Archive for the ‘Piontkowski / Pointkouski’ Category

The theme for Week 20 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Black Sheep” and my ancestor is my grandaunt, Jean Piontkowska Hynes.

Black Sheep?

The idiom “black sheep” with regard to genealogy usually refers to an ancestor who did some particularly notorious deed. I guess I should be happy to say that I don’t really have any ancestors that qualify as black sheep by that definition – thankfully there are no murderers or America’s Most Wanted in my family tree. One of my great-grandfathers was convicted of a crime and did a short amount of time in prison, but I don’t know enough about the particulars to tell that story. Another great-grandfather’s brother was wanted for fraud in Germany, but not only have I told that story previously, I’ve also highlighted his brother, sister, and mother so far in this series so by now it would read like a repeat.

So my choice is a different definition…an ancestor, or in this case an ancestor’s sister, who chose a different path. Black sheep are a rare occurrence caused by a recessive gene taking dominance, and not only would a black sheep stand out in the crowd of white sheep but also the black wool could not be dyed and was therefore not valuable. So the term “black sheep” took on a negative connotation. Also interesting is that the idiom appears in several languages besides English, including my ancestral languages of German, Polish, and Czech. But on the surface, an actual black sheep isn’t a bad sheep; they are just different. Rather than highlight the bad seeds from the tree, I’m going to highlight the one who chose a different path and, in so doing, turned her back on her family and never returned.

Jean’s Story

Jean was born as Janina Piątkowska¹ on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter.  The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church.  Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier, and their younger brother (my grandfather) wouldn’t arrive until 1910.

I’ve written about Jean before in November 2010 in a post called “The Sister Who Disappeared” – please take a look to read about the family’s immigration to Philadelphia when Jean was nearly 1 year old. In that post, I detail how Jean disappeared from her family’s lives sometime in the 1920’s. The story my grandfather told was that she, the poor working class daughter of Polish immigrants, met and married a “rich doctor”. The happy couple moved to Florida, never to be heard from again.

Except months after I wrote that post, I found out that Jean was heard from again…just not by my grandfather. I found the 1953 obituary of their brother, Joseph Perk, and it mentioned her name as “Mrs. Jean Hynes”. Finally I had a married name to research! I haven’t uncovered all of the facts of her life, but I know a lot more about her than just knowing her as the sister who disappeared. It turns out my grandfather’s story was almost right. She married the son of a rich doctor, and after living in New York they really did move to Florida.

Sometime around 1926, Jean met and married William Rose Hynes. Or perhaps they met and pretended to be married because I haven’t yet found a marriage license in either Philadelphia or New York. William was born in 1902 in New York City. His father, also named William Rose Hynes, was a doctor who died in 1926. There is a long soap-opera-worthy story in New York newspapers from the 1890s that tell the story of the Hynes’ family wealth and various lawsuits over inheritances. Although young William is listed as a radio engineer in the 1930 census, he did come from a family that had more money than Jean’s immigrant parents. In 1930 the couple lived in an apartment on Broadway, and Jean worked as a hair dresser in a beauty salon.

In 1937, William and Jean lived on 163rd Street, Flushing, Long Island. In November they traveled by ship to Bermuda. While this may not seem exotic by today’s standards, to Jean’s family back in Philadelphia this would have been as exotic as traveling to the moon!

By 1940 the couple is living in Pinellas County, Florida, where William’s uncle also resided. They had no children. That’s when my paper trail ends. But, I was able to find out more about William than about my grandaunt Jean because I discovered that he had a second marriage, a daughter from that marriage, and that he later lived and died just miles from where I live in New Jersey.

According to William’s daughter, he married his next wife in the mid-1940s. She wrote:

There is a family story that they had to elope to MD because he had lived for many years with another woman, and called her his wife, but they had never been formally married. The clerk of courts in Queens refused to give him a license to marry  my mother, because he could not produce a divorce decree.

As my grandaunt Jean was that other woman, perhaps she really is a black sheep after all!

William’s daughter was a teenager when he died, so she didn’t know much about his previous relationship. Her mother said that William’s first wife became ill (possibly dying) and he went to visit her and help, perhaps around 1958.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to Jean after her split from William. The obit that led me to research her relationship to Hynes said that she was living in Detroit, and William’s daughter thought she may have lived in New York City, but I’ve been unable to locate a death record in any state so far. I hope to one day find out the rest of Jean’s story.

