) überführt und dortselbst am 1.8.1916 nachm[ittags] 6:15 verstorben. Todesursache: Bruch r[echter] Oberschenkel (: Amputation) u[nd]Gasphlegmon.  Am 2.08.16 auf dem Militärfriedhof zu Pierrepont beerdigt. Grab No 493.  Anerkannt 18.9.1916 Leutnant d[er] R[eserve] u[nd] Komp[anie]-Führer

Rather than translate the record word for word into English, I will sum up the pertinent details.  Josef Bergmeister was born on 19 April 1894 in Puch, Pfaffenhofen, Bavaria to Johann and Therese Bergmeister.  He was an “economist” in Puch and single.  Josef entered the army as a recruit on 01 July 1915.  He was originally assigned to the 10th Infantry Regiment as an infantryman, but in November 1915 the regiment was combined with another and became the 11th Infantry Regiment.  On 15-18 July 1916 his unit took part in the battles at Fleury and Thiaumont in France.  On 18 July, Josef was severely wounded by an artillery shell.  He was taken to a field hospital and transferred to another hospital at Pierrepont on 20 July.  At 6:15 on 01 August, Josef died.  His cause of death is listed as amputation of crushed thigh and gangrene.  The following day he was buried in Grave No. 493 at the military cemetery in Pierrepont.  He was 22 years old.

Three Bavarian infantry soldiers in 1914.

Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29007475@N08/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With this record, I finally knew who Josef was.  Before I could connect him to my own Bergmeister family, I wanted to find out more about the battle in which he died.  My knowledge of World War I was poor, and now I was curious to learn more.  Part 4 will provide more details about this horrific battle which was part of a series of battles between the German and French armies from February through December of 1916 – the Battle of Verdun.  It will also give a glimpse into what life in America was like for German immigrants.  Finally, Part 5 will sort out who’s who in the Bergmeister family – how are the “Josefs” related?

Many thanks to my cousin (and Josef’s cousin) Armin Bergmeister for the record transcription and help with the translation into English!

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The Bavarian Military Rosters – What were they? What does it say?

In Part 1 – Cousins, Countries, and War – I spoke of the discovery of a German soldier with my great-grandfather’s name – Josef Bergmeister.  This particular Josef came from the same town my great-grandfather was born in – were they related?  Thanks to a new group of records available on Ancestry.com, I was about to find out.  But first, what are these records?  What information do they have?  And more importantly – what do the German words mean?

[Note: A subscription to Ancestry.com is required to view these records.  If you do not have a subscription, check on availability at your local library.]

The main search page (image shown above) for the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918 is found here.  Whether you search for a surname or for a particular individual, you will notice what appears to be more than one entry per person in the search results.  For example, a search for “Josef Bergmeister” resulted in the following hits:

Based on the birth dates and town names, there appear to be records for two different men named Josef Bergmeister.  Why are there several records for each?  Because these personnel record books, or Kriegstammrolle, were kept for each military unit.  If a soldier was transferred to another unit, he was recorded in the personnel records for the new unit as well as the old.  In addition, there is a separate roster for the soldiers who died.  To get a soldier’s full story, you should look at each of the search results.

Fortunately, the personnel rosters seem to follow the same format.  Each book has two pages with fifteen columns of information.  The following images show the column headings and the English translations.

1 – Iaufende Nummer – Seriel Number

2 – Dienstgrad – Rank

3 – Vor- und Familienname – First and Last Name

4 – Religion – Religion

5 – [top] Ort (Verwaltungsbezirk, Bundesland der Geburt) – Location (County, State of Birth)

[bottom] Datum der Geburt – Date of Birth

6 – [top] Lebensstellung (Stand, Gewerbe) – Occupation (literally „position in life“) (Profession, Company)

[bottom] Wohnort – Place of Residence

7 – Vor- und Familiennamen der Ehegattin; Zahl der Kinder; Vermerk, dass der Betreffende ledig ist – First and Last Name of Wife; Number of Children; Note that the person is Single

8 – Vor- und Familiennamen, Stand oder Gewerbe und Wohnort der Eltern – First and Last Names, Occupation, and Place of Residence of Parents

9 – Truppenteil (Kompagnie, Eskadron) – Military Unit (Company, Squadron)

10 – Dienstverhältnisse – Service Relationship

a) frühere – earlier

b) nach Eintritt der Mobilmachung – after mobilization

11 – Orden, Ehrenzeichen und sonstige Auszeichnungen – Orders, Decorations, and Other Awards

12 – Mitgemachte Gefechte; Bemerkenswerte Leistungen – Battles; Remarkable Acheivements

13 – Kommandos und besondere Dienstverhältnisse. Kriegsgefangenschaft.  – Commands and Special Service Conditions.  Prisoner of War.

14 – Führung. Gerichtliche Bestrafungen Rehabilitierung. – Leadership.  Judicial Punishments Rehabilitation.

15 – Bemerkungen – Remarks

Now that we know what the columns mean, how do we actually read a handwritten record?

Coming up in Part 3 we’ll transcribe and translate the service record for Josef Bergmeister.  As you can see from the information above, the record will tell us quite about about his life as well as his death.

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Who was a German soldier who bore my great-grandfather’s name?

In 1998, I visited my Bavarian great-grandparents’ town for the first time.  I was not well-prepared to do any genealogical research because the trip came about as a convenient accident, not through careful planning.  While I was in the general area for work-related travel, I knew I had to make a detour to their town, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Back then, I hadn’t traced either family too far back, but through my great-grandparents’ marriage record I knew that he, Josef Bergmeister, was from the nearby town of Puch, and she, Maria Echerer, was from Pfaffenhofen.

Some friends from a different region of Germany met me there – they thought it would be an amusing weekend trip to visit a “foreign” area of their own country and see their American friend.  One joked about this tiny town they drove through called Puch.  “Wait,” I said, “that’s my great-grandfather’s town!  Can you show it to me?”  They said yes, but assured me that it was so tiny, there wasn’t much to see.

The next day, we drove a 2-car convoy to Puch from Pfaffenhofen (approximately 8 miles).  They drove the lead car and came to a stop in what was presumably the center of town.  My friend got out of the car and  came up to my window asking, “Is there anything to actually see here?”

