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Archive for the ‘Names & Surnames’ Category

Smile-Work-LGThe word prompt for the 15th edition of the Smile for the Camera carnival is “they WORKED hard for the family.” I rarely post “repeats” here at What’s Past is Prologue.  However, I have to make an exception this time because I have only one photo that is perfect for this carnival, and it is one I have already posted. Other than a photograph at my father at a desk (he was an accountant), this is the only photograph I own of an ancestor at work.  Since it’s such a great photo, I have to show it again:

Grandpop and Truck, 1937

July 18, 1937 - James Pointkouski delivering dairy products to the Silver Lake Inn.

This is my grandfather, James Pointkouski, hard at work as a truck driver/delivery man for Aristocrat Dairy in Philadelphia. For more about his occupation and the truck itself, see the original post from March, 2008, entitled “Got Milk?”

According to his children, Grandpop was a really smart guy who excelled in school.  His dream was to be a draftsman.  That occupation would have required some specialized training and education, but there was not enough money to realize that dream.  Jimmy was the youngest of three children, and his parents were rather old at the time of his birth – his father was 41 years old and his mother was nearly 44!  In 1910, it was very unusual to have a child at those “advanced” ages.  By the time Jimmy was ready to go to high school, his parents needed him to get a job to help the family.  Although both of his parents were deceased by the time my grandfather was 32 years old, it was too late for him to embark on a major career change – especially since he had a family of his own to care for by then.  So it was that Jimmy became a truck driver.  It may not have been his career of choice, but he grew to enjoy it and he took great pride in what he did.

I have another reason for showing off my grandfather’s photo today – today, July 6th, was his birthday!  If he were still alive, he’d be 99 years old.  Unfortunately, he died in February, 1980 at the age of 69.  Happy Birthday, Grandpop, and thanks for working hard for the family!

[Written for the 15th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: They worked hard for the family!]

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This month’s theme for A Festival of Postcards is “Main Street”.  My entry is connected to my family history in a different way than last month’s entry, which featured a card from a grand-uncle sent to my great-grandparents.

München, Germany – Karlstor-Rondell

München, Germany – Karlstor-Rondell

This postcard is from the mid 1990’s, but it shows a vintage photograph of a main street in Munich, Germany.  Unfortunately, the card does not indicate the date of this old photograph.  Judging by the automobiles in the photo, I’d estimate that it was taken between 1900-1920.  This main street is the square known as the Karlsplatz.  Although that has been the square’s official name since 1797, it is often referred to as Stachus after a pub that was torn down due to the construction of the square.  The gate-like structure in the center-rear of the photo is the Karlstor, the gate that remains of the city’s medieval fortification.  If you walk through that gate, you are on a pedestrian-only street that leads directly to the famous Marienplatz, Munich’s central square.  The twin steeples you see in the rear of the photo belong to the Frauenkirche , the Cathedral of Our Blessed Lady.

A friend seeks out my family history while studying in Bavaria.

A friend seeks out my family history while studying in Bavaria.

The postcard reads as follows:

7/2/96

Donna-

Misson accomplished!  I think I’ll send 2 though.  Guess what!  The Goethe Institut isn’t as backward as I thought!  I have e-mail capabilities, so you’ll prob. have heard from me before you receive this postcard!  Gene Kelly is HUGE here; in every music store!  Take care, Rachel   P.S. Goethe Ins. attracts MANY HOT GUYS.  More later…

Rachel was an e-friend; we bonded over our mutual love for Gene Kelly.  She was attending the Goethe Institute to study German, and I told her about my Bergmeister family.  In her free time,  she took the time to  visit my great-grandparents’ home town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, about a half hour north of Munich.  She sent me photographs of the town, which I had just “discovered” as their place of origin, two years before I was able to travel there myself.  But her mission in Munich was to visit the Karlsplatz that is pictured in this postcard – it was the one place in Munich that I knew my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister had probably visited.  I knew this from his military photograph (featured in this post).  The photographer was F.X. Ostermayr with an address on the Karlsplatz.  I knew it was likely that Joseph spent his two years of military service in Munich itself, and he and his family possibly lived there immediately prior to immigrating to the U.S.  However, I had no proof – except that one day back in 1893 he strolled into a photographer’s studio right on Munich’s main street.  There, with his classmates, he had his official military portrait taken.  It is the only surviving photo of him that I have discovered.

As I searched through my boxes of “memories” for this new monthly postcard festival, I knew that this was a winner for the “Main Street” category.  Not only is it a vintage portrait of a main street – one that looks remarkably the same when I finally saw it, but it is also a street on which my ancestor walked.  Perhaps he also stood before the Karlstor and was amazed at how long it had been there and all of the history it had seen.  I wonder if, while he was in Munich, he sent a postcard to his family in Puch and Pfaffenhofen? (Lieber freund, the Infanterie Leib Regiment isn’t as backward as I thought… I doubt he would write about the MANY HOT MÄDCHEN he found there though!)

But this postcard was also special because it reminded me of what postcards are all about – friends connecting and keeping in touch while sharing their travel experiences.  I had never met Rachel before she took this trip to Germany, but we were friends all the same and she took photos of places that she knew meant something to my history.  I did get to meet her when she returned, and it was nice to thank her in person.  I can’t remember when we lost touch, but it would be nice to find her again and catch up.

As a side note, in trying to date the above photograph I found two old public domain photos  (one is actually a postcard) of the same square.  This view is in nearly the same direction as the above postcard:

Karlsplatz in a 1902 photograph.  Reprinted in Hans Dollinger's Die Münchner Straßennamen, München, Ludwig-Verlag, 2004

Karlsplatz in a 1902 photograph. Reprinted in Hans Dollinger's Die Münchner Straßennamen, München, Ludwig-Verlag, 2004

Perhaps my attempt to date the postcard photograph was incorrect – in 1902 only horse carts are parked on the square!  Here is a view in the opposite direction – what you would see as you walked through the Karlstor into the square:

A late 19th Century postcard showing the Karlsplatz facing west.  Estimated date is 1890-1905.

A late 19th Century postcard showing the Karlsplatz facing west. Estimated date is 1890-1905.

This would have been a postcard for sale at the time my great-grandfather was in Munich!  I did make a visit to Munich myself in 1998 and 2006.  While fashions and transportation have changed since that time, many of the buildings remain (or, as in the case of the Frauenkirche, were re-built exactly as before they were destroyed in World War II).  What does the Karlsplatz look like today?  Take a look at this 360° view!

Postcard logofestivalwishyou


[Written for the 2nd edition of A Festival of Postcards: Main Street]

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Class of 1948, St. Peter's Grade School, Philadelphia PA

Class of 1948, St. Peter's Grade School, Philadelphia PA

This is the time of year for graduations!  My niece will graduate 8th grade this week, so in honor of the event I’ve posted this photograph of her grandfather graduating 8th grade in 1948.  James Pointkouski is in the second row from the top, first person on the left.  Also in that row at seventh from the left is Rita Bergmeister, his first cousin. Happy Graduation to all  graduates from the Class of 2009!

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09 March 2010 – Correction!  This couple was mis-identified.  It is not the Tiernan-Zawodny wedding.  It is the wedding of Joseph Bergmeister and Helen Pardus.  For more info on why the identification was wrong, see Why Photographs Should Come with ID Tags.

Wedding Belles

This month’s Smile for the Camera carnival theme is “Wedding Belles”!  Last June for the “Belles and Beaus” theme I submitted a family wedding photo that featured the marriage of my grandmother’s sister – and included my grandmother as the maid of honor.  For this year’s wedding theme,  I have another great wedding photo that features their sister and her husband!