¹For info on the spelling change to Piontkowska and the present form of my surname, see my grandfather’s profile from Week 15 under the “How Do You Spell That?” theme

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jean (Janina) Piontkowska (Piątkowska) Hynes
  • Ahnentafel: N/A – grandaunt, sister of #4, my grandfather
  • Parents:Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
  • Born: 29 December 1905 in Warsaw, Poland
  • Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), James Pointkouski (1910-1980)
  • Immigrated: from Hamburg, Germany aboard the SS Armenia with her mother and Józef, arriving in New York City on November 9, 1906
  • Married: William Rose Hynes III (1902-1966) around 1926; divorced by mid-1940s.
  • Children: unknown, at least 5 nieces and 2 nephews
  • Died: unknown


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 20: Black Sheep


See all of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks stories on the 52 Ancestors page!

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The theme for Week 15 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “How Do You Spell That?” and my ancestor is my grandfather, James Pointkouski. There really could be no other choice for that theme – my grandfather is the inventor of our family name…and we have to spell it often.

How Do You Spell That?

I almost felt sorry for the telemarketers calling my parents when I was young. I’d answer the phone and hear, “Hi, can I speak to Mr….uh, Mr. Po-, er, ah, Mr. P-p-pint, er, Mr. Portkonski?” I’d pause for dramatic effect, then respond, “No, I’m sorry, there is no one here by that name.”

But worse than the telemarketers was the need to spell my name, all the time. Even my parents talked about changing the surname for a while, and I think they may have done it if it hadn’t cost money to do so. We considered my mother’s maiden name, Pater, because it seemed a lot easier (even though it is also 100% Polish in origin). For a  while, the surname “Perry” was in contention just because we liked it. But then my father called in a pizza order and the clerk asked, “What’s the name?” My Dad grinned and responded, “Perry!” But then the clerk asked, “How do you spell that?” Undefeated, and still smirking, my Dad replied, “Any way you want…”

By now you might wonder why we feel no allegiance to our name or no pride in our birthright. Well, it’s simple…it’s not our name. My grandfather made it up. If he had made up a name that was easier to spell and pronounce, I’d thank him for it. As I delved into the family history and gained pride in my Polish heritage, I was disappointed I couldn’t have the “real” name that he changed slightly (to little improvement). Unfortunately, the non-legal change was made just prior to all of the rules, records, and federal regulations of today and now I am, quite simply, one of only eight people on earth born a Pointkouski. We’re proud to be “Points” even if we do have to spell it a lot.

James’ Story

From left to right: James at age 13, age approximately 24, and age 47 with wife Margaret

From left to right: James at age 13, age approximately 24, and age 47 with wife Margaret

James’ parents were Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia Kizeweter (featured in Week #3). Jan was a leather worker and the family lived in Warsaw, Poland. Jan was born in Warsaw, and Rozalia’s family moved there from just outside the city when she was a girl. They had a son, Józef, born in November, 1903, and a daughter, Janina, born in December, 1905. Shortly after Janina’s birth the family decided to leave one big city for another. Jan immigrated to Philadelphia in March, 1906 with his sister’s husband, Ludwik Czarkowski. Rozalia and the children followed in November of the same year. In America, their first names were anglicized to John, Rose, Joseph, and Jean.  But the last name changed slightly, too. In English, the Polish letter “ą” does not exist. The letter has the phonetic sound like “on” so Piątkowski became Piontkowski in English.

That should be the end of the story of the surname, so to speak, and my grandfather, father, my brother and me should all bear THAT name. But the name change game wasn’t over yet…my grandfather wasn’t born yet!

My grandfather, James, was the surprise baby born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910. His father was 39 years old and his mother was 44 – typical ages today but highly unusual in 1910. On his official Pennsylvania birth certificate, the name is listed as GANUS KINCOSKI.  I assume “Ganus” is what became of “James” when spoken with a heavy Polish accent. Kincoski was apparently an alias that my great-grandfather used, temporarily, attempting to hide from either law enforcement or those to whom he owed money. Other than around 1910, John always used Piontkowski, his correct surname, on legal records.