I was busy squinting over his shoulder.  “Yes,” I replied, pointing beyond where he stood, “there’s that!”

Memorial in Puch, Bavaria, Germany to the dead and missing soldiers from both world wars.

Who is Josef Bergmeister?

Who is this Josef Bergmeister?

We had stopped directly in front of a war memorial – every European town, no matter how small or large, has one.  On this particular monument to the sons of Puch who perished in the world wars, I noticed a familiar name – Josef Bergmeister, who died in 1916.  Another Josef Bergmeister from Puch?  Surely it was a cousin, or perhaps a nephew!  I took a photo of the monument and knew I’d find the answer one day.

My research continued on the Bergmeister line, but I focused on going backward so I never fully investigated the Josef who had died fighting in the war.  I eventually even met Bergmeister cousins who still live in Pfaffenhofen, but when I asked about the Puch relatives, they merely replied, “There are no more Bergmeisters in Puch.”

It remained a mystery.  I could have looked further into birth and death records to find the answer, but the records available from the Family History Center ended in 1900 and I did not write to the church or town directly for more information.

Josef remained my own personal “unknown soldier” – until now.  Recently Ancestry.com added a new set of records to their growing international collection – the Bavaria, Germany, WWI Personnel Rosters, 1914-1918.  While my direct ancestors immigrated to the United States more than a decade before the first world war, I was able to find out significant information about the lives and deaths of the cousins they left behind.

Join me this week as I explore these records and tell Josef’s story.  Today’s introduction is Part 1 of a 5-part series which will include the following:

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Surname - FISCHER

Meaning/Origin – The surname FISCHER really does mean “fisher” as in “fisherman.”  According to the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, the frequency of the name in Germany “is evidence of the former importance of this ancient occupation.”   I find it ironic that my particular Fischer’s were actually farmers!

Countries of Origin – The surname FISCHER is German; however the English spelling FISHER is considered to be of English origin.  If you are descended from a FISHER, you could have English ancestry or German ancestry in which the “C” was dropped to anglicize the name.  In fact, nearly every country has an “equivalent” name derived from the occupation of fisherman.  According to the Internet Surname Database,

Recorded in several spelling forms including the popular Fisher (English), Fischer (German), Fiszer (Czech and Polish), Visser (Dutch), de Vischer (Flemish), Fiser (Danish), Fisker (Norwegian), and many others, this interesting surname does seem to have a pre 7th century Old English origin. If so it is from the word ‘fiscere‘ meaning to catch fish, and it may be an occupational name for a fisherman, or it may be a topographical name for someone who lived near a fish weir on a river. Here the derivation is from the word “fisc” plus the Middle English “gere” a development of the Old Norse “gervi” meaning weir or apparatus. It may in some case be an Ashkenazic name for a fisherman from the Yiddish word “fisher“.

According to the World Names Profiler, for the spelling FISCHER the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Germany with 3,369 individuals per million, Switzerland wtih 3,104, and Austria with 2,139.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Hungary (605), Denmark (559), Luxembourg (553), the United States (359), and Canada (267).  The English spelling FISHER seems to be slightly less popular, and the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Australia with 1,211 individuals per million, the United Kingdom with 1,087, the United States with 914, Canada with 864, and New Zealand with 821.

Spelling Variations - As noted above, the most common variation is FISHER.  German variations include Fäscher, Ficher, Fischera, Fascher, and Vischer.

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the FISCHER surname in Germany and Austria. According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/fischer.html, there are nearly 102,000 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in California.  In Germany, there are 270,000 people with the surname, which makes it the 4th most popular surname in the country.  Even without the numbers, the surname’s popularity is evident on the map:

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Germany.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed January 16, 2010.

In Austria, the name was the 15th most common surname, and most Fischer’s live in the Wien area.

Distribution of the surname FISCHER in Austria.

SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed January 16, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – There are many, many famous people with this surname including American chess champion Bobby Fischer, American actress Jenna Fischer, and German historian Fritz Fischer.  Wikipedia has a list of all the famous people with the Fischer surname.

My Family -My FISCHER family comes from Bavaria, and it is the surname of my great-great-grandmother, Margarethe Fischer.  My line of descent is as follows: Wolfgang Fischer (1775-1820) > Franz Xaver (b. 06 Oct 1813 in Agelsberg – d. unknown) > Margarethe (b. 21 Jan 1845 in Langenbruck – d. 04 Oct 1895 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm).

Margarethe married Karl Echerer on 18 May 1874 after her first husband, Bartholomew Kufer, died.  Their first child was Maria, born on 27 February 1875 – my great-grandmother.  Maria married Joseph Bergmeister in 1897 and they immigrated to the United States.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page.  Maria’s youngest child, my grandmother, was named Margaret – presumably after her mother’s mother.  Margarethe and Karl had at least three other daughters, Magdalena, Teresia, and Christina, but I have not yet discovered if they lived to adulthood.  They also had at least one son, Karl, who was born on 28 June 1878.

My Research Challenges -My Fischer line is short so far.  The towns of Agelsberg and Langenbruck are very small, and the church is located in a town called Fahlenbach.  The LDS has microfilmed church records for this town going back to 1732, so I should be able to learn the names of the parents of Wolfgang Fischer.

Other Fischer Families -With a name as common as Fischer, there are a lot of other people researching Fischer’s!  There is a Fischer Family Genealogy Forum as well as an Ancestry Fischer Message Board. Fishergenealogy.com has a list of those researching both the Fischer and Fisher surnames.

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

This post is #6 of an ongoing series about surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Surname - ZAWODNY

Meaning/Origin – The name ZAWODNY (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word zawodny, meaning “unreliable” or “deceptive”.  The root zawod- comes from the word zawieść, which means to disappoint or deceive. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman and the University of Pittsburgh Online Polish-English Dictionary.)

Countries of Origin – The surname ZAWODNY is Polish.

Spelling Variations -  Other names derived from the same root include ZAWODNIAK, ZAWODNIK, or ZAWODZIŃSKI. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)  in the U.S., the name can be mis-spelled as ZAVODNY because of the way it is pronounced in Polish. The feminine version of the surname is ZAWODNA.