John Tiernan and Helen Zawodna, 1923

John Tiernan and Helen Zawodna, 1923

Helen, the second oldest of the Zawodny children, was the first to get married in 1923.  The wedding took place in Philadelphia, PA, most likely at St. Adalbert’s Church.  Helen was 17 years old and her husband, John Tiernan, was 22.   They would only have one child together, a son they named Thomas after John’s father.  Sadly, young Tommy died as a child.

I would like to continue to post photographs of the weddings of all six children of Joseph and Laura Zawodny, but this and the previously posted photo are the only ones I have (I do not even have my own grandparents’ wedding photo).  One that I am trying to get from cousins would make an interesting companion to the above photo.  In 1934, another Tiernan-Zawodny wedding took place.  This time it was Stanley Zawodny, Helen’s younger brother, and Elizabeth Tiernan, John’s younger sister.  Stay tuned to see if I can get a copy!

[Written for the 14th Edition of Smile for the Camera: Wedding Belles]

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Photo Mystery Solved

galecki-marriageA mystery involving one of the family photos I have posted on this site has been solved!  Oddly enough, it was not one of my Photo Mystery posts, but it can still be considered a mystery of sorts.  Last June I posted the 1925 wedding photo shown to the left for the Smile for the Camera Carnival.  I could identify the bride and groom as my grandmother’s sister, Jane Zawodna, and her husband, Sigmund Galecki.  The maid of honor is my grandmother, Mae Zawodna.  But I didn’t have a clue who the the best man was.  I could have discovered his identity if I had I checked the marriage record itself, but I had no real need for genealogical purposes so he remained a smiling mystery.

Last month, another researcher found my site – the cousins of my Galecki cousins.  Rich and Alice informed me that the best man was Rich’s Uncle Louie!  Louis Galecki was the brother of the groom, Sigmund (Rich’s Uncle Ziggy).  According to census and draft registration records, Louis was born in 1900 and Sigmund in 1903.  It’s nice to know that the attractive couples in the photograph are a pair of sisters and a pair of brothers (little did I know I could have submitted it for the “Brothers and Sisters” theme instead of the “Belles and Beaus” theme)!

I previously posted another photo of my grandmother from this wedding here.  She also saved one other photo from the wedding that includes Louis as well.  She is 18 years old and would not capture the eye of my grandfather, who was five years her junior, for a few more years (they would marry in 1930).  But looking at her expression here I can just imagine why he later gave her the nickname Killer.

Louis Galecki and Mae Zawodna serve as best man and maid of honor at the wedding of their siblings, 1925

Louis Galecki and Mae Zawodna serve as best man and maid of honor at the wedding of their siblings, 1925

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Poster designed by www.footnotemaven.com

Poster designed by http://www.footnotemaven.com

The topic for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is The Good Earth, and we are invited to tell about our ancestors’ ties to the land.  When I first saw the topic, I doubted I’d have much to say.  My immediate ancestors – and myself – are from a very large city, so there are no farmers among us.  Even some of my immigrant ancestors came from large cities like Warsaw or Munich, or from industrialized towns like Żyrardów.  Even those from smaller towns seemed to have occupations that dealt more with crafts, building, or mercantile goods rather than “the earth”.  But, I soon realized that unless you are descended from royalty, you don’t have to go back many generations to find an ancestor who was truly tied to the land in some way.  As I looked through my records, I found farmers on all sides of my family.  Here is their brief story.

In Poland, the cycles and seasons of family life were deeply rooted in the seasons of the earth and the harvest.  Because Poland was a Catholic nation, the harvest and all of the work required for it to happen were also deeply connected to the Church.  Harvesting almost always began on July 25, the feast of St. Jacob and would begin with the celebration of the Mass and special prayers.  Following tradition, the first stalks of grain that were cut were placed in the sign of the cross, and those first stalks were often cut by the farmer’s daughter.

The days of a farmer were long – from first light to sundown.  The day would end with another prayer.  After the harvest was over, the final stalks harvested were also of great importance with one area always left unharvested no matter how small the plot of land.  Great celebrations were held after the harvest was over in thanksgiving, often involving the entire community. Most of the harvesters were not land-owners, but peasants who worked for them.  It is difficult to tell from vital records if the term “farmer” implies that the man owned land or merely worked on another’s. but many farmers worked as day laborers on other’s lands.

Among my Polish ancestors, I have found several farmers or day laborers including my 3rd great-grandfather Józef Ślesiński (c.1821 – 30 Nov 1866), my 2nd great-grandfather Wawrzyniec Zawodny (c.1853 – 13 Dec 1917), and my 4th great-grandfather Karol Zakrzewski (c.1800 – c.1858).

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The Bavarian countryside near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

The agricultural life in Bavaria, Germany, was very similar to Poland in both the religious connection as well as the fact that there were different classes of farmers.  Even after the Protestant Reformation swept through Germany, Bavaria remained devoutly Catholic.  The religious customs related to the harvest are remarkably similar to Poland’s customs and included prayers and festivals.  The harvest was a community event even in large towns where the majority of residents were not involved in agricultural labor.  After all, the farmer’s successful harvest meant that the shoemaker could buy food at the market to feed his family.  Even today Germans take special pride in their farmers.  The photo below is not from Bavaria, but the Tirol section of Austria.  Both regions have similar traditions and celebrate the harvest with parades and traditional costumes.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria.  Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Even the cows in Tirol (and Bavaria) take farming seriously! This is a farmer's parade in Innsbruck, Austria. Photo taken by the author, 1998.

Bavaria had more class distinctions for farmers than in Poland where you were either a land-owner or you worked for someone else.  In Bavaria, the different designations were mainly for tax purposes.  A bauer owned a whole farm, a halbbauer owned half, and a viertelbauer owned a quarter.  Then there was the söldner, who owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  That may sound small, but there is even a lower designation – a poor häusler owned a house, but not the land on which it sat.

I first came across these farmer names when I discovered my 4th great-grandfather, Wolfgang Fischer (1775 – 1820) from the small town of Agelsberg.  In the birth record for his son Franz Xaver, who was born in 1813, Wolfgang’s occupation was listed as söldner.  It was an unfamiliar term, and according to my German dictionary it meant mercenary.  Mercenary?  As in a soldier of fortune, perhaps hired out to neighboring countries?  I quickly discovered the Bavarian meaning of the word in addition to its other definition.  A sölde is a small house with a garden, and as I indicated above a söldner owned either 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 of a farm.  My mercenary was a poor farmer!

Wolfgang is the only farmer I have found in my Bavarian ancestry so far, but there is another family that made a living off of the “good earth” – the Bergmeister family of millers.  As owners of a mill in the town of Puch, the family would have had a higher economic and social standing than the poor famer; however, his entire operation was dependent upon the success of the farmers’ harvest.  The earliest record of the family’s ownership of the mill is around 1700.  Ownership was passed to the oldest son for many generations.  I lost track of who owned the mill in the mid-1800’s because I am  descended from that generation’s second son, but the second and third sons continued in related businesses – one was a flour merchant, the other a baker.

Farming is back-breaking work – work that is often taken for granted today.  In my ancestors’ times it was likely even harder work without the assistance of machinery and motorized tools.  The closest I come to such labor of the earth is mowing my lawn – and though I do use machinery to assist me, I still complain about the manual labor.  Next time, I’ll try to remember all of my farmer and miller ancestors who worked long days tilling the earth and growing food for their lords, families, and neighbors.

 

 

Sources used in this article:

 

Dieter Joos, “A Brief Description of a Typical Southern German Village in Past Centuries”, (Ueberlingen, Germany, 1999).  Available online at http://geisheimer.org/info/germ/village.htm

 

Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, Polish Customs, Traditions, & Folklore, (New York, Hippocrene Books, 1993), 145-157.

John Pinkerton, A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World, (London, 1809), 30-33.  Google Book Search.  Retrieved on May 27, 2009.