By the time James, or Jimmy as he was called, reached adulthood, he tweaked his own surname further. As early as 1933, James changed a few letters in the name Piontkowski and – voila! – the surname Pointkouski was unofficially and unceremoniously born.

James’ older brother, Joe, also changed his name (also not legally). I always thought Joe had more sense, though, for the name he chose was a lot easier to spell: Perk.  Ironically, not that long ago I got to speak to one of Joe’s daughters who grew up with the name Perk. She complained of being teased in school and being called “Percolator” – and she yelled back at her bully, saying, “Well my real name is Pointkouski!”

My grandfather may have tried the “Perk” name on for size for a while – he refers to himself as “Perk” in a letter to my grandmother in 1933, and a photograph of my father in 1936 is labeled on the back as “Jimmy Perk”.  But, on all legal documents my grandfather used “Pointkouski”.

James grew up wanting to be an architect, but he left school at a young age to go to work to help support his parents. He became a truck driver – and remained one for his entire life. As a truck driver he delivered ice cream to soda fountains and other shops, which is where he met his wife, Margaret Bergmeister, whose brother Max owned the store. (See a photo of James and his delivery truck here.)

James and Margaret got married in January, 1934. Later that year they had a son, James, and eight years later welcomed a daughter, Jean.

James’ sister left Philadelphia in the late 1920’s to get married, and apparently he did not see her again after that. His mother, Rose, died in 1937, and his father, John, died in 1942. James had a good relationship with his brother, Joe, who was also a truck driver. Unfortunately Joe Perk died in 1953 at the young age of 49.

Marge & Jimmy, September 1962

Marge & Jimmy, September 1962

I remember my grandfather from my childhood but I didn’t get to see him very often. As the only granddaughter among five grandchildren, I do remember once when I was around six years old he insisted that I must have a ring or other jewelry because I was a girl and “Girls need pretty things to wear!”

I wish I knew him better, and longer, because before I could ever think to ask him why our name is spelled the way it is spelled, he passed away. James died on February 13, 1980, at the age of 69.

In what I refer to as “The Final Misspelling” – or “The Final Insult” – his name was spelled incorrectly on his tombstone:

The final name misspelling for James: they accidentally carved a "W" into his tombstone and "corrected" it to a "U". A larger, correctly spelled stone is also in place.

The final name misspelling for James: they accidentally carved a “W” into his tombstone and “corrected” it to a “U”. A larger, correctly spelled stone is also in place.

Gradually, despite wishing I got to use my real Polish name Piątkowski (as a female, my name in Poland would be Piątkowska), this English major has embraced the permanent misspelling and is proud to be a Pointkouski. Even if you can’t spell it.

Just the Facts

  • Name: James Pointkouski
  • Ahnentafel: #4 (my paternal grandfather)
  • Parents: Jan (John) Bolesław Piątkowski (Piontkowski) (1871-1942) and Rozalia (Rose) Kizeweter (1866-1937)
  • Born: July 6, 1910 in Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • Siblings: Józef (Joseph) Perk (1903-1953), Janina (Jean) Hynes (1905-?)
  • Married: Margaret Bergmeister (1913-1998)
  • Children: James and Jean
  • Died: 13 February 1980
  • Buried: Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 15: How Do You Spell That?


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

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

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

Rose’s story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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


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

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

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

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

Just the Facts:

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

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

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother from Genealogical Records:

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

The Pointkouski family circa 1960

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

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

Grandmom and me, 1977

Five Things I Learned About My Grandmother From Knowing Her:

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

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure,” said the man, “come on in.”