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland. There are only about 500 people with the surname ZAWODNY spread out over 67 different counties and cities.  My immigrant ancestor with this name came from the area just to the right of the upper red concentration.

Distribution of the ZAWODNY surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/zawodny.html, accessed January 8, 2010.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Janusz Zawodny (b. 1921) is an author and historian.  He found in the Polish Army during World War 2 and is well known for his books Death in the Forest: The Story of the Katyn Forest Massacre and Nothing But Honor: The Story of the Warsaw Uprising, 1944.

My Family – My Zawodny family comes from the town of Dobrosołowo, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Szymon Zawodny, likely born around 1820 and deceased by his son’s marriage in 1875.  He married Katarzyna Ratajewska.  My line of descent is as follows: Wawrzyniec (b. 1853 – d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo) > Józef (b. 29 Jan 1880, Komorowo – d. 09 Jun 1944, Philadelphia, PA, USA) > daughter Marianna (b. 02 Aug 1907 – d. 30 Apr 1986 Philadelphia, PA).  Marianna, my grandmother “Mae”, had several sisters and two brothers to carry on the family name.  One brother changed the surname though – see my biography of Joseph Zawodny for more information.  From the brother who did not change his name, there are male descendants today.  My great-grandfather Joseph also had a brother, Stefan or Steve, who was born in 1882 and immigrated in 1903.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research. Although I have death records for Wawrzyniec Zawodny and his wife Katarzyna (Marianska) and their marriage record, I do not have birth records for either.  I only have their parents names from the marriage certificate.  Also, I need to find more information on my great-grandfather’s brother Stefan since he “disappears” after his arrival to the U.S.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a very inactive message board.  There are some other Zawodny families in the U.S. in Ohio, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Links to other posts about my Zawodny family can be found here.

This post is #5 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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Surname - PLUTA

Meaning/Origin – The name PLUTA (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the Polish word pluć, meaning “to spit”.  Pluta means “spitter” or bad weather!  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Countries of Origin - The surname PLUTA is Polish. According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at 385 per million. Germany is next at almost 15 per million, with Canada at 8 and the United States at 6.75.

Spelling Variations - PLUTA is the most common variation of the name, but other names derived from the same root include PLUCIK, PLUCIŃSKI, PLUTECKI, PLUTOWSKI, AND PLUWAK.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Surname Maps – The following map illustrates the frequency of the PLUTA surname in Poland.  There are about 15,258 people with the surname PLUTA spread out over 320 different counties and cities.  The greatest concentration are in the city of Warsaw (Warszawa) with over 400 residents.

Pluta Poland Map

Distribution of the PLUTA surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/pluta.html, accessed November 14, 2009.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Wilhelm Pluta (1910-1986) was a bishop in Poland who is now a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic church.

My Family – This is the surname of my great-great-grandmother.  My Pluta family comes from the town of Mszczonów, Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Ludwik Pluta, born around 1790-1800 and deceased by his son’s marriage in 1842.  He married Helena Redłowska.  My line of descent is as follows: Ignacy (b. 1821) > Ludwik (b. 26 Aug 1843 – d. by 1885) > daughter Antonina Rozalia (b. 11 Jun 1863, Mszczonów – d. 12 Dec 1938, Philadelphia, PA, USA).  Antonina had at least one brother to carry on the family name, Jan Pluta.  He was living in Żyrardów at the time of his mother’s immigration to the US in 1909.

Antonina Pluta married Józef Pater in August 1885.  They immigrated to the U.S. with their seven children from 1905-1907.  More information is found on the Pater Family Page.

My Research Challenges -I need to continue my research.  On a trip to Poland, the priest at the church in Mszczonów was unable to find the baptismal record of Ignacy in 1821, which is the presumed year based on his marriage record from 1842.  The Family History Library has microfilmed church records for this town from 1808 to 1877, so I need to take a closer look myself.  The records are not early enough to find Ignacy’s father’s (Ludwik) birth, but I may be able to find the marriage record for Ludwik and Helena Pluta.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Pluta message board here.

Links to other posts about my Pluta family can be found here.

This post is #4 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Łódź Gdańsk Kraków Wrocław Częstochowa Poznań

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

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

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Here are two photographs of World War I veterans.  Both gentlemen married my great-grandmother’s sisters (surname: Slesinski).  The photos contained no identifying information; however, I have identified these men based on labeled photographs taken around 1930 which were featured in a previous post, The Slesinski Sisters: Part 3 – Research Confirmed.

Adolph Majewski

Adolph Majewski

John Smilovicz

John Smilovicz

I thank them for their service to this country, as well as all veterans and military members currently serving in harm’s way.  Thank you!

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In August, Randy Seaver created an informative Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) challenge to name our sixteen great-great grandparents, provide their pertinent dates and locations, and calculate one’s ethnic background.  My response to his challenge was a post called Sweet Sixteen: My Great-Great Grandparents. But I couldn’t name all sixteen.  In my post, I lamented the fact that certain branches on my family tree were little more than twigs.  In particular, my patrilineal line had three unknowns and a maybe.

Today, I know their names.

Thanks to my Piontkowski (Piątkowski) great-grandparents’ marriage record, I can add names to the first four slots of my Sweet Sixteen list, making it much, much sweeter.  They are:

  1. Stanisław Piątkowski (ahnentafel#16)
  2. Apolonia Konopka (ahnentafel#17)
  3. Jan Kiziewieter (possibly misspelled on the record; later known as Kizoweter) (ahnentafel#18)
  4. Marianna Ostał (ahnentafel#19)

More to come on the record itself and its details once I get a copy.  Many thanks to Zenon Znamirowski of Polish Origins for finding this for me!  (You’ll also be hearing more about Polish Origins™ soon when I have a special interview with Zenon – stay tuned!)

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Slesin, PolandSurname – SLESINSKI or ŚLESIŃSKI

Meaning/Origin – The name SLESINSKI or ŚLESIŃSKI (hear it pronounced in Polish) is derived from the place name Ślesin, a town in central Poland near Konin founded in 1231.  The suffix -ski is usually added to a person or place name to indicate a relationship such as “son of” or “from”.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Countries of Origin – The surnames of SLESINSKI and ŚLESIŃSKI are Polish. According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at 11.73 per million.  The United States comes in a distant second at 1.48.   The results are the same for either spelling.