[Written for the 73rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Good Earth]

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There’s a new carnival in town – A Festival of Postcards.  This carnival will be a bit more challenging than the others I participate in, because I do not have a large collection of postcards – and very few related to genealogy!  But half the fun is the challenge itself, and I was delighted to find one for the inaugural edition of the festival.  The theme is Wheels.  Here’s a postcard I must have received with some photographs from my great-aunt:

Wallace's Garage in Salem, IL circa 1932; photo by Benke

Wallace's Garage in Salem, IL circa 1932; photo by Benke

This is a nice “vintage” shot of a gas station (was it called “filling station” back then?) called the Wallace Garage in Salem, IL.  If you click on the photo for a close-up view, you will see that the garage is a Texaco station that does general repairs.  They’re an official AAA station, they use Havoline engine oil, and – best of all – a sign in front advertises “modern sleeping rooms.”  It may look a little different than today’s gas stations, especially the cars to the right in the photo.  But, some things never change – just notice the woman trying to get the hose to reach to the other side of her car while the attendant seems to just be standing there watching her fumble with it.

The photographer is noted as “Benke” – apparently this was a Fred A. Benke.  He was called “Salem’s well-known photographer” by this Salem historical site, but I wish he was just a bit more well-known so I could find out more about him!

The reverse of the postcard:

Stanley dropping a line to his parents

Stanley dropping a line to his parents

It is not postmarked in Salem, Illinois but in Odessa, Texas at 7 PM on August 24, 1932.  It was mailed using a 1 cent stamp to Mr. J. Zawodny, 2512 E. Indiana Ave, Phila. Pa.  (same address as the 1930 census).  The note reads: “Well folks were making good time going to Mexico tomorrow.  Stan.”

The recipients of the postcard are my great-grandparents, Joseph and Laura Zawodny (although it’s addressed to Joseph, the note does say “folks”).  My logical assumption is that the  sender is their son, Stanley, who would have been 23 years old at the time.  My first thought was that perhaps this was a road-trip honeymoon; however, Stanley did not get married until 1934 (to Elizabeth Tiernan of Philadelphia, PA, the sister of his brother-in-law John).  I have no idea why Stan was traveling to Mexico in 1923, but hopefully he had a good time!  At least he was a thoughtful son to drop a line to his parents on the journey.

[Written for A Festival of Postcards: Wheels]

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In the Roman Catholic tradition, the month of May is usually the time of “First Communion.”  On Saturdays and Sundays in early May, you can still see processions of children dressed in white as they enter church to receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.  The age for this event varies, but it usually occurs in the second or third grade.  In the past, as you will see in the “vintage” photos below, First Communion occurred in first grade.  In celebration of May and First Communions everywhere, here are some photos of my father’s First Communion Day – May 11, 1941.  Today boys don’t usually wear shorts and knee socks!

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

James A. Pointkouski's First Communion Day, May 11, 1941

There are several photos of the procession of children into the church, St. Peter’s, located at 5th & Girard Avenues (today the church is also the national shrine of St. John Neumann).  In the first photo below, you can see my father as the fourth child from the left in the row closest to the nun.  He appears to have noticed the photographer!  The photo that follows shows him walking out of the photo’s range.  The final photo shows the girls in the procession – and since I’m sure that the rules did not change by the time I made my communion in 1975, the children are likely lined up in alphabetical order.  Therefore, one of those gals is likely my dad’s first cousin, Rita Bergmeister.

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA

Dad_1stComm3

Dad_1stComm4

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Yesterday I celebrated the 100th anniversary of my great-grandmother’s arrival to the U.S.  Unfortunately, I did not include a photo of her, Elizabeth Miller Pater, with the post.  Even though she is the only great-grandparent who was alive during my lifetime, I have only one photo of her.  As you can see below, it is not in the best condition.   She is the little lady in the center of the photograph, seated third from the left.  We have no idea who the other individulas are, though the woman to the right of her resembles Elizabeth’s husband’s sister.

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

Elizabeth Miller Pater (center) and unidentified friends or family at a picnic in 1947.

My mother remembers seeing a beautiful photo of Elizabeth as a young woman, but we do not know what happened to it after Elizabeth’s death in 1972.  That side of my family has been a bit of a mystery, so I’d like to post some names in an attempt to perhaps find some cousins (and cousins with photos would be a bonus!).

Elizabeth Miller married Louis Pater in 1910.  They had five sons: Henry, Walter, Louis, Victor, and Eugene.  All of the sons were born in either Langhorne, PA, or Philadelphia.  Most were involved in the same trade as their parents – working in textile factories in Philadelphia.

Henry, the oldest, was my grandfather.  Two of the sons died young from tuberculosis – Louis in 1940 at the age of 24, and Victor in 1951 at the age of 32.  Neither Louis nor Victor had any children.

Walter was born on 08 July 1913 and died in April 1975.  At some point during his life, he changed his surname (most likely not legally as one would today) from Pater to Miller, his mother’s maiden name.  This is the name under which his death is registered; however, it is not clear if he used Miller for marriage or as the surname for his children.  Walter was married at least three times, possibly to a Jean and two women named Helen.  He has two known children: Barbara Patsy (estimated birth year 1938-1940) and Louis (estimated birth year 1941-1943).

Eugene was born on 19 July 1920 and died in January 1979.  It is not known when he was married or to whom, but he had at least three children: Gloria Jean (estimated birth year 1945), Larry (Lawrence? Laurence?), and Pauline (who was called Polly).  Larry and Polly were younger than Gloria Jean.

Because of the surname change to the more common name of Miller, and because of the female children, I have not had success in tracing these cousins. If there are any Pater or Miller descendents from these individuals, I would love to hear from you!  For more information on the Pater family’s ancestry, as well as a photograph of Louis Pater (the husband of Elizabeth) and their oldest son, Henry, see the Pater Family Page.

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of my great-grandmother, Elżbieta Müller, to the United States.  She soon Americanized her name to Elizabeth Miller, and the following year became Elizabeth Pater after marriage.

The SS President Grant

The SS President Grant

Elizabeth sailed on the SS President Grant, a ship of the Hamburg-American line.  The ship left Hamburg, Germany, on April 3, 1909, and arrived at Ellis Island in New York City on April 16th.  The passenger arrival records for 1909 include a number of details that are not found on earlier records.  From Elizabeth’s arrival record, I learned the following information: She was an 18-year-old Polish dressmaker from “Zieraldow, Russia” who was able to read and write.  Her nearest relative in Poland was her father, Jan Müller, in Zieraldow.  Her destination was Philadelphia, PA to go to her brother, Emil Müller, at 2512 Palethorp Street.  The manifest indicates she was in posession of $4, but then “None” was written over it.  The record provides a physical description of her having light brown hair, gray eyes, and a height of 4’11”.  Her place of birth is indicated as Zieraldow, Russia.

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1 (click for larger image)

Passenger arrival record of Elżbieta Müller, April 16, 1909, page 1. She is on line #22. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

Page #2 of Elżbieta Müller's passenger manifest. (click for larger image)

I take a special delight in her arrival above all other immigrant ancestors, because it is an example of one of my biggest mistakes in my genealogical research.  A name like “Elizabeth Miller” is very common, so her record was rather difficult to find.  There were immigrants that bore that name from Ireland, England, Russia, Poland, Germany, and Hungary.  Many years ago, very early in my genealogical quest, I thought I found her record.  Only to find out years later that I was wrong – and in fact, I had been tracing the incorrect family and birthplace all the while.  I forget exactly what prompted me to take a second look, but I’ll never forget my reaction to finding her actual record that I discuss above…”She’s from Żyrardów?!” I knew that the “Zieraldow” on the record was merely Żyrardów misspelled.  I kept repeating it to myself, smiling at my error.  You see, my first surprise was that my great-grandparents were not a married couple when they “came over”.  I wondered how they managed to marry the year after her arrival when my great-grandfather had been here for a few years as a young teenager.  The answer?  They were from the SAME TOWN – which is how I knew that “Zieraldow” was a misspelling (which I naturally proved through research as any genealogist would).