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

The Pater Family, circa 1937

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pointkouski Family, circa 1938-9

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

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

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

“Yes,” she replied, “that’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Genealogists are eagerly awaiting the release of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census in April 2012 so we can track down the information on all of our relatives. While Ancestry will have the images available for free, they will probably not be indexed for some time. For me, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing…my family’s track record for being recorded and indexed correctly is 5 out of 19 attempts from 1900 through 1930. Of the 14 entries that have incorrect spellings, 8 could be found via Soundex. That left 6 families that had to be found using other search methods. These 19 only include the surnames of my four grandparents – if I added in siblings of great-grandparents and grandparents with different surnames, the error count would be even higher. Here’s a look at how my family’s names fared in census indexing so far:

The Bergmeister Family

I have a lot of entries for the Bergmeister’s. First, he’s my only great-grandparent to be enumerated on the 1900 Census having just arrived to the U.S. in time. While neither he nor his wife are still alive for the 1930 Census, their two adult sons and one daughter have their own households by then. Also, my great-grandfather had a brother who is enumerated in 1910, and his widow takes over as head of the household for 1920 and 1930. Of the nine households total, only 3 were correct: Joseph Bergmeister in 1900 and 1910, and his son Joseph Bergmeister in 1930. Fortunately, no matter how creatively the name was spelled, it managed to show up in the Soundex most of the time.

Year Person Spelling Soundex
1910 Ignatz Berzminster N
1920 Joseph Burgmaster Y
1920 Theresa Birgmister Y
1930 Theresa Burgmeister Y
1930 Max Bergmuset Y
1930 Marie Bergmeistor Y

The Pater Family

I’m always amazed that a name like “Pater” could be misspelled so often. I mean, Pointkouski I can see, but Pater? There are only four instances of my Pater family in the census: Joseph Pater in 1910, 1920, and 1930 and his son Louis with his own household in 1930. At least they got it right half of the time!

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Potter Y
1930 Rater N

The Zawodny Family

My great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny is in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Census as well. However, you’ll only find him using a Soundex search in 1930 due to the rather creative spellings of his name.

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Savonia N
1920 Cawodny N
1930 Zavodny Y

The Piontkowski Family

The Piontkowski’s were also in the U.S. for the 1910 through 1930 Census. I can’t tell you how long it took me to find them in 1910 – you’ll see why by the spelling shown below.

Year Spelling Soundex
1910 Kilkuskie N
1920 Pontdowke N
1930 Peontkowski Y

By 1940, only 3 of my great-grandparents are deceased. Both sets of grandparents are married, and it will be my parents’ first appearance on a federal census record! And many of the siblings of my grandparents and their cousins will have households of their own. No index? No problem! I’m already gathering the information that will help me find them in the 1940 Census: addresses! By using sources such as social security applications, draft registration cards, death certificates, city directories, and the 1930 address I should be able to get a fairly accurate idea of the various residences in 1940. I also intend to use Steve Morse’s site to determine the enumeration district (ED) where I need to begin my search. See his page on finding the ED based on 1930 addresses, or take the quiz! I can’t wait to see how all of my family names are misspelled in 1940!

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Back on August 9, 2009, Randy Seaver presented another Saturday Night Genealogical Fun (SNGF) challenge for readers to document their sixteen great-great-grandparents.  I responded to the call with Sweet Sixteen: My Great-Great Grandparents.  But, my tree was a little bare in some spots.  I did not know at least 4 names and was “iffy” on two more.  In fact, I only had documented birth and death dates for 3 of the 16.

A few months later, I was able to update my list with A Sweeter “Sweet Sixteen” – I had documented proof of 4 of the missing names.  Then, last year I attended the NGS conference in Salt Lake City and found a lot of additional information that was previously missing with many marriage and birth records.

Today, Randy posed a very similar SNGF challenge.  I decided to take a look at my list to see what I had learned in the two years since my original post. While I still have a lot of research to do, I was able to add 4 of the “unknown” birth details into the “documented” category (which means I know the names of 8 more great-great-greats!). A bigger challenge was correcting the place names. Rather than simply put the name of the town and the current country, I attempted to figure out the town, county or equivalent, state or equivalent, and country name at the time of the event.  For my Polish ancestors, whose borders changed more frequently than I can keep track of, Steve Danko’s post on Describing Place Names in Poland was invaluable.  I hope I got them right!

