MeHello, my name is Donna Pointkouski.  I have been researching  my family history since 1989.  My family’s roots are in Bavaria, Germany and several areas in Poland including the Mazowsze and Wielkopolski provinces. As I learned more about genealogical research and how to find my ancestors, I’ve tried to share my experiences with others.  I spent a few years teaching genealogy as a non-credit course at Holy Family  University in Philadelphia with my college friend, Marie Dallas, who was my co-conspirator in learning all about genealogy.

In “real life” I am a procurement executive for the federal government.  I obtained a Master of Arts in English from Arcadia University and have written articles for several publications including Internet Genealogy and Family Chronicle (see the My Articles page for more information and some free samples). I have been a member of the Polish Genealogical Society of America (PGSA) since 1989.

Life outside of work and genealogy involves travel, books, music, photography, writing, classic movies, faith, family, and friends – though not necessarily in that order. My original presence on the “world wide web” is The Gene Scene, a site devoted to actor/dancer Gene Kelly from 1996-2012. What’s Past is Prologue is my attempt to preserve my personal family history and memories, offer research tips and ideas to readers, and practice my writing skills. I hope you enjoy your visit here and find something useful!

Feel free to send me an email at djpoint@gmail.com or leave a comment after any post. I’d especially love to hear from cousins or others researching these families, surnames, or locations!

Donna at the Pont du Gard, September 2007.


31 thoughts on “About

  1. My name is Guy Kawasaki, and I’m the co-founder of Alltop. I am also a partner at Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm, and I was the chief evangelist of Apple. I live in Silcon Valley, California.

    You may notice that visitors to your site came from Alltop.com because we added your site to http://branding.alltop.com/. (If Alltop is slow or down, please try it again later because we often get hammered by traffic.) You’ll see many of your peers at this site too. We created Alltop to provide an “online magazine rack” for people who do not use RSS feeds.

    I hope that you will share Alltop with your readers by writing it because are we are trying to achieve critical mass–even a small mention is great. Also, many sites display our badge, and we’d be honored if you did so too. (In fact, we serve approximately 250,000 badges per day.) They are available at http://badges.alltop.com/.

    If your readers think there are too many feeds, they can click on the “x” to hide some. We’re open to adding more high-quality feeds too if you have suggestions.


    Guy Kawasaki

    Ps, if your feed ever disappears from Alltop, please validate that it’s still working here: http://validator.w3.org/feed/

  2. DearDONNA,
    Don’t apparently have your email address, hence my personal note to you on the occasion of winning the BEST OF THE INTERNET FOR GENEALOGIST AWARD 14th Sept 2008 in the blog category.

    You’ll find the link to the announcement and the award graphic at:

    You are free to post the award graphic with the link to the award page in your blog or on your sidebar, as you see fit.

    I appreciate your work,
    Myrt 🙂

  3. Dzien Dobry,

    Nie mówie po polsku, so I am happy you speak English.

    My name is Bram Pater and I am from Leyda (Leiden) Holland.
    Since 2000 I have been several time to Torun in Poland as Leiden and Torun are Twincities.
    As I am a member of the Family Organisatie Pater in Holland and editor of one of the genealogic books (Pater-Amerongen) I did some research to the name Pater in Poland.
    The reason is that we like to know why someone choosed the familyname Pater. As I knew that also in Great Britain, Germany, Poland, Hongary and more have Pater as surname.
    This summer in July we (my wife and I) planned to go to the USA for a 3 weeks holyday and meet some family members of which I am (so called by them) 4th cousin of(?)
    Our organisation excist since 13 april 1985, so next year we will celebrate our 25th aniversary.
    Although in Dutch, see our site at http://www.fam-org-pater.nl.
    An others site is of the familymember we gone meet in July is http://amerongen.wordpress.com/
    My email address: bram(at)brampater.nl (change (at)).
    http://www.brampater.nl (also with pictures of Torun.)

    Do zobaczenia!
    Bram Pater

  4. Hello Donna
    I am feeling very hesitant about writing this email as I’m thinking you will probably either have a good laugh at my ignorance of genealogy or worse just ignore this message altogether. I stumbled across your website in an attempt to find how to contact German Archives.