When I found this record, her real arrival record, there were several facts that confirmed or provided adequate proof that it was the correct person, including her age, father’s name, and brother’s name and address.

eliz_name1I noticed that the manifest had a big “X” next to her line number.  That is a signal that the passenger was detained for some reason, and there may be more information available.  For more information, see A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations. The key to finding  the additional information is to find the manifest (on either microfilm on online records), then scroll to the very end of the records for that ship and date of arrival.  At the end of the “normal” manifest listings, there is a record of detained passengers.  It appears that they detained Elizabeth because she had no money to get to Philadelphia, so she had to telephone her brother for money.  They discharged her from Ellis Island the following day, April 17th.  I wonder what was more stressful – traveling alone to a new country, or being held overnight once she got there?

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant.  Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Record of Detained Aliens on the USS President Grant. Elizabeth's entry is line #248. (Click for larger image.)

Besides my delight with this find after such a long search for the correct record, finding Elizabeth’s arrival was fun for me because she has the distinction among all of my great-grandparents and immigrant ancestors of being the only one that I met.  I don’t remember the event or how many times I actually met her, but my mother tells me that Elizabeth held me on her lap on at least one occasion.  To me, this knowledge gave me a more tangible “link” or connection to my immigrant ancestors.  She became more than a name or a face in a fuzzy photograph – I met her, even if I was too young to remember it.  My great-grandmother died in 1972 when I was five years old.

Today I commemorate her arrival to the U.S. and honor her for making that long journey alone to begin a new life in a new country.  Welcome to America, Elizabeth!  I am certainly glad you came.

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

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

Here are my responses:

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

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

My grandmother Margaret Bergmeister had three brothers –

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

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

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Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Pater, 1932

Joan Delores Pater was born on August 30, 1932 in Philadelphia, PA.  She was the first born child of Henry and Mae Pater.  Their family was made complete three years later with the birth of a second daughter, Anita Jane, who was born in 1935. Despite their closeness in age, the two sisters did not get along from the time they were children.  Each had different interests and hobbies from their youth through to adulthood.  Both, however, had a great sense of humor!  For several years, the Pater girls and their parents lived on Mercer Street with their maternal grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, until his death in 1944.

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Joan's wedding portrait, 1949

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan & Richard

In 1949, Joan married at age 17 – the third generation of Pater’s to do so.  Both her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Louis, were 17 when they got married – both to slightly older women.  She married a boy from the neighborhood, Richard.  Although they were happy while dating, marriage was not what she expected.  Her husband’s personality seemed to change overnight, and he became verbally and physically abusive.  Despite these difficulties, the couple had a son, Richard, on August 22, 1951.

Ricky

My cousin Ricky

Baby Ricky became the joy of their lives, but he also brought great sadness.  Ricky was born with a heart defect, and he never properly matured or learn to talk or walk.  He was a happy baby, and he loved to flirt with ladies!  His short life ended on December 9, 1952.  He was only fifteen months old.  His entire family was devastated by the death — his mother Joan most of all.  After that experience, she knew that she did not want to have any more children because the pain of losing one was too great. Joan and Richard remained married, but their son’s death added to their marital problems.  The couple split up about five years later.

Joan began to work as a secretary at Anheuser-Busch in Philadelphia – much to her family’s amusement for she lacked the two skills essential for secretarial work, stenography and typing.  Joan simply made up her own style of shorthand, and she must have learned how to type because she remained with the company for several years!

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Aunt Joan holding Donna Joan (that's me), April 1967

Joan’s sister, Anita, married in 1956 and had two children, Drew in 1959 and myself in 1967.  We gave Joan a new job: Aunt Joan.  She relished the role of aunt; we became “her kids”.  When Drew was very young, Joan lived with the family for about two years.  Even after moving, she visited on weekends to “play”. When I was in kindergarten, Aunt Joan accompanied my mother as chaperones on a field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo.  One day several weeks after the trip, she came with my mother to pick me up from school.  One of my classmates who had been in our group on the field trip recognized her.  The girl shouted loudly, “I know you - you’re from the zoo!”

Another memorable recognition, or more appropriate, a mis-recognition, occurred years later.  In 1978, my mother had surgery.  Aunt Joan went with my brother and I to pick her up from the hospital.  As we all stood with my mother waiting for her discharge, a nurse brought over a wheelchair.  Wheeling past my mother directly to Aunt Joan, the nurse asked her to get in.  “It’s not for me! How bad do I look?” she yelled as we all laughed.

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

Joan and Ken Silvers, 1993

In 1978, Aunt Joan became re-acquainted with someone she knew from the neighborhood where she lived as a teenager – Ken Silvers.  Ken had also been married and divorced, and he had two preteen daughters.  Joan and Ken fell in love, and this time the marriage was forever. Ken was a former Navy submariner who had served on the USS Tusk. That experience, as well as time spent as a commercial tugboat captain, gave him a love for boating that he passed on to Joan.  For many years, they belonged to the Wissinoming Yacht Club in Philadelphia.  Despite the name, there was nary a yacht among the members’ boats, which were mainly powerboats, sailboats, or cruisers – which is what my new Uncle Ken owned.  On their small boat, Uncle Ken’s seat was labeled as “the Captain’s Chair” – but Aunt Joan’s was labeled as “the Admiral’s Chair”!

Ken served as “Commodore” of their yacht club for some years, and he occasionally wore a “Captain’s” hat.  Once, around 1978-79, the pair took the boat down to Atlantic City for the weekend.  While at a bar at one of the brand new casinos, they couldn’t believe how nice the bartender was and how they kept getting free drinks.  Later that night, they realized why – Captain & Tennille” were playing at the casino!  While my aunt & uncle did not necessarily resemble the singing duo, a huge hit at the time, my uncle’s mustache and captain’s hat were enough to confuse the bartender!

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

Aunt Joan and Aunt Donna on "the boat" with Natalie, 2001

As I grew up, I tried to visit Aunt Joan when I could.  At a minimum, visits would take place for birthdays and other holidays.  My favorite visits were during the summertime when I would not visit their house, but the boat instead.  Occasionally, my uncle would take us for a ride on the Delaware River.  Other times, we’d simply sit on the boat at the dock.  We’d always have food – with my aunt trying to get me to eat as much of it as possible.  This became a much-loved ritual.  Often, Uncle Ken would grill lobster tails on a little propane grill.  Alternately, we’d have steamed crabs or even steak.  As we enjoyed the food, Uncle Ken would smile, wink, and remark, “What are the poor people eating tonight?”  It became our signature comment every time we feasted on the boat.

In 2004, I visited on August 29th to celebrate Aunt Joan’s 72nd birthday, which was the next day.  It was a great visit!  The weather was beautiful – sunny, but not hot, with a cool breeze.  We took the boat out for a short ride on the river, then returned to the dock for a meal of crabs and beer.  And birthday cake!  It was relaxing and fun, and I remember talking with my aunt about how good she looked for her age.  She commented on how good she felt.  Looking back, I wish I had stayed just a little longer to visit.  My last memory of my aunt is her waving good-bye from the dock as I drove away.  She died suddenly six days later from a heart attack.