Here is my revised/updated Sweet Sixteen:

Note: [d] = documented , [p]=presumed based on other documents

16. Stanisław Piątkowski

  • b. 1842, Mogilev, Mogilev Gubernia, Russian Empire [p]
  • m. Apolonia Konopka on 10 May 1863, Holy Cross Parish church in Warsaw, Warsaw Obwód, Mazowsze Voivodeship, Congress Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Son of Ludwik Piątkowski and Benigna Kosecka

17. Apolonia Konopka

  • b. 1842, Konopki, Augustów Gubernia, Poland [p]
  • d. unknown [presumed Warsaw before 1900]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Konopka and Rozalia Karwowska

18. Jan Kiziewieter

  • b. 1831, unknown [Poland]
  • m. Marianna Ostał before 1866 [p]
  • d. unknown [between 1876-1900, presumed near Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

19. Marianna Ostał

  • b. 1833, unknown [Poland]
  • d. unknown [after 1900, presumed Warsaw]
  • Parents’ names unknown

20. Josef Bergmeister

  • b. 09 Feb 1843, Puch, Pörnbach, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Ursula Dallmeier on 11 Apr 1871 in Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensburg or München before 1885]
  • Son of Jakob Bergmeister and Anna Maria Daniel

21. Ursula Dallmeier

  • b. 17 Mar 1847, Aichach, Aichach-Friedberg, Schwaben, Bayern [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed Regensberg between 1897 – 1919]
  • m2. Herman Götz by 1885 [p]
  • Daughter of Josef Dallmeier and Ursula Eulinger

22. Karl Echerer

  • b. 31 May 1846, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • m. Margarethe Fischer 18 May 1874, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • d. unknown [presumed after 1882, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm]
  • Son of Ignaz Echerer and Magdalena Nigg

23. Margarethe Fischer

  • b. 21 Jan 1845, Langenbruck, Reichertshofen, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern [d]
  • d. 04 Oct 1895, Pfaffenhofen a.d. Ilm, Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern, Germany [d]
  • Daughter of Franz Xaver Fischer and Barbara Gürtner

24. Józef Pater

  • b. 21 Sep 1864, Ruda Guzowska, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Antoninan Rozalia Pluta on 25 Aug 1885 in Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 11 Aug 1945, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Son of Jan Pater and Teofilia Zakrzewska

25. Antonina Rozalia Pluta

  • b. 11 Jun 1863, Mszczonów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 12 Dec 1938, Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA [d]
  • Daughter of Ludwik Pluta and Franciszka Wojciechowska

26. Jan Müller

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • m. Elżbieta Smetana by 1881 in unknown place
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland after 1909]
  • Parents’ names unknown

27. Elizabeth Smetanna

  • b. unknown [presumed Bohemia]
  • d. unknown [presumed Żyrardów, Poland]
  • Parents’ names unknown

28. Wawrzyniec Zawodny

  • b. 11 July 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Katarzyna Mariańska on 10 May 1875 in Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 13 Dec 1917, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Regency Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • Son of Szymon Zawodny and Katarzyna Ratajewska

29. Katarzyna Mariańska

  • b. 19 Oct 1852, Komorowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 29 Jul 1923, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Stanisław Mariański and Michalina Radomska

30. Wincenty Ślesiński

  • b. 11 Jul 1850, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • m. Stanisława Drogowska 03 Sep 1879 in Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire [d]
  • d. 01 Jan 1919, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Son of Jozef Ślesiński and Elżbieta Michalowska

31. Stanisława Drogowska

  • b. 04 Jun 1860, Wilczyn, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland [d]
  • d. 30 Dec 1918, Dobrosołowo, Słupecki Powiat, Kalisz Gubernia, Republic of Poland [d]
  • Daughter of Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubica

My ancestry remains the same as calculated two years ago: 62.5% Polish (the guy born in what is now Belarus is ethnically Polish), 25% German (technically Bavarian since Germany did not exist as a unified state until 1871), and 12.5% presumed Czech (Bohemian).  Thanks, Randy, now those blanks are really bothering me!

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Imagine yourself as an immigrant to America in the early 20th century.  You are happy with your decision to leave your homeland for a new life in America. Perhaps after a few years you saved enough money to send for your wife and children to join you. You have found a job, and you have found a house to live in. Perhaps you don’t yet understand the English language perfectly yet, but you are slowly learning. You may not get much practice with English though, because  your neighbors and co-workers speak your native language. One day someone knocks on your door – they are from the government, and they ask all sorts of official questions. “Who lives here?” “What are the names of your family members?” The questions were dutifully answered.