Spelling Variations - The main Polish spelling of this name is ŚLESIŃSKI; however, because of the unique characters it is often written as SLESINSKI.  Other variations include ŚLESZYŃSKI and ŚZLESZYŃSKI.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the ŚLESIŃSKI and SLESINSKI surnames in Poland.  According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/slesinski.html, there are about 363 people with the surname Slesinski in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in New York state.  The Polish surname map shows only 400 people with the surname ŚLESIŃSKI spread out over 78 different counties and cities.  The greatest concentration are in Grodzisk Mazowiecki with 40 residents.

Distribution of the Ślesiński surname in Poland.

Distribution of the Ślesiński surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/%25C5%259Blesi%25C5%2584ski.html, accessed October 23, 2009.

For a very different map, I entered the American spelling without the Polish letters  – SLESINSKI.  Only two people in Poland use that spelling!

Distribution of the Slesinski surname in Poland.

Distribution of the Slesinski surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/slesinski.html, accessed October 23, 2009.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – I could not find any famous folks, but there is the Kanał Ślesiński, a water channel in Poland that connects the Warta River with Lake Golplana.

My Family – This is the surname of my great-grandmother (my mother’s mother’s mother).  My Ślesiński family comes from Poland. My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Maciej Ślesiński, born around 1800 likely in Ślesin, Poland.  My line of descent is as follows: Józef (b. 1821, Ślesin) > Wincenty (b. 1851, Wilczyn) > daughter Wacława (b. 29 Aug 1880, Wilczyn).

Wincenty did have at least one son to carry on the surname, Feliks, who was born on 24 Dec 1885.  I am not sure if Feliks survived to adulthood.  Wacława Ślesińska married Józef Zawodny in 1902 and immigrated to the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA) the same year.  Wacława’s four sisters also immigrated to the U.S. after their father’s death on 01 Jan 1919 and settled in McKeesport, PA.

My Research Challenges – Wincenty Ślesiński died in Dobrosołowo, near Wilczyn, two days after his wife died.  His wife, Stanisława Drogowska, was about 58 years old.  Wincenty was about 68 years old.  If Poland had obituaries during this time period in a town as small as Dobrosołowo, I would like to learn more about the circumstances of their deaths.  At this time, World War I was raging and their town, in the Russian Empire until Poland returned to Europe’s map, was extremely close to the German border.

It is interesting that my earliest ancestors with this name were recorded as having been from the town of Ślesin.  There are still microfilmed records available to allow me to pursue research on this line when I have the time.

Other Ślesiński Families – One site I would like to highlight is not about genealogical research, but it is about family.  Lori Ann Slesinski was 24 years old when she went missing in June, 2006, from Auburn, Alabama.  Please take a look at this site and contact the authorities listed if you have any information.

Surname Message Boards – None – please leave a comment if you find any.

Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Slesinski is S425 and the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex Code is 484645.  There are 159 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Pater (as far as I know, none are related to me – the Slesinski sisters all married and no longer used their maiden names).

Links to other posts about my Slesinski family can be found here.

This post is #3 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Surname – ECHERER

    Meaning/Origin – I have not found a definitive answer on the origin of the ECHERER name, but it may be related to ECKER or EGGER.  According to the Dictionary of German Names, Second Edition by Hans Bahlow, these names are found frequently near Munich and they mean “from the dwelling place on the corner (uff der Egg)”.  The name may also be derived from the place name Eger or Egerer.

    Countries of Origin – The surname Echerer is German.  According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are Austria with only 2.58 individuals per million, and Germany with .82.  It is not a very common name. The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are the United States (.13) and Spain (.1).

    Spelling Variations - As noted above, the “CH” is often noted as “GG” or “CK”. In my own family, in the earlier records the name was spelled EGER, EGGER, or EGGERER and stabilized as ECHERER in the 1700s.  My grandmother’s sister thought her mother’s name was ECKERT based on the pronunciation, and she adopted that variation as her surname.

    Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the ECHERER surname in Austria and Germany. According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/echerer.html, there are about 50 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in South Carolina.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Austria.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Austria.

    SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed October 11, 2009.

    In Austria, the name was found in three different counties.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Germany.

    Distribution of the ECHERER surname in Germany.

    SOURCE: Geogen Surname Mapping database, http://christoph.stoepel.net/geogen/en/Default.aspx, accessed October 11, 2009.

    In Germany, there are about 56 people in seven different counties, all located in close proximity in Bavaria.  The highlighted district to the far right is Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, the town from which my Echerer family came.  A heavier concentration of Echerer’s is just to the left in Landkreis Aichach-Friedberg.

    Famous Individuals with the SurnameMercedes Echerer (b. 16 May 1963) is an Austrian actress and politician.  Wikipedia has a list of several famous people with the EGGER surname, a variation of ECHERER.

    My Family – My Echerer family comes from Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in Bavaria, and it is the surname of my great-grandmother, Maria Echerer Bergmeister.  Her family history goes back for generations in the town of Pfaffenhofen.  In fact, I have not yet completed the research.  The church records begin in the 1500’s, and I am certain that I can continue to trace the family to the earliest history of the town.

    My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Leonard EGERER, a shoemaker born in the 1630’s (the spelling transitions to ECHERER in the late 1700s). My line of descent is as follows (all born and died in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm): Leonard (b. 1677) > Bernhard (1721-1778) >Ignaz (1763-?) >Ignaz (1803-1874) > Karl (1846-post 1882) > Maria (1875-1919).  Maria married Joseph Bergmeister in 1897 and they immigrated to the United States.  More information on their children can be found on the Bergmeister Family Page.  Maria had at least one brother who was named Karl after his father.  Karl was born on 28 June 1878.

    My Research Challenges -My Echerer line has been one of the easiest to trace back so far, and one of the few that reaches back to the 1600s.  My challenges are 1) to continue with the research until the records end, 2) discover what happened to my great-grandmother’s brother, Karl (do his descendants still live in Pfaffenhofen?), and 3) attempt to “connect” the various Echerer families to one common ancestor (see Other Echerer Families below).

    The surname Echerer as written in German "Sütterlin" script.

    The surname Echerer as written in German "Sütterlin" script.