I realize now that there are a lot of things I never got to know about my aunt’s life.  But, after her death, I realized one thing for sure – I was loved – truly, deeply, unconditionally.  I didn’t always give her the respect or love I should have, but I loved her – just probably not as much as she loved me.  Since I am also an aunt without any children of my own, I now understand her in a completely different way.  I hope that my nieces and nephews will know how much I love them like the way I know Aunt Joan loved us all.  I miss you, Aunt Joan!

frame2In Loving Memory

Joan Delores Pater Silvers

30 Aug 1932 – 04 Sep 2004

[Written for the 68th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Tribute to Women]

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Several genea-bloggers are celebrating “Celebrate Your Name Week” from March 2 through 8.  I’ve missed out on some of the events, but today, March 4th, is set aside as “Unique Names Day”. Since my surname is unique enough, I’m glad my name isn’t quite that unique (although it’s definitely not as common as it was in the decade before I was born).  To honor the unique names in my family tree, I’m going to link to an “oldie but goodie” post that I already wrote on this topic – “Call Me Ishmael”.  While Ishmael doesn’t show up in my genealogy, several other unique first names do – and, like that opening line, you tend to remember them!  Read all about my personal favorites among my family’s names, including Dionys, Kreszens, Wolfgang, and Walburga from Bavaria, and Hilary and Teofila from Poland.  And if my sister-in-law is reading this (she who is expecting her third child next month) – I know you’re still looking for suggestions, but don’t even think about using any of these “favorites”!

What unique names are found in your family tree?  Tell me!

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It snowed last year too:  I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea. ~Dylan Thomas

My father James was the first-born son of James and Margaret Pointkouski.  Just before his eighth birthday, a new addition arrived to the household – a baby sister, Jean.  As my grandmother recuperated in the hospital, her son sent a note:

Dear mother, How are you and how is baby sister.  I am doing find. I am a good little boy.  I forgot to tell the Ladys in school that baby sister just looks like me.  I am having a good time playing after school.  I will be seeing you.  Kisses for you and baby sister. xxxxxxxxxX  P.S. By your son Jimmy

James and Jean Pointkouski, 1949
James and Jean Pointkouski, 1949

Little did Jimmy know then that history would repeat itself.  Jimmy grew up and got married.  His wife was surprised at the large age difference between brother and sister – surely they wouldn’t have children that far apart.  Their first child was a stillborn baby girl.  But a son was born the following year, James Drew.  Despite efforts to provide brothers and sisters to only-child Drew, none came.  None, that is, until shortly before Drew’s eighth birthday when a new addition arrived to the household – a baby sister, Donna.

Drew was happy at first, but quickly became dismayed and suggested that perhaps our parents ought to “return” me to the hospital as if I was broken.  When asked why, he replied, “She can’t talk and she can’t walk – she can’t do anything!”  Fortunately I got a repreive from my parents, and eventually I learned how to talk, walk, and do everything.

Drew and Donna Pointkouski, 1973
Drew and Donna Pointkouski, 1973

Having an 8-year gap between brother and sister has its ups and downs. My aunt and I had a big brother to look up to; my father and brother had a little sister to protect.  But by the time my aunt and I were old enough to really “get along” with our brothers, they were out of the house on their own.  Because of that, both brother and sister experienced life as an “only child” while also knowing the joys and sorrows of being a sibling.  One thing is for sure – no matter how old we all get, no matter if we see eye to eye or not, or have anything in common, as my mother always says, “Blood is thicker than water” – which means we’ll always be there for each other no matter what.  That’s what brothers and sisters are for!

brosista


[Written for the 11th edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Brothers & Sisters.]

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One of my more popular posts has been Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online.  As that post indicates, the FamilySearch site’s collection of Philadelphia Marriage Records is great online tool for searching for marriage information.  The collection is a listing of marriage licenses issued in Philadelphia from 1885-1951.  While these records are technically an “index” they are not searchable – to find a particular person, you must browse through the records.  This is easy for the years 1885 to 1938 because the list is alphabetical.  For the remaining years, the last names were entered in the order of application, so it takes some manual searching to find a particular person.

In my previous post, I lauded the availability of these records – not only can we search online, but they are free!  But I’ve also come across some comments on mailing lists and message boards from some disappointed individuals who were unable to find their ancestors’ marriage records in this index.  When you know a couple lived in the city, and you have an approximation of when they married, why can’t they be found in the index of Philadelphia marriage license records?  Simply put, many Philadelphia residents went elsewhere to get married.  This occurred mostly due to marriage laws that differed from state to state.  These laws that govern how marriages may be entered into and officiated are at the state level, not federal, so the rules vary.

For this reason, some couples married out of state, or at least outside of the borders of the city of Philadelphia.  The Pennsylvania rules that they may have been circumventing usually involved age or the waiting period.  In the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a law was passed on October 1, 1885 that required marriage licenses to be obtained prior to a couple marrying.  The county clerk of the orphans’ court was required to keep the records.  At this time, the information required by the couple was rather simple and included the names of the couple, birth dates and places of birth, occupations and current residences, any previous marriage(s), and if the parties are related or not.

On September 11, 1885, the New York Times printed a short article about the new law that was excerpted from The Philadelphia Times:

Some of the interrogatories will be embarrassing in special cases, but the law is inexorable and they must be answered.  The clerk of the court will be liable to fine if he fails to enforce the law to the letter, and parties answering falsely will be subject to the penalty of perjury.

One of the requirements of this new law made the marriageable age 21.  For anyone under 21, the consent of the parents was required.  Suddenly, an out-of-state marriage market was born!

Camden, NJ

One of the earliest locations for Philadelphians to marry was one of the closest and easily reached: Camden, New Jersey, located directed across the Delaware River from Philadelphia.  By 1888 the newspapers were complaining that Pennsylvania’s marriage license law was creating a “knot-tying business” for “love-sick couples” in Camden, “where impertinent questions are not asked, and where the performance of the marriage ceremony is not hedged about with restrictions.”

By 1891, Camden was called “the Gretna Green of the Union”.  Gretna Green was a small town in Scotland known for runaway weddings.  A New York Times’ article explains that those “unable or unwilling to procure a license” in Philadelphia simply traveled to Camden for a quick and quiet marriage.  The statistics cited in the article show that only 634 marriages were performed in Camden in 1885, the year that Pennsylvania changed their law.  By 1890, the entire state of New Jersey had 15,564 marriages with one-third performed in Camden – “although the population of that city is less than one-fifteenth of the population of the State.

My great-grandparents were Philadelphia residents who contributed to the booming marriage trade in Camden.  In 1910, Louis Pater celebrated his 17th birthday on August 24th.  Three days later, he married Elizabeth Miller.  On the marriage certificate, Louis’ age is listed as 22.  Elizabeth is listed as 20 although she would only turn 19 in another three months.  Elizabeth’s parents were in Poland – she had only immigrated the previous year – but her brother Emil served as a witness.  It is assumed that Louis did not think his parents would approve of the marriage at his young age.

Although Ancestry.com has marriage records from “Camden County, NJ, 1837-1910″ it is likely that these are moreso county records than those from the city of Camden.  Not only did I not find my great-grandparents’ marriage in this database, but it consists of only 6,000 records.  Given the marriage boom in Camden after 1885, it is assumed that the city of Camden’s records are not included here.

The city of Camden’s web page indicates that “Birth, Death, and Marriage Certificates can be aquired (sic) for anyone that was born, died, or married in the City of Camden. These certificates can be picked up in room 103 of City Hall or mailed directly to you.”

Elkton, MD

Another town famous for out-of-state marriages was Elkton, MD.  Located in northern Maryland, the town is situated close to Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Until 1938, there was no waiting period required between the marriage application and the ceremony, so the town became known for “quick” weddings similar to Las Vegas decades later.  The following sign recognizes Elkton’s role in the history of marriage in the Northeastern US:

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

Historical Marker in Elkton indicating that the town was the "Marriage Capital of the East"

I do not have any direct ancestors who got married in Elkton, but I’m sure there are some collateral relatives who did.  If you can’t find a marriage record, try Elkton.  Records can be searched through the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cecil County, Maryland.  See their site for more information.