Fast forward eighty or one hundred years. Descendents of those immigrants pour over online or microfilmed images in search of answers about their ancestors. Families are found! But…is the information correct? Most of the time, it is correct. But not always, at least not in my family. Ignoring the numerous name spelling errors, the most unusual census mistakes in my family involve relatives that were counted twice!

All My Children

The first example of this was in the 1910 census for the family of Joseph and Antonina Pater (which is listed as “Potter”, or how Pater sounds in Polish).  In 1910, most of the family was living just outside of Philadelphia in the Bucks County borough of Attleboro (today known as Langhorne). Because Antonina’s mother had recently arrived and she was the oldest family member, she is listed as the head of the household (F. Annie Pluta indexed as F. Amie Theta…seriously, it’s a wonder I find anyone in the census!).  The 70-year-old F. Annie is followed by Joseph and Antonina and their six children (although there is some confusion as some are listed as grandchildren of the head of the household and others as children). The only problem? The two eldest daughters, Frances and Eva (listed as Francesca and Edna), were already married with children and living elsewhere.

Frances’ husband Paul and their son Edmund may be enumerated as a separate family underneath the Pater clan (listed under equally mangled and hard-to-read names). Eva, her husband Edward Süsser, and their children Edward and Anna are all enumerated on the census in Dover, Morris County, New Jersey (as the “Züsser” family).  In this case, only Eva is counted twice since I did not find another listing for Frances.  I believe that the married children who were not actually living with their parents were listed simply due to a language mis-understanding when the census taker asked for the names of their children.  By 1920, the Pater parents only list those children still living with them (Walter and Victoria).

By Any Other Name

A more curious case of double-counting happened in the 1930 census.  My Piontkowski ancestors, John and Rose, had been living in the United States for 25 years, so I would have assumed they had a better understanding of both the English language and what the census-taker wanted after having participated in two other federal censuses. The couple leaves out their daughter, who by this time had married and left the family, but counts their teenaged son, James, as well as their married son Joseph, his wife Catherine, and their daughter, Josephine. The entire family lives on N. Front Street in Philadelphia.

I knew that Joseph Piontkowski later used the surname Perk, but I never thought to look for Joseph Perk on the census.  Why should I? I had already found him living with his parents.  Only he really wasn’t living with his parents in 1930! I recently got in touch with my cousin, Joseph’s daughter, who had been researching her family.  When she wrote that she found the Perk family listed in the 1930 census, I did a double-take.  Sure enough, they are living on Hancock Street in Philadelphia about a mile away from his parents.  Listed are Joseph Perk, wife Katherine, daughter Josephine, and daughter Jean – who, based on the age of 0/12, had just been born!  Anyone without knowledge of the name change would certainly think that these were two different families, but they are the same.

I wonder how inflated the census numbers are/were due to difficulties with immigrants understanding the questions? Oh well, Eva Süsser, Joseph, Katherine, and Josephine Perk may all have been counted twice in one census or another – but at least that makes up for my grandmother Margaret Bergmeister not having been counted at all in both the 1920 and 1930 census!

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Yesterday I mentioned my “easy” online find of a 19th century Polish marriage record via a site called Geneteka.  In this post, I’ll provide more information on the site, what’s available, and how to navigate.  But first, a word on various Polish sites that offer genealogical records or indexes.

It’s becoming more and more common to find genealogical records online in the United States thanks to both “free” sites, such as FamilySearch, and paid subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Although FamilySearch and Ancestry both have some international records, not many are from Poland – which is where most of my ancestors are from.  But, there are Polish records available online – the only problem is knowing where to look.  There are several web sites and genealogical societies in Poland that are in the process of indexing millions of vital records, but most of the sites are in Polish (a notable exception to the language issue is the Poznan Project, which is in English).  There doesn’t seem to be one central online repository for these records, so finding them required some sleuthing and a heavy use of online translators to understand the Polish instructions.

Your first stop to check on availability of Polish records or indexes online should be the Indeks Indesków <EDITOR’S NOTE 10/2015 – the site this article referred to no longer exists; another site uses the same name but does not offer the same content>, which means the Index of Indexes.  It is in Polish, but it’s not too hard to figure out.  The site lists updated indexes in chronological order starting with the most recent.  But to see the entire list of what is available for each province, simply click on the name of the province (woj.) at the top of the page.  The column on the far left shows the Parafia/USC or the name of the town parish/civil registration office.  Next, the list will show what years are available online for chrzty/urodziny (christenings/births), małżeństwa (marriages), and zgony (deaths).  The final column, strona www, provides the link to the site or sites that have these indexes or records.  There are a dozen different sites!