    To see your surname in Sütterlin script, go to Write Your Name in Suetterlin. This script was mostly used in the 20th Century, but it shows the difficulty of researching in foreign records.

    Other Echerer Families – As you can see from the maps, the name is very uncommon.  Therefore, we all must be related, right?  One possible “cousin” (at least that’s what we call each other) is the Echerer family currently located in South Carolina.  Scott Echerer has done an excellent job of documenting the various Echerer branches in the United States on his page USA Echerer Family Tree.  Scott’s ancestors immigrated to the U.S. in 1930 from Neukirchen, a town in Bavaria close to Pfaffenhofen. I have not yet taken the time to research the Neukirchen Echerer’s to see if there is any connection to the Pfaffenhofen family back in time.  Scott still has cousins in Bavaria from this line.  Scott also documents another U.S. Echerer family descended from Anton Echerer from Bohemia.

    In addition, there is the Echerer Family website run by Michael Echerer from Munich.

    Surname Message Boards – None, but there is an Egerer board.

    Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Echerer is E266.  There are 6 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Echerer (none are related to me).

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

    This post is #2 of an ongoing series about surnames. To see all posts in the series, click here.

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    Surname – PATER

    Meaning/Origin – The name PATER comes from the Latin pater, meaning “father”.  In English, it is pronounced PAY-ter or PAH-ter.  Hear it pronounced by a Polish speaker here.

    Countries of Origin – The surname Pater can be found in several countries.  According to the World Names Profiler, the countries with the highest frequency per million residents are the Netherlands, with 176, and Poland with 115.  The next highest countries (and their respective frequency per million) are Luxembourg (43), France (8), Belgium (7), Canada (6), United States (6), and Germany (5).  Although Great Britain is not currently listed with a high frequency, in past centuries Pater was also considered to be a British name.

    Spelling Variations - The spelling does not vary in the Netherlands, but in Poland you will find a few variations, including Patera, Paterak, Paterała, Paterek, Paterkiewicz, and Paterski. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

    Surname Maps – The following maps illustrate the frequency of the PATER surname in the Netherlands and Poland.  According to http://www.dynastree.com/maps/detail/pater.html, there are about 1,500 people with the surname in the United States, with the heaviest concentration in Pennsylvania.

    Distribution of the surname Pater in the Netherlands.

    Distribution of the surname Pater in the Netherlands.

    SOURCE: familienaam.nl database, http://www.familienaam.nl/, accessed October 10, 2009.

    Distribution of the Pater surname in Poland.

    Distribution of the Pater surname in Poland.

    SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/pater.html, accessed October 10, 2009.

    Famous Individuals with the SurnameWalter Horatio Pater (4 August 1839 – 30 July 1894) was an English writer and art critic (see some of his works here at Project Gutenberg).  Jean-Baptiste Pater (29 December 1695 – 25 July 1736) was a French painter.

    My Family – My Pater family comes from Poland.  My earliest ancestor so far with this name is Hilary Pater, born between 1800-1814 in Poland.  My line of descent is as follows: Jan (b. 1834, Kamieńskie Budy) > Jozef Pater (b. 21 Sep 1864, Ruda Guzowska, which later became Żyrardów) > Ludwik (Louis) (b. 24 Aug 1893, Żyrardów) > Henry (b. 25 Mar 1912, Philadelphia).  Jozef and his family immigrated to the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA) from 1905 to 1907.

    A female Pater (daughter of Jozef) may have settled in New Jersey or New York with her husband and family.  The family is rumored to have cousins in Chicago as well (possibly owners of a movie theater in the 1940’s).

    Based on information in the IGI, my great-grandfather’s cousins remained in Żyrardów – Jozef (son of Marcin, brother of my Jozef) died in 1942 at the age of 45, and his son Bronislaw died in 1943 at the age of 22.  I can only assume they died as a result of the war, but more research is needed about their lives and deaths.

    My Research Challenges – I need to find evidence of Hilary’s birth, marriage, and death in Polish records.  He was named on his son’s marriage record, but I have not yet located his own records.  I would like to trace the name as far back as possible to determine if the family immigrated to Poland from somewhere else.  In addition, I would like to track down the descendants of my grandfather’s (Henry’s) brothers, Walter Pater and Eugene Pater (Walter used the alias Walter Miller) and fill in some missing information about my great-grandfather’s sisters and their families.

    Other Pater Families – The Family Organisation Pater in the Netherlands is led by Bram Pater.  They have researched over 30,000 names in seven different Pater lines – including some in Poland (though not my own branch).  If you can read Dutch, check it out!

    Surname Message Boards – There is a rather inactive message board on Ancestry here.

    Miscellaneous - The American Soundex code for Pater is P360 and the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex Code is 739000.  There are 386 individuals in the U.S. Social Security Death Index with the surname Pater (four are related to me – Elizabeth, Henry, Mae, and Eugene).

    Links to other posts about my Pater family can be found here. I also have a Pater Family page with photos and more information on my particular Pater line.

    This post is #1 of an ongoing series about surnames.

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    The Millers’ Tale: Part Three

    The previous posts have discussed two other Miller families.  Part One focused on the Miller family related to Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia Miller Mach.  Part Two was about my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller and her brother, Emil Miller, and his family.  But there is yet another Miller family with a “connection” of sorts to my family.

    To add to my Miller confusion, in 1910 Elizabeth Miller (she would not marry Louis Pater for a few more months) is also living on Palethorp Street at #2543.  She is listed as a border with another family named Miller – Otto, age 32, wife Stella, 28, and their children Victor, 4, and Jennie, 7.  All are Polish and born in Russia.  Also living there as a border is Olga Olchak, who will serve as a witness with Emil Miller to Elizabeth’s marriage to Louis Pater. So who is Otto?

    In trying to research Otto, I have concluded that the name is incorrect in the 1910 enumeration.  I believe he is actually Adolph Miller (the German “Adi” could sound like “Otto”) and daughter Jennie is actually “Hennie,” short for Henrietta.  These names and ages match up with the Adolph Miller family in the 1920 and 1930 census.  Although the family lives in the same neighborhood and their names and ages match the family that Elizabeth lived with in 1910, I have no proof that this is the same family.  I have not been able to locate their arrival records to see who their relative in the US was.  But, I did uncover one other interesting fact that might link them to the other Millers – according to Adolph’s draft registration, he was born on 24 October 1877 in Żyrardów.