    Not to waste too much of your time I live in Australia and have been recently made aware of my aunt’s research into our family history. She is now 91 and still unable to locate and lay to rest her great grandfather Rodolph Orth who
    migrated here in 1855. Her research was done over 30years ago without the aid of the www and I would like now to perhaps uncover more info for her.

    I would like to make contact with a reputable English speaking Researcher whom I could contact and communicate with regarding my questions. I do not speak German and I have no idea where to turn to for help. All the sites that I go onto seem to want to extract money from me with little or no outcome. Can you please help

    Rodolph Orth b Unteraltenbuch approx 1818 ??
    Parents Franz & Elizabeth Orth
    Married Helena Schreick
    Parents Peter and Marina (nee Ulrg or Ulrich??)
    Emigrated to Australia 1854 on “The Peru” from Hamburg
    with sons John:Ignaz (later known as Thomas) Franz (infant son died on board)
    Supposedly Rodolph was bitten by a snake and died in 1856 and Helena remarried William Callaghan in
    1856 at Canal Creek Station and registered that marriage
    inIpswich Qld in 1860
    We have been successful in discovering information since their arrive in Australia in 1856 but unable to get history on
    their time in Bavaria.

    Thank you most sincerely for your time and I hope someone can help……….please.
    Elizabeth Egan

  5. Bram,

    Thanks for writing. I think we corresponded once before. I would love to be able to connect all of the Pater families! I will check out your sites.


  6. Libby,

    Unfortunately I’ve never used a researcher in Germany, so I don’t know where to direct you. The records of the town of my ancestors was available through the Family History Center here in the US, so I was able to translate basic records myself. I used a form letter to write to the town first, and used online translators to make sure I understood the response. The Family History Library has a guide to German research here:

    Form letters to allow you to write in German can be found online or in any “how to” German genealogy book.

    The town seems to have a website: http://www.altenbuch.de/ so you can even try the “Kontakt” button and someone might speak English.

    You already know the town name, so you’re almost there. I wish I knew a good researcher in Bavaria, but I’m sorry I don’t. Have you looked at the pages on Bavaria Gen Web? The site is at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~deubay/

    Thanks for writing. Keep me posted on what you find.


  7. Dear Donna,
    I really enjoyed your blog and seeing the pictures. I am looking for the Klebel family who were either from Pfaffenhofen or Schrobenhausen. Martin Klebel was born in Oct 1871 and his parents John Klebel and Ursula Reger/Regen were married in 1865. They came to Illinois by 1872. St. Jakob Church in Schrobenhausen stated they do not have records for my Klebel’s. Do you have an e-mail address for St. Johnnes Baptist Church?

  8. Hi, Is there a chance you are in contact with Shona ferguson? We, Work mates of her’s from Great Expectations have not had much luck fnding her on the internet. It sure is something that she looks the same a chld n a pcture as she dd as a young woman we worked with 15 years ago.
    If you do contact her, could you please ask her to look up Harry or Leslie on face book. Thanks.

  9. Dear Donna,

    you are a long distant cousin .We have the same hobby.

    Please write me.


  10. Hi Donna, by chance I saw the photo with “Essie Sedgeman”. I think that is my grandmother Effie Sedgeman!

  11. Hello Donna. I have a question about a post made about a year ago. I’m hoping to find some info about my grandfather in the CCC and I’m hoping you can help me get in contact with the man who may have some info. Please email me directly and I will give you more info.
    Thanks, Ambia

  12. Hi my name is Nelson Baker. I am doing research for my wife’s family and I have run into a Piontkowski who came over with her Great Grandfather, Tomasz Bazan. His name was Michal Piontkouski and the Ships manifest lists his wife as Karolina. Tomasz’ wife we knew from word of mouth was Karolina Piontkowski as a maiden name. Have you run into anything similar in your research or do you have any clues. It kind of makes it tough because they list themselves as austrians. with michal listing ethnicity as “ruthenian” and Tomasz as Poland Than the problem is towns. Very hard to figure what they were trying to write as in Krukulansly.