Many of my Polish ancestors come from the mazowieckie provice and I was fortunate to discover that several of my main towns (Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Warszawa) all have either indexes or the actual records available via Geneteka.

A full and very detailed explanation of the Geneteka site has already been written by Al of Al’s Polish-American Genealogy Research in June, 2009.  Please read his series of posts starting with Indexing Project – Geneteka Part One.  When you’re finished reading Al’s posts, come back here and I’ll explain my search.

Using this Geneteka search page, I entered my surname Piątkowski without the diacritical (entered as Piatkowski) in the box that says Nazwisko and clicked on the Wyszukaj button.

Search results for “Piatkowski”

Next, I chose to view the 93 marriage records listed under Warszawa to see the following results:

Search results for “Piatkowski” in marriage records for Warszawa

Scrolling down to find “Stanisław”, I see the names of my great-great-grandparents:

Piatkowski-Konopka search result

The first column is merely the number of the record within the total number of records found.  Next is the year the marriage took place, followed by the number of the record in the actual record book.  Next is the name of the groom, then the bride, and the church name.  The icon that looks like the letter “i” is included with some lines.  If you hold your mouse over the “i” you will see additional information (have an online translation tool handy).  The “A” icon will tell you who indexed the record.  Finally, the most important part of the line is the icon that reads “SKAN” at the end of the line.  This is not available for all of the indexed records, but if it is shown you are in luck – click it and you will see a scanned copy of the image.  (Note: some of the scanned images are located on the Geneteka site and others link to Polish Archives – my sample for this post links to one of the Archives so if you click on “skan” for another image it may look different than the images that follow.) First you will see the record group that the image is in, such as the following:

This page opens up after clicking on “skan” next to the Piatkowski-Konopka information.

I knew from the indexed information that I needed record number 194, so I clicked on the first image on this page.  It opens up a larger view of the records, and you can clearly read the number.  Then I used the navigation buttons on the side to find #194.

Navigate through the records until you find the correct number (located in upper left of each record).

Once you find the correct image,  you can save it to your computer.  It’s FREE!  Then all you need is either your trusty copy of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents.  Volume I:  Polish by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman or your favorite Polish translator to help you uncover the details found in your record!

What if you find a name, but there is no “skan” at the end of the line?  That means they have not (yet?) scanned the record.  However, you now have both the year and the akt (act) number, which means you can contact the archives in that region to get a copy.  There will be a fee to obtain it, but it will be less than if you required them to research the name in the indexes themselves to find the correct year and act number.

This isn’t a full explanation of the Geneteka site – I am still figuring it all out myself.  Al already gave a very good primer on how to use the site, and I highly recommend his series that I linked to above.  My main goal in writing this post was to let others who are researching Polish ancestry know that the records are out there (to borrow a phrase from the television show X-Files).  Unfortunately, the records are being indexed by over a dozen different groups, and there is no one central site for this information.  Check the Index of Indexes to see if your ancestors’ parishes have been indexed yet.  If they haven’t – keep checking the site!  It is updated frequently.  All of the indexing sites appear to be quite active.  This marriage record only appeared in the last month.  If anyone else has good luck in finding a record on one of the many Polish sites, I’d love to hear more so leave a comment.

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There’s one in every family…the one who vanished.  Or at least seems to have vanished.  That mysterious figure that family members whisper about.  That person known in name only with no photographs as a remembrance.  That relative about whom know one really knows what happened.

My grandfather’s sister, the aunt my father never met, ran away and disappeared.  At least that’s how the story goes.  I was successful in documenting the beginning of her life, but then she disappears from public records without a trace.  She is the family legend – the one who disappeared.

Janina Piątkowska was born on December 29, 1905 in Warsaw, Poland to Jan Piątkowski and Rozalia nee Kizoweter.  The family lived in the Wola section of the city, and she was baptized at St. Stanisława Church.  Janina had an older brother, Józef, who was born two years earlier.