    What is the result of this research besides additional questions? My “conclusion” sounds like the ending to an old-time radio serial – Is Sophia Mach a cousin of the Pater’s?  Is Emil Miller the brother of Elizabeth?  Are they siblings of Sophia Mach?  Is Elizabeth a cousin to her own husband or his parents?  Are any of the three Miller families related to each other? Stay tuned next week for more of The Millers’ Tale!

    We have the Miller’s associated with Mr. Mach – his wife, Sophia (b. 1871) as well as her brothers John (b. 1881) and Carl/Charles (b. 1875) and possibly their mother, Kathalina/Karolina (b. 1845).  There are also two Miller wives – Maria (b. 1876) and Magdalena (b. 1877).  Magdalena was married to Carl and is buried with the Mach’s.

    Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach - friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?
    Here are two men named Karl Mueller coming to the US courtesy of Carl Mach – friend, cousin, or brother-in-law?

    Next are my Miller siblings, Elizabeth and Emil. Elizabeth (b. 1891) married Louis Pater in 1910 and had five sons in Philadelphia: Henry (1912), Walter (1913), Louis (1916), Victor (1919), and Eugene (1920).  Emil (b. 1881) married Sophia (b. 1885) and had at least three children: Sophia (1905), Edward (1907), and Helen (1909).  Apparently only Edward and his mother died in the United States while the others returned to Poland. Sophia may have had a sister, Anna Trepke (b. 1890), who only stayed in the US for a few months.

    Adolph, or Otto, Miller is the third Miller family whose only connection to the above two families are the same home town, living on the same street, and renting a room to Elizabeth Miller.  Adolph (b. 1877) married Stella (b. 1882) and had at least two children: Henrietta (1903) and Victor (1906).

    Three Miller families, two towns (Żyrardów – Philadelphia), and one street – the 2500 block of Palethorp Street.  Miller may be a common name, but it would be a significant coincidence if there is no family connection among these families.  Only more research will prove it!  Searching for a common surname has proven to be challenging, but with a little persistence you can slowly peel back the layers of history and the mystery that surrounds family history.  Or in this case – the family history of three families.

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    The Millers’ Tale: Part Two

    The last post, Part One, detailed the Miller family associated with Carl Mach and his wife, Sophia.  In this post, I will detail my own Miller family – and their connections to Mach and his family.

    My great-grandmother, Elżbieta or Elizabeth Miller, was born on 19 November 1890 – presumably in Żyrardów although the actual record has not yet been found.  She immigrated to the U.S. on 16 April 1909 aboard the SS President Grant sailing from Hamburg to New York.  The passenger arrival record indicates that she is meeting her brother, Emil Miller, who lives on 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.

    eliz_nameBefore doing any actual research, I had been told some basic facts about Elizabeth and her family.  I knew that she had a brother, name unknown, with a wife, Sophie, and 3-4 children, some born in Philadelphia.  Before WWI, the brother’s family returned to Poland and was not able to come when World War I began.  Her brother died there, as well as one of his daughters.  After the war was over, Sophie eventually returned to the US (she was called Aunt Miller by her nephew, my grandfather).  Their son also returned – Edward, who was born here.  Another daughter – or possibly two daughters – remained in Poland, married, and had children – Andre and Wanda.  Edward was married to Bella, and possibly moved to Chicago.  Elizabeth had a “large family” with brothers in New York.  Sure, let’s search for some Miller boys in New York City – that ought to be easy!  But I was later amazed to verify at least some of this information.

    I knew that Emil was here before his sister Elizabeth, and I found a passenger arrival record showing Emil arriving on 13 July 1905 in New York, sailing on the SS Pennsylvania from Hamburg.  Much to my surprise, the relative he is going to is none other than Mr. Carl Mach, who is listed as his brother-in-law and lives at 2518 or 2519 N. Palethorp Street.  While this seems to imply that Emil is the brother of Sophia Miller Mach (and therefore Elizabeth is her sister), my research only had more questions – the biggest of which involves the name of their mother.

    Emil lists himself as Carl’s brother-in-law; however, if Kathalina is really Sophia’s mother, then, at least according to the 1910 census, she has four children still living.  If Sophia, Charles, and John are her children, that leaves room for only one other…and if Emil and Elizabeth are brother and sister, then the math doesn’t quite work out.  Plus, according to Elizabeth in various records including her social security application, her mother’s name is Elizabeth, not Kathalina or Karolina, and her father is John, not Carl.  I would argue that they may be half siblings with different mothers, but Elizabeth is younger than the others and Kathalina/Karolina, presumably the first wife, is still alive.  Instead, I think Elizabeth and Emil are related to the other Miller’s, but as cousins or aunts/uncles.

    First, is this Emil on the arrival record Elizabeth’s brother?  Based on age, location, and destination, it is likely.  Elizabeth’s brother Emil is listed on both her arrival record in 1909 and on her marriage record in 1910 as a witness.  While I have no record that lists Emil’s parents’ names, Elizabeth’s SS application lists her father as John Miller and her mother as Elizabeth Smetana.  This is confirmed on her marriage record as well.  Her 1909 arrival record verifies that her father, Jan (or John), is still alive and living in Żyrardów.

    Sophie Miller Mach’s records show a father’s name of Carl Miller and a mother named Katharina (per 1910 census – though difficult to read) or Karolina (per her death certificate, filled out by her husband).  So, how is Emil the brother of Sophie Mach?

    In 1905, Emil’s wife and daughter, both named Sophia, arrive in the US.  The elder Sophia is 20 years old, last residence Warsaw (the closest large city to Żyrardów), and is joining her husband Emil Miller at 2518 Palethorp Street.  The daughter Sophia is 11 months old.  Note that this is the address where the Mach family is living at this time.

    On the 1910 census, Emil and Sophia are living at 2512 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  In addition to Sophia, who is now 5 years old, they have two children born in Pennsylvania: Edward, age 3, and Helena, age 1 and 3 months.  Living with the family are two boarders, Joseph Swoboda and A. Witkowski.  Joseph Swoboda is Carl Mach’s brother-in-law, which shows yet another connection to the Mach family, who is living only three doors away on Palethorp Street at #2518.