    Anyway any help or suggestions would be much appreciated

  13. Hi Donna, have you ever come across a family member who was put in foster care (in Philadelphia)? How did you go about the research? I am suspecting my great grandmother was put into foster care in 1905 or shortly there after when her father passed away (she was only 2). Was it common for foster children to take their foster parents last names? Any info on the subject is appreciated. Many Thanks. Heather

  14. Hello, I have just found your site. I see I will have a lot of reading to do. I just started searching my ancestors at the beginning of this year. A contact sent me my grandparent’s marriage certificate from Camden NJ. Of course, being a curious person, I wondered why NJ when they were lifetime PA residents. I “googled” and found your wonderful site and article. I did know about Elkton MD . My grandmom was only 19, so across the bridge they went ! (not sure which one in 1897) I very quickly browsed and like what I saw. Born Philly, catholic schools, tastycakes, etc.

  15. Hello Donna,

    My great grandfather, Alexander Piontkowski emigrated from Russia Poland in 1885 and settled in Manayunk, PA until he moved to Newark around 1905. The ship manifest I have seen appears to have his sibling, Jan, on it. I’ve recently began my journey to the past…and was wondering if there is any connection between our great grandfathers?

    Please email me if there may be a possibility.

  16. Hello! found your site as I’ve been looking for ideas for U related to genealogy! I’m participating in the A-Z Challenge this year and was stumped at U. I’m borrowing your idea to write about an uncle…look forward to learning more from your site! Gail @ Making Life An Art

  17. My name is Douglas Bruce McKellip and my father was Dalton Byron McKellip born in 1904 in either Harrisburg or Altoona,PA.. His mother was born Nellie Kelly and I was always told that she was related to Gene Kelly. I do not remember what the relationship was. My now deceased brother was Patrick Kelly McKellip supposedly named after someone in the Gene Kelly family. From looking at pictures of Gene Kelly on the internet there are definite similarities between him and my father and more so with my youngest brother,Dalton Byron McKellip Jr. Can you find the connection between Nellie Kelly and Gene Kelly and satisfy my curiosity? Thank you,
    Doug McKellip

  18. Hello Donna,

    Do you happen to know how I can get hold of the 1921 First General Census of Population post WW I Poland.

    Many thanks for your assistance.

  19. Hi. I happened upon your site by chance – though, I’m beginning to think it wasn’t just chance! I’m helping my family put together a family tree for my daughter – the only grandchild of the only child of parents whose families pretty much all immigrated from East Europe (Poland/Russia/or parts in between) to America in the early 1900s. Oddly enough – my husband’s last name is Brown. For the longest time he thought he was WAY more English than he actually is – in fact, he’s learned he is about 3/4 East European. Long story short, I (a person of utterly boring British Isles heritage with a dash of Norman) am trudging through all the names that were spelled phonetically when the families came over. I’ve uncovered bits and pieces but have yet to find the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the history of both sides of his mother’s family and his grandmother’s side of dad’s family. (And I thought searching for Browns was going to be hard!) If there’s any way you can help me out – I’d really love it.

    Laura Brown

  20. Hi, Donna. I’d like to use your graphic of the death notice and translation about your ancestor, Jakob Zinmeister in a textbook I am doing on health communication as an example of an old record of how someone died. The fact that it is by a tree falling on him, or him falling from a tree, is actually quite useful – since he is about at the end of the age groups even today most affected by unintentional injury as their primary cause of death. Please contact me if you agree and I will send you the publisher’s permission forms. Thank you. And, what a wonderful site and research project. Quite amazing. Claudia

  21. Hi Donna,
    thank you for your interesting website. We have a common ancestor, Václav Jirsak. Now I know who his parens were, thank you for that. For me it was interesting to learn that other relatives of the Czech exulanti returned to Bohemia. I would be interested in some more information, if you want. Is it also possible to write you an email, or do I have to write you with the public comment function?
    Greeting from Northern Germany
    Mary Jirsak

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