Just a few months after Janina was born, her father left for the United States.  He settled in Philadelphia, PA and found work in the same occupation he had in Poland – leatherworking.  He also began using his Americanized name, John Piontkowski.  It would be over six months before the rest of the family could join him in America.  In late October, 1906, Rozalia boarded the SS Armenia in Hamburg, Germany with 3-year-old Józef and almost 1-year-old Janina.  They arrived at Ellis Island on November 10, 1906.

By 1910, the Piontkowski family was living on Huntingdon Street in Philadelphia (listed as the Kilkuskie family in the census).  On July 6, 1910, my grandfather James was born.  He would later be called the “surprise” baby; mother Rose was 44 and father John was 39.

In 1920, the family lived on Waterloo Street in Philadelphia.  John worked in a leather factory, 18-year-old Joseph worked in a file factory, and teenager “Jennie” worked as a cigarette-maker in a cigarette factory.  Nine-year-old James attended school, and mother Rose did not work outside of the home.  Later that year, John formally declared his intent to become a U.S. citizen.

In 1922, John filed his petition for naturalization, and all three children – Joseph, Jennie, and James – were still listed as living with him.  His naturalization was finalized on May 11, 1923.

In the 1930 census, the family lives in yet another Philadelphia residence – this one on N. Front Street. Joseph is now married, and his wife Catherine and their 2-year-old daughter Josephine are living with John and Rose.  Twenty-year-old James is living with them, but his sister Jennie is no longer with them.  Where did she go?

The story of “Jennie” – also called by her birth name “Janina” and “Jean” or “Jeannie” – was passed on from my grandfather to his children.  I have no other documented facts about her beyond the 1922 petition of her father, just the story as told by her younger brother.  He said that she was working as a waitress and met a “rich” doctor.  They fell in love, he offered to “take her away” from the drudgery of the family’s working-class life, and they “ran off” to Florida.  End of story.

My grandfather never heard from his sister again.  I searched the Philadelphia marriage indexes for a marriage record, but did not find one.  This isn’t necessarily unusual – although my grandparents and one set of great-grandparents all lived in Philadelphia at the time of their marriage, they actually got married in three different towns outside of the city’s limits.  But without knowing Jennie’s married name, I haven’t been able to find out any more information about her.  The only certainty is that she did either run away or move away and never had contact with her family again.  Did she know that her mother died in 1937?  Or that her father tragically took his own life in 1942?  Her older brother Joseph, who used the surname Perk, died in 1953, leaving young children from two different marriages.

At the age of 43, my grandfather had lost all of his immediate family members – except possibly for his big sister.  He even named his daughter Jean in honor of his sister, but neither Jean nor his son James would ever meet their mysterious aunt.

If Jennie really did fall in love and run away to get married, it may be most romantic story in my family’s history – even more so if she married a wealthy doctor who could give her luxuries she never knew in childhood.  Did she live happily ever after?  Or did she encounter tragedy?  I certainly hope that her life was long and happy.  Did she have children?  If she did, did she tell them her birth name and where she grew up?  Unfortunately, there are some questions that are not easily answered when researching family history, especially when it’s a family mystery.

There’s one unsolved mystery in every family, and mine is my grandaunt Jennie.  I know a little about the beginning of her life; I hope to one day learn the truth about the rest of it.  Whether it’s a romantic dream or a tragic tale, you probably have one, too – there’s one in every family!

Photo courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.  No, this isn’t Jennie, but I thought it best represented her story!

[Submitted for the 100th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy – There’s One in Every Family!]

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My grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski, with her children James and Jean in front of their Philadelphia home.  Note the spiffy pants on my dad!

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Two years ago for Mother’s Day I posted a pictorial view of my maternal ancestry.  Today, in honor of Father’s Day, I present the Pointkouski men.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of my great-grandfather Jan Piątkowski.

My Grandfather and Father

My grandfather, James Pointkouski, and my father, James Pointkouski, in 1942.

My Father and Brother

My father and brother, James D. Pointkouski, around 1965.

My Brother and Nephews

The line goes on!  My brother and the two youngest Pointkouski men in 2010.

Happy Father’s Day!

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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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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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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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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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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



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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!


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

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