    I also found a passenger arrival record listing Emil Miller on Palethorp Street as a “brother-in-law” – but I had never heard of this individual!  Anna Trepke, age 20, arrived in Philadelphia aboard the SS Merion on 11 May 1910.  Her last residence was Żyrardów.  She is listed as single – if this is accurate, she may be Sophia Miller’s sister.  If she was the wife of Emil’s brother, her last name would be Miller.  Interestingly, Anna does not stay in the United States very long.  I found her on a list of incoming passengers to the U.K. later that year.

    But Anna was not the only person to return to the home country. While the US did not retain outgoing passenger lists to track immigrants returning to the home country, I was actually able to confirm the family story that Emil and his family returned to Poland using records from the Russian Consular Office in Philadelphia.  These records, available through the National Archives and Records Administration, show an application for passport or visa in Russian for Emil Muller and his family.  While the date is not specific, they are filed in 1910 – presumably after Elizabeth’s marriage on 25 August.  Why did Emil return to Żyrardów?  My theory is that perhaps his father or other family member either died or was dying, but I have not been able to confirm this.  It is noted that Carl and Sophie Mach also return to Żyrardów – was it for the same reason?

    I searched for the return records.  There is an arrival for Edward A. Miller returning to New York on 30 May 1927.  Is this the son of Emil and Sophia?  The list specifically names him as “Edward Arthur Miller” with a birth date of 09 February 1907 in Philadelphia; Edward was born in February 1907, but I do not have a record of Arthur as a middle name (I have not looked up his birth or baptismal record).  Even so, this Edward Miller lists 2958 Lawrence Avenue in Philadelphia as his destination – the same address as the Mach family!

    On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947.  With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

    On the left is Sophia Miller, known as "Aunt Miller", around 1947. With her are Elizabeth Miller's husband, Louis Pater, and Mae Zawodna, the wife of their son Henry.

    Sophia Miller, age 44 and widowed, returns from Żyrardów on 14 August 1929.  Her destination was to her son Edward on the 2500 block of Hope Street.  Remember Joseph Pater and how this story all began?  This is his house.  The only relationship between them, at least that I can figure out, is that Sophia and Edward are the sister-in-law and nephew of his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  This seems to corroborate the family story as told by my grandfather that Sophia’s husband and two children, including one that was born in the U.S., did not return here.

    As far as the rest of the story about this family moving to Chicago, I did find a death record for Sophie Miller in December, 1962.  I have not yet found more information on her son Edward or the family that stayed behind in Poland.

    The final post in The Millers’ Tale, Part Three, will discuss yet another Miller family and come to some conclusions.

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    The Millers’ Tale: Part One

    Miller graphicSearching a common surname like Miller is challenging, but even more so because this particular surname is common not in one or two countries, but in many from Ireland and Great Britain and crossing throughout Europe to Russia, German, Poland, Hungary, and more.  In the U.S., there are even a mix of races that bear the name.  So where does one begin?  I started with the few facts I knew and tried to piece together “the rest of the story” through genealogical records.  This is the story of the Miller family from Poland – three Miller families, to be exact.  Are they related, or are they simply neighbors who shared a common surname?

    The mystery began while researching my 2nd great-grandfather’s immigration record – but he is not a Miller!  Józef Pater, from Żyrardów, Poland, came to the US on 18 February 1905 on the SS Graf Waldersee sailing from Hamburg to New York.  On his passenger arrival record, the person there to meet him was listed as “cousin, Carl Mach, Phila. Pa. Palethorp 2518.”

    The word “cousin” did not always mean a direct blood relationship – it could also be synonymous with friend or neighbor, especially if the new immigrant thought he needed family to be “let in” the new country.  But, it could also mean an actual cousin relationship – either between those two men, their wives, or some combination of each.  Thus began some extensive research on someone that I was not even sure I was related to in order to determine if a familial relationship did exist.  I was curious about who this man was and how he knew my ancestor.  If he was related, it’s best to leave no clue un-researched – you’ll never know what you might find out unless you try.

    Further research about the mysterious Mr. Mach has shown no proof of any familial relationship to Józef (Joseph) Pater, his parents, or his wife, Antonina Pluta Pater.  In fact, according to census and other records, Carl is ethnically German while the Pater family is Polish.  However, Carl’s wife, Sofia, was Polish.  Because her mother and brothers were living with the Mach’s for the 1910 census, I was able to learn her maiden name – Miller.  This definitely caught my attention – while Miller is not a family surname for either Józef Pater or his wife, it would become a family name of sorts for their grandchildren when their son, Ludwig (Louis) Pater, married Elżbieta (Elizabeth) Miller several months after the 1910 census enumeration.  Is it possible that the two families, or my two great-grandparents, were distantly related as cousins?

    Now there were two Miller families – the Miller’s related to Carl Mach as well as Elizabeth Miller and her family, a brother.  To add to the confusion, for the 1910 census Elizabeth is living with yet another Miller family although she is not listed as a relative.  Further research into each of these families shows that they are all from Żyrardów.  They are also all living on the same street in Philadelphia.  But are they all related?  After all, Miller is a very common surname.  But is it common enough for there to be so many families in such close proximity that are not related?

    As a spelling note, the various records I have used in researching these families show two spellings for the surname, Miller and Müller.  These two spellings are used interchangeably for many of the individuals in these posts from all of the families.  For the sake of simplicity, I will only use the spelling “Miller”.  Mach is occasionally spelled as Mack.  The following first names are also interchangeable depending upon the record – the first one shown, the anglicized version, will be used throughout these posts: Carl-Karl, Carolina-Karolina, Sophia-Sophie-Zofia, John-Jan, Elizabeth-Elżbieta, Louis-Ludwig, Joseph-Józef.