Other Pennsylvania Counties

It makes sense to travel across state lines to marry if Pennsylvania had “restrictive” laws regarding the marriageable age and a waiting period.  However, there was another option – the couple simply didn’t tell the truth on their applicatoin.  But, sometimes they did not want to lie about their ages in the city of Philadelphia.  In my own family history, both sets of grandparents got married in Delaware County – despite the fact that it is in Pennsylvania and therefore governed by the same laws as the city of Philadelphia.  Perhaps they were afraid that the city could “look it up” and discover their fib?  All I know is that both towns are a bit out of the way for me today and I have a car and highways; my grandparents did not.

In the Pater family, history repeated itself with another 17-year-old groom.  My grandfather, Henry Pater, was two months shy of his 18th birthday when he traveled to Broomall, PA with his intended, Mae Zawodna.  On the license application, Henry lists his birth year as 1907 instead of 1912, therefore making himself almost 23 years old.  Mae, who actually was born in 1907 and was five years older than Henry, listed her birth year as 1908 – making herself appear to be 21 rather than 22 and a half.  Neither family looked kindly upon the wedding, and in fact in the 1930 census a few months later they are each enumerated with their own parents – living a few doors away from each other.  Eventually they told their families they were married, and in June of the same year their marriage was blessed in a Catholic church.

My other grandparents traveled to Media, PA for their wedding in 1934.  James Pointkouski accurately reported his age as 23, but Margaret Bergmeister makes herself one year older – reporting her age as 21.  In reality, she would turn 21 a few months later.  She also provides an address for her parents; however, both had been deceased for some time.  They may have feared someone in Philadelphia confirming her birth record, which would have made her ineligible for marriage without the consent of her guardian.  But they also did not want to wait an extra few months – their son would be born seven months later.

Couples had many reasons to marry in seemingly unlikely places.  If the law required parental consent, a waiting period, or even proof of either a divorce or death of a prior marriage, some couples traveled to avoid the hassle.  Or they traveled to the next county to avoid the neighbors seeing the marriage notice published in the newspaper.  This was by no means unique to the Philadelphia area – Elkton, MD received couples from up and down the East Coast, and other states have similar “Gretna Green” locations such as the Kentucky and Ohio River Valley border. If you have trouble finding Grampa’s marriage record – look around the neighboring counties or states!

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Last month, I shared photos of my great-grandmother’s sisters.  I have several more unidentified photos; I know they are of the sisters, but which one?  The three photos below are perfect for the latest edition of  the Smile for the Camera Carnival, for they certainly offer the distinctive style of dress of the 1920s.  These all appear to be photos of the same sister…is it Jane or Mary?  See my previous posts on the Slesinski sisters for other photos (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  If you enjoy identifying persons in photos, let me know which sister you think it is in the comments!  She was certainly into fashion and “costume” – the 1920s version of a “Project Runway” or Glamour fan!

photo-2photo-3photo-1

[Submitted for the 10th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Costume.]

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Part 1 of this series presented the photographs that led me to investigate the lives of my great-grandmother and her four sisters.  In Part 2, I detailed my genealogical research.  Years after I had completed this research, I received a happy confirmation in a rather unusual way.  My mother reconnected with her elderly aunt – the last surviving child of my great-grandmother, Laura Slesinska Zawodny.  When I met this aunt for the first time in many years, I naturally asked, “Do you have any photos?”  I hoped for more photos of her parents or of the siblings as young children.  To my surprise, she gave me a pile of photos – and nearly all were of her aunts – the Slesinski sisters.  Even more surprising?  The photos that she gave me were new to me, but they were from the same “photo session” in front of the house in McKeesport that originally prompted my research!  As a bonus, some of the photos were labeled in such a way that they actually confirmed my research.  Now I had even more faces to put to my collection of family names.

The first was labeld in a non-photo-friendly way – but there’s no doubt as to who’s who.  Here is my great-grandmother (Mom) with her sister Jane, Jane’s husband John Smilowicz, and their son Henry.  Since the 1930 census listed Henry’s age very specifically as “3 11/12″, it even provides me with an estimated time that the photos were taken – probably right around 1930 or 1931.  The back of the photo also listed thier addres – the same as the house in the 1930 census.  [I love the shadow – is that the photographer?  By the look on Henry’s face, you can certainly tell where the sun was even without the prominent shadow!]

The Smilowicz Family
The Smilowicz Family with “Laura” Zawodny

Next, sister Josephine makes another appearance, this time with her husband, Vincent Sierdzki, as well as my great-grandmother.  The caption is the same as what is written on the back of the photo – in the same handwriting, and humor, as the rest of the series.

Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated
“Mr. Sierdzki Incorporated”

Jane and John Smilowicz appear in another photo, captioned “Still in Love”:

Jane and John Smilowicz
Jane and John Smilowicz

In a photo captioned “Enjoying the fun”, three children appear.  Henry Smilowicz is identified in the photo above.  In my original photo featured in Part 1, Irene Goreski was also identified.  Based on the 1930 census research, it would appear that the third child is their cousin, Boleslaw Majewski.  In 1930, he was six, Irene was five, and Henry was nearly four, so this photo is further confirmation dating the photo close to 1930.

Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski
Three cousins: Irene Goreski, Henry Smilowicz, and Boleslaw Majewski

Next there is a photo of the husbands.  Well, the four husbands that lived in McKeesport, anyway. I wasn’t sure based on the photos I originally had, but it appears that my great-grandfather was not present for his wife’s visit to her sisters.  Or, if he was present, he opted not to appear in the photos!  I was able to identify them based on the other photos, with the fourth man identified by default as Sophie’s husband, Joseph Goreski.  The humorous caption is again from the back of the photo.

"The Four Horsemen"
“The Four Horsemen”  from top to bottom: John Smilowicz, Vincent Sierdzki, Adolph Majewski, and Joseph Goreski – the husbands of 4 of the 5 Slesinski Sisters

Finally, the last photo from the series shows my great-grandmother, Laura Zawodny, with her brothers-in-law.

Laura and her brothers-in-law
Laura and her brothers-in-law

The above photo had the best caption of all on the back.  Based on the humorous way it is worded, I’d bet that Sophie is the writer and her husband Joseph is the photographer of the other photos!

Caption on the back of the "Laura and her brothers-in-law" photo
Caption on the back of the “Laura and her brothers-in-law” photo

I also obtained some other photos of both the sisters and their husbands that were unlabeled and not from this same photo-party.  I feel confident that I can identify who’s who in the unlabeled photos based on the job that was done to identify everyone in these photos!

Now they tell me…I did all that research to obtain the sisters’ married names when the answers were sitting in a box in my grand-aunt’s house!  Some questions still remain, however, like how my great-grandmother traveled to McKeesport to visit her sisters, if she went alone, and how long she stayed.  In any event, I am grateful to my great-aunts for not only taking these photographs during her visit, but also mailing them back to her in Philadelphia as a remembrance.  Even though I wasn’t there, I can join in their fun!

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In Part 1 of “The Slesinski Sisters” I presented some photographs passed on to me by my grandmother that showed her mother and aunts: Laura, Josephine, Mary, Jane, and Sophie Slesinski, from “somewhere” in Poland.  The remaining photograph that I inherited from my grandmother is shown below.  All I had to begin my research were their (maiden) names – would I be able to find anything with such little information?

The Slesinski Sisters

The Slesinski Sisters

I had already researched my great-grandmother; her Polish name was Wacława, but in America she used Laura.  She came to the U.S. in 1903 following her husband, Józef Zawodny, who arrived a year earlier.  While the couple was easy to find in passenger list records, the key to Wacława’s birthplace would later come through researching her sisters.

I could not locate any of the Slesinski sisters in the census records, so I had to assume that they were married either at the time of arrival into the U.S. or at least at the time of their first census.  If they were married before they arrived here, I had no idea how to find their married names.  So I began with the assumption that they were single when they arrived – or at least some of them!