    The Miller’s and Mach’s

    The first family to investigate was Carl Mach and his Miller in-laws.  I was able to find quite a bit of information about Carl in records that are readily available.  Carl Mach was born on 24 September 1871 in Friedrichsgratz, Germany, the son of John and Caroline Mach.  This town is now Grodziec, Poland, located near the current border of Austria and the Czech Republic.  Although this is only the birthplace of Carl and not, as far as I can determine, the birthplace of any of my direct Miller ancestors, this town’s history adds credence to some of the unconfirmed stories about my great-grandmother.  The town was founded by Protestant Czech immigrants, called the Bohemian Brethren, who were fleeing religious persecution in the mid 18th century.  The town, then in Prussia, was called Bedrichuv Hradec.  In German it was called Friedrichsgratz in honor of Prussia’s Frederick II, who was trying to re-settle the area after the devastation of the Silesian wars between Austria and Prussia.  The Czech Hradec became Grodziec in Polish.  The mix of Czech, German, and Polish settlers were weavers, and many later moved to the larger towns of Łódż and Żyrardów, both of which were places of residence for my Miller families.

    Żyrardów is listed as Carl Mach’s last residence in Poland on both his passenger arrival records and on his naturalization record.  He likely married Sophia Miller around 1895, possibly in Żyrardów.  Sophia was born on 27 February 1872 to Carl Miller and Carolina Bornof.  On 18 April 1903, the couple immigrated to the United States aboard the SS Pretoria sailing from Copenhagen to New York.  The relative they are meeting is Carl’s cousin, “J. Helmansh” at 2326 Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  I have been unable to find more information about this individual.

    By 1910 the couple is living on 2518 N. Palethorp Street in Philadelphia.  Several Miller relatives begin to immigrate, all declaring Carl Mach as their brother-in-law on their passenger arrival records.

    First was John Miller who arrived on 22 November 1906.  He was 22 years old and from Warsaw, but the list indicated that he had lived in London for the last 3 years.  He was going to his brother-in-law, Carl Mach, on 2518 Palethorp Street.

    On 27 October 1907, two married women arrive in Philadelphia – 31-year-old Maria Miller and 30-year-old Magdalena Miller.  The passenger arrival record is a bit confusing as to the relationship – they are listed as both the cousin and sister of each other.  The relative they are going to is Maria’s husband c/o K. Mach at 2518 Palethorp.  The list indicates that they were met “by cousins, same name, here 4 months.”

    1910 Mach excerptIn the 1910 Census, Carl Mach is listed as the head of the household at 2518 N. Palethorp.  In addition to wife Sophia, Kathalina (or Karolina) Miller, age 65, is listed as Carl’s mother-in-law.  Two brothers-in-law are also residing with them: Carl Miller, age 35, and John Miller, age 29.  Both brothers are listed as single; their presumed mother is listed as a widow.  I attempted to find passenger arrival records for Carl and Kathalina, but I was unsuccessful so far.

    I did find a WWI draft card for John with the right age and address.  It lists his birth date as 24 December 1883.  He is living at 2519 Palethorp with his nearest relative as Charles Miller on 3200 Lee Street.  Is Charles really Carl?  There is a WWI draft registration card for Charles Miller, 3235 N. Lee Street, who was born on 09 September 1875 in Russia.  He is also a weaver and lists his nearest relative as his wife, Mary Miller.  Was Mary the “Maria” on the 1907 passenger list?

    Sometime between 1911 and 1917, Carl and Sophia leave the United States and return to Żyrardów.  The exact year is not clear because the information is crossed out and written over on Carl’s return arrival record.  Carl returns to the United States aboard the SS Mongolia, which arrived in New York on 11 September 1923.  He lists his sister, Karolina Swoboda, as his relative in the U.S.   In 1924, Carl is living at 2519 Palethorp Street.  On 23 April 1924, Carl declared his intention to become a citizen and was living down the street at 2540 N. Palethorp.

    Sophia joins her husband on April 6, 1929, arriving aboard the SS Hellig Olav that sailed to New York from Copenhagen.  I wrote more about Sophia’s return ticket in Bank Records: Another Resource for Tracing Immigrants, which was about an unusual record group in Ancestry’s catalog, the Philadelphia Immigrant Bank records.

    By 1929, the Mach’s were living at 2958 N. Lawrence Street in Philadelphia, about a mile away from their previous home on Palethorp Street.  His naturalization petition was filed in January, 1929 and finalized on April 25, 1929.  They would remain at this address until their deaths.  Sophia died on 07 January 1941, and Carl died the following year on 27 October 1942.  Both are buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Philadelphia.  They did not have any children.  The only relative of Carl himself that I was able to find is his sister, Karolina, who was married to Joseph Swoboda.  When I went to Greenmount Cemetery to visit the grave of Carl and Sophia, I also discovered the fate of one of the Miller “sister-in-laws”.  Although there is no headstone for her, Magdalena Miller is also buried there.  According to her death certificate, she died on April 1, 1910 and was the wife of Carl Miller of 2536 Palethorp Street.

    It is unfortunate that no one ever put the final date on Carl's headstone, giving his life an unfinished appearnace.

    It is unfortunate that no one ever put the final date on Carl's headstone, making his life seem unfinished.

    In Part Two of The Millers’ Tale, I’ll provide the details on my Miller family and try to figure out how or if they are connected to Mr. and Mrs. Mach.

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    SchoolDaysI recently had the pleasure of posting all of my old grade school class pictures on Facebook for my classmates to see. Many said, “You still have those?”  The others decided it was because I was a genealogist, which is better than being called a pack rat.  I never dreamed I’d find any school photos from my grandparents’ days, but my aunt presented me with this gem – my grandfather’s 8th grade class photo in 1923.  It is the Horatio B. Hackett public school in Philadelphia, which is still educating youngsters today.

    Graduating Class of Horatio B. Hackett School, Philadelphia, PA, 1923

    Graduating Class of Horatio B. Hackett School, Philadelphia, PA, 1923

    My grandfather, James Pointkouski, is in the second row from the top, the second boy to the right.  Here is a close-up:

    Pop_age13In this photo he is about a month shy of 13 years old – the  youngest age of any of his photographs.  From what his children said, he loved going to school and did very well.  He would have loved to continue through high school and college, but like many kids in those days he was not able to finish high school because he had to work to help support his parents.

    In June I posted the class photo from his son’s 8th grade graduation in 1948.  If I could find a class photo for my brother’s class in 1973 it would make a nice collection of the patrilineal line at the same age.

    [Submitted for the 16th edition of Smile for the Camera: School Days.]

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