With luck, I found 3 of the 4 sisters on the same passenger arrival record: the SS Adriatic sailing from Southampton to New York, arriving on 15 October 1920. On the record, their surname was spelled Sleszynska and the first names fit with the information I had from the photographs.  Sailing together were Janina, age 19, Zofia, age 17, and Marianna, age 23.  They were all listed as dressmakers from Dobrosołowo.  Their destination was to their “brother-in-law Mr. Sioracki” at 600 Hazel Street in McKeesport, PA.

Research Tip: Be flexible with first names.  This can apply to either foreign translations like Zofia=Sophie, “adopted” names that are not translations like Wacława=Laura, or “like” variations of a name like Maria=Marianna=Mary.

Also, don’t discount similar spellings of the last name.  “Sleszynska” was similar enough to “Slesinska” to warrant a look at the record.  If the first names and ages offer a good match (and in this case, the destination), it may be the correct record.

This information meant that their sister Josephine was already married and living in McKeesport by 1920 – now I had a name to search on the 1920 census.  I wouldn’t find anything under “Sioracki” though, nor under the Soundex search, so the name was not spelled correctly.  However, I did find her using the address instead: Vincent and Josephine “Shieraski” at 600 Hazel Street.  Vincent is 33 and immigrated in 1904, while Josephine is 29 and immigrated in 1911.  One sister’s married name down, three to go!

Research Tip: Can’t find a name in an index or soundex?  It may be spelled or indexed wrong.  An alternate is to look up by address, which can be found in a variety of sources including city directories, marriage licenses, passenger lists, or personal records like photographs or family papers.

Because the three younger sisters arrived too late for the 1920 census enumeration and were not listed on the 1930, it was easy to assume that all three were married sometime during the 1920’s. The next step in the research was a search of Allegheny county marriage records through the mail.  Amazingly, all three marriage licenses were found!

  • On 14 October 1922, Maria Slesinska married Adolph Majewski
  • On 17 January 1924, Sophia Slesinska married Joseph Goreski
  • On 22 June 1925, Janina Slesinski married John Smilovicz

Research Tip: Some Polish surnames have masculine and feminine endings.  A daughter or a wife of a man with a name ending in -ski would use a -ska ending to the name.  However, this is not set in stone – especially once the couple or the woman immigrated to the U.S.  For purposes of searching records, search for both variations of the name.

Armed with the sisters’ married names, I searched the 1930 census in McKeesport.  The Majewski family lived at 804 Park Way: Adolph, age 38, Mary, age 28, and son Bolesław, age 6 (born in PA). Adolph works in a steel mill and is a WWI veteran.  This solved the mystery of who “Mr. Adolph Majewski” was on the photograph (see Part 1).  Because of his marriage to Maria/Mary, it also confirmed that the labeling on the photograph of the sisters was likely correct since Mary matches the woman standing with Adolph as “one of the family”.

Two of the sisters lived at 1202 5th Avenue.  The first family was Joseph Goreski (age 30), wife Sophia (age 21), and daughter Irene (age 5, born in PA).  Joseph also works at a steel mill.  Although listed on a different sheet, the “Sieradzki” family lived at the same address: Wincenty (age 41) and Josephine (age 38).  Wincenty (Vincent) worked as a die caster.

Finally, at 2817 Garbett Street were John Smilovicz (age 39), wife Jane (age 27), and son Henry (age 3 and 11/12, born in PA).  John works in a tin mill and was also a WWI veteran.

By researching just a few record sources I managed to find all four sisters’ marriages and a few children born by 1930.  After one sister’s social security application pointed back to Dobrosołowo, Poland – matching the passenger arrival record – I decided to find the births records of my great-grandmother and her sisters.  The three sisters’ marriage records in the U.S. provided some clues as to their parents names.  One did not list the parents at all, but the other two agreed on their father’s name – Vincent Slesinksi.  Their mother’s name was listed on one as Stella and the other as Stanislawa, but the surname matched: Drogowski (Stella was often used as an English variant for Stanislawa).  This was more information than anything I was able to uncover about my great-grandmother through her own records in the U.S.

Research in Poland proved to be difficult despite these many facts.  Fortunately, the youngest child, who happened to be Sophia (Zofia), was born in Dobrosołowo – the other children were found in nearby towns.   And there were more than five children in the family!  Birth records were found for the following children of Wincenty (Vincent) Slesinski and Stanislawa Drogowska:

  • Wacława Marianna, 29 Aug 1880
  • Józefa, 01 Jan 1883
  • Feliks, 24 Dec 1885
  • Konstancja, 18 Jul 1888 – 13 Aug 1889
  • Wincenty, 03 Apr 1893 – 02 Apr 1896
  • Marianna, 06 Apr 1896
  • Janina, 12 Dec 1898
  • Zofia, 10 Aug 1901

The birth records proved what the photographs showed: there was a large gap in the ages between the oldest and youngest sister – 21 years!  In fact, Zofia (Sophie) was only two years old when Wacława (Laura) left for America!   The sisters also seemed to shave a few years off of their ages for the census-takers, but that was common and is the main reason why census records are not completely reliable for ages. It is uncertain what became of their brother Feliks – no death record was found in Poland, but no definitive immigration record was found in the U.S. either.

I was even able to find the “end of the story” with regard to my great-grandmother’s sisters – they are all buried in St. Mary’s Polish Cemetery in McKeesport, PA, and a survey of the tombstones is available online.  While the birth years on tombstones can never be regarded as accurate, at least the death years can. The deaths are recorded as follows:

  • SIERADZKI, Wincenty 1888 – 1969
  • SIERADZKI, Jozefa S. 1891 – 1964
  • MAJEWSKI, Adolph 1892 – 1973
  • MAJEWSKI, Marya 1900 – 1955
  • SMILOWICZ, John 1888 – 1974 (Pvt US Army WWI)
  • SMILOWICZ, Jennie 1904 – (no death date listed)
  • GORESKI, Joseph 1900 – 1976
  • GORESKI, Sophia 1908 – 1990

Research Tip: EVIDENCE…which record do you believe?  For a birth year, birth or christening records obviously hold more weight than a person’s marriage record (they may have been underage, considered “too old” to be getting married for the first time, or older than their spouse), census record (they may be trying to stay young, or embarrassed if they are older than a spouse), or a death record (the person giving the information may not know the truth).

I assumed this was “the end” of my research into the Slesinski sisters.  While I had not done any research on the three children identified on the 1930 census – my grandmother’s first cousins – I had gone back to Poland and learned the names of not only their parents, but also their grandparents!  I was well on the way to continuing my research backwards into the Slesinski ancestry.  But a funny thing happened on the way…my research was “confirmed” in an unusual way.

Coming up in Part 3 – My research is confirmed!  By more photographs!

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Genealogists know that finding the “married names” for women is can be difficult.  Is it possible to research women without knowing who they married?  In the case of my great-grandmother’s sisters, the answer was surprisingly “Yes!”  This story is also interesting because it involves photographs – some that began the investigation, and some that proved the facts much later.  In this three-part series of posts, I’ll introduce my great-grandmother and her sisters.  This post, Part 1, shows what they looked like and offers the few bare facts I had to begin my research some twenty years ago.  Part 2 will present the facts I uncovered through genealogical records (and some tips to remember for your own research).  Part 3 will “prove” some of those facts in an unusual twist of fate involving more photographs.

It all began with a photograph.  Four photographs, to be precise.  My family did not possess many photos of our ancestors, but my grandmother did have several that were precious to me.  She gave me the four photos – three of which I will show here and one I’ll save for post #2.  The first showed her mother, my great-grandmother, on a visit to her four sisters.  My great-grandmother, Wacława Slesinska Zawodny (in Polish, the feminine form of her married last name would be Zawodna), lived in Philadelphia, PA.  Her four sisters, the Slesinski sisters, all lived in McKeesport, PA, which is located in Allegheny county near Pittsburgh, PA.  My grandmother said her mother once traveled across Pennsylvania to be reunited with her sisters.

"The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

The back of the photo reads: "The Hollywood Review" - the Slesinski Sisters.

Caption of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

Writing on the back of "The Hollywood Review" photo shown above.

My mother knew that the woman in the middle of the back row is Wacława, who went by the name of Laura in the U.S.  Fortunately, someone had also written everyone’s name on the back of the photo.  Because it lists Laura as “Grandmother Laura”, the unknown identifier is likely my grandmother (or one of her sisters).  The back of the photo, which is undated, had “The Hollywood Review” written in ink, presumably by one of the sisters, sent to my great-grandmother to commemorate her visit to McKeesport.  The names are written in pencil in a different handwriting.  The only incorrect label is “Great Aunt” applied to Josephine – perhaps it was meant to show respect to the fact that she and Laura are older than their sisters, but the truth is that evidence would later show all five women to be sisters.

In addition to this photo, my grandmother had one of the sisters without the child Irene in what appeared to be the same photo session – that photo will illustrate my second post on the research into the sisters’ lives.

The third photo offered a close-up of my great-grandmother and one sister.  The back of the photo is labeled, in the same pencil-handwriting as the group photo above, “Grandmother Laura and Aunt Josephine”.  I love two things about it – the close-up view of their faces, and the fact that it identifies who they are!  The photo was originally full length, but it was cut in half.  While the background appears to be the same house as the above photos, their dress is different.  Was it taken on a different visit, or just on a different day of the same visit?  Although they both look rather austere, I was amazed by the resemblance between my great-grandmother and my grandmother (her daughter).

"Laura" and Josephine

"Laura" and Josephine

Finally, the fourth photograph shows Laura and one of her sisters.  Based on the label to the above photo, it seems to be Mary with what appears to be her family.  Luckily, it was also labeled with a clue as to their identities.  Their dress is the same as the above photo.

The Majewski Family

The Majewski Family

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

Back of "The Majewski Family" photo

The handwriting is the same as the above photos – can I assume that “Mr. Adolph Majewski” is Mary Slesinski’s husband and the boy is their son?  Is the address the house where all of these photos were taken?  When were the photos taken?

These four photographs contained the only information that I knew about my great-grandmother’s sisters.  My grandmother could not remember any of her aunts married names.  All I knew came from the photos:

  • the sisters’ first names
  • one possible husband’s name
  • one address in McKeesport

Just knowing these bare facts, could I find out more about my great-grandmother’s sisters?

Coming up in Part 2 – The Research performed to find out more about the sisters

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Miriam recently challenged genea-bloggers to write about their brickwall ancestors.  In my case, I don’t have brickwalls so much as avenues of research I have not yet pursued.  One of my goals for 2009 was to find some missing details in my Bavarian ancestors.  In the case of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, I can document his ancestry back to the 1600’s, and I’m still going backward once I find time to get back to the family history library.  I was fortunate that the church records exist for the towns of Puch, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and surrounding towns.  But, my research is far from complete – even though I can provide death dates for Joseph’s paternal grandparents, great-grandparents, and even his 2nd great-grandparents, I have no idea when his parents died.   But, I do have some clues from my research.  Here I present my research plan and ask readers to examine my evidence, logic, and path forward, and offer a critique or advice to set me on the right path.

Goal: Find death records for Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Facts:  Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmeier were married on 10 May 1871 in Vohburg a.d. Donau.  He was a flour merchant, born on 9 Feb 1843 in Puch as the son of Jakob Bergmeister, a miller born in Puch, and Anna née Daniel, born in Niederscheyern.  Ursula Dallmeier was born in Aichach on 17 Mar 1847, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier from Aichach and Ursula née Eulinger.  The date of the secular marriage was 11 Apr 1871, and it occurred in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  [Source: marriage record from Kath. Stadtpfarramt, Vohburg a.d. Donau, obtained 11 Dec 1995]

Joseph and Ursula went on to have at least 4 children:

1)      Hillaury Bergmeister, b. 12 January 1870 [Source: her marriage and death record, birth record not yet found]

2)      Maria Bergmeister, b 17 November 1871.  It is unknown if Maria survived infancy.  [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

3)      Joseph Bergmeister, b. 12 February 1873 (my great-grandfather) [Source: Vohburg parish register, FHL film 1271862]

4)      Ignaz Bergmeister, b. 23 April 1876 [Source: New York City marriage record in 1907 and WWI draft card in 1918; birth records not yet searched]

Clues:  In November 1897, their son Joseph gets married in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm (for more details, see The Bergmeister Family page).  There is an important clue in the marriage record.  It records the bachelor Joseph as the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”  [Source:  Marriage record for Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer, Standesamt Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, obtained 04 Nov 1993.]

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

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

The re-marriage of Ursula to Mr. Goetz (whose first name was later identified as Herman in their son’s marriage record) did not come as a complete surprise, because my grandmother had an “uncle” Julius Goetz.  More research revealed at least two more children of Ursula Bergmeister Goetz, half-siblings to the Bergmeister children.  They are:

1)     Herman Goetz, born 14 May 1885 [Source: Marriage license 1913, WW I Draft card 1918]

2)     Julius Andreas Elias Goetz, born 09 Nov 1886 in Regensburg [Source: Declaration of Intention 1908, Naturalization 1911, WW I Draft card 1917]

On the marriage record for Julius in 1919, the license lists the “residence of father” as “Germany” and “residence of mother” as “dead”. [Source: Clerk of Orphans’ Court, Philadelphia, Marriage License #1919-415062.]  The marriage license for Herman in 1913 is a different format and does not ask about parents.

Based on the above facts, I can make reasonable assumptions about the approximate time and place of the deaths of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.

Assumptions – Death of Joseph Bergmeister

Estimated years: 1876 – 1884 – based on the birth of his youngest identified son, Ignaz, and his wife’s first child in her re-marriage.

Estimated place: Munich – based on his son Joseph’s marriage record.

Alternate place: Regensburg – based on the location of his wife’s re-marriage

Negative search: Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm

Assumptions – Death of Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz

Estimated years: 1897 – 1919 – based on the fact that she was still alive at the time of son Joseph’s marriage and she was not by the time of Julius’.  It is noted, however, that Julius immigrated in 1902 at the age of 16 – perhaps she died in that year.

Estimated place: Regensburg – based on her residence at the time of Joseph’s marriage and her Goetz sons’ birthplace.

Next step – where do I search for these death records?

Unfortunately, the FHL does not have church records on microfilm for such large cities as München (Munich) or Regensburg.  In each instance, I would have to write to either the civil or the episcopal archive. I am not sure if the lack of a date will be problematic – the ranges are too broad.  Although I have written to the archives in the past to get some of this information, it has been so long that I am not even sure which office to write to, or if they can perform such a search without a more specific date.  I could either make an attempt with a letter, or I can find a researcher in Bavaria to investigate further.

More clues – I may be able to narrow down the years by searching additional records (none of which are available either online or through the Family History Center) including:

  • Census records – After Germany was united in 1871, a census was conducted every five years between 1880 and 1910.  I am not sure where to obtain this information.
  • City directories – Both Munich and Regensburg are large cities.  If city directories exist, they may help pinpoint not only the year of death (especially for Joseph), but also a potential parish to find a church record.
  • Marriage record of Ursula Bergmeister and Herman Goetz – it is possible that the record of Ursula’s second marriage may reveal more about her husband Joseph’s death.

Any comments on my research to date, the assumptions, or where to go next will be greatly appreciated.  The following is a map that outlines the German locations noted above.

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz.  Where are their final resting places?

Detailed map of Bavaria showing all locations from Regensburg in the northeast to Munich in the south which are mentioned in the records for the lives of Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz. Where are their final resting places?

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