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The theme for Week 8 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Good Deeds” and my ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather, Jan Poláček (Czech spelling – alternate in Polish is Polaćek or Polaczek). Jan’s name was on the document for the purchase of property in 1802. That deed turned out to be a very good deed, indeed, for generations of Czech exiles in Poland.

Jan’s Story

Jan was born in 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (Tabor Wielki, Kępno, Poland today). He was the son of Prokop Poláček and Kateřina Tomešová. Prokop was born in Labská Stráň in Děčín district in the Ústí nad Labem region of the Czech Republic. It was right on the border of what was then Prussia, and Prokop was part of the wave of Protestant (Czech Brethren) immigrants from Bohemia that left because they were under persecution for their faith. By 1754 Prokop was married and starting a family in Groß Friedrichstabor (his wife is also a Czech immigrant, but her birthplace is not yet known).

The community of Czech immigrants to Prussia was not similar to the American immigrant “melting pot”. In America, immigrants tended to form communities with other immigrants from the same country. The American-born children of my Polish and German immigrant ancestors grew up surrounded by immigrant families and understood their parents’ native languages and cultures, but they or their children married outside of their ethnic group and thus became truly “American” within a generation or two. In the late 18th Century in Prussian Poland, the Czechs stayed together as a close-knit community – the immigrants’ children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren all maintained the Czech language and their religion.

Jan grew up in Groß Friedrichstabor and worked as both a farmer and a weaver. He married Kateřina Kupcová on June 5, 1782. They had four children together: Josef born in 1783, Marie (my 4th great-grandmother) in 1785, Jan in 1790, and Anna in 1793.

The Czech exiles settled in several towns throughout the area. The larger towns were Husinec (Gęsinec), Groß Friedrichstabor (Tabor Wielki), and Friedrichsgrätz (Grodziec) and the smaller villages included Czermin, Sacken, Sophienthal, and Erdmannsdorf. (Read more about one of my other Czech exile ancestors, Václav Jirsak, from Week 2 of my “52 Ancestors” – his son and grandson were part of the new town with Jan Poláček.)

Some residents of these towns hoped for a larger area where they could all live together and have one pastor for their church. In November, 1802, some of the town leaders in Groß Friedrichstabor, including my ancestor Jan, learned that there was some land available for purchase that was close by – only a 5- day walk. They sent some men to look at the proposed land and it was found to be agreeable. On 20 November, an agreement was written up and signed by the leaders, and it was forwarded from town to town to get more people who were willing to move to the new settlement. In total, 54 men agreed to contribute to the purchase and become landowners, and an additional 65 agreed to make the move.

In November 1802 a contract was signed by the "Founding Fathers" to buy the town of Zelów for the community of Czech exiles.

In November 1802 a contract was signed by the “Founding Fathers” to buy the town of Zelów for the community of Czech exiles.

The seller was the Polish landlord Józef Świdziński who owned a vast amount of land – his “subjects” living on that land were moved to another area. He sold the land to the Czech colonists for the sum of 25,666 Prussian thalers or 154,000 Polish złoty. The sale was final by 21 December 1802. The first settlers arrived in February 1803 and the first child was born in the new town, Zelów, on 23 March. Most colonists arrived in May and June of that year, and in June the final payment was made to Świdziński and elders of the town were chosen as leaders.

The property was divided among the 54 settlers, with some families sharing the financial burden with additional families. There were acres set aside – both forest and meadows – for community use, and more set aside for a church and cemetery.

Jan Poláček was one of the men who signed the contract for the town, and his entire family made the move. At the time, he and his wife were about 44 years old. Their children were 10, 13, 18, and 20. Son Josef got married in Zelów on 30 Sep 1804 and daughter Marie on 21 July 1805.

The early work of clearing the land and building houses was difficult, and even some of the young men died. But, the community prospered and more colonists moved to the town. By 1813 there were 106 landowners in the town.

Jan’s wife Kateřina died on 13 November 1809 at the age of 50. Jan would live long enough to see his other two children get married: Anna (in Buczek, Poland) on 21 October 1810 and Jan in Zelów on 07 May 1811.

Jan died on 12 October 1812 at the age of 53 – almost ten years after signing the deed that created the community.

Jan's name on the deed is on the lower left.

Jan’s name on the deed is on the lower left.

The best part about this week’s ancestor is that I didn’t know he existed until a few weeks ago. After my post for Week 2 of the challenge, a cousin-I-didn’t-know-yet left a comment. We compared notes, and as it turns out we’re simultaneously 4th, 6th, and 7th cousins from various lines of the Czech exiles to Poland. I had documentation on two of those lines, but our closest connection was my mysterious Miller line. Thanks to participating in 52 Ancestors, and thanks to my new cousin, I now go back several generations on that line after being “stuck” for so long. Jan Poláček is one of our ancestors from that line through his daughter Marie.

Just the Facts

  • Name: Jan Poláček
  • Ahnentafel: #210 (my 5th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Prokop Poláček (1727-1786) and Kateřina Tomešová (1732-1803)
  • Born: 1759 in Groß Friedrichstabor, Prussia (called Velký Fridrichův Tábor in Czech) – today, Tabor Wielki, Poland
  • Siblings: Marianna Poláčková (1754-1766), Anna Poláčková Matisová (1757-1791), Johana Poláčková Neverčeřalová (1762-1829). Half-siblings: Kateřina Poláčková (1765-1766), Štĕpán Poláček (1767-), Josef Poláček (1769-1769), Marie Poláčková Šrajberová (1771-1806), Kateřina Poláčková Tucková (1780-1831)
  • Married: Kateřina Kupcová (1759-1809) on June 5, 1782 in Tabor Wielki
  • Children: Josef Poláček (1783-), Marie Poláčková Šulitka Millerová (1785-), Jan Poláček (1790-1842), Anna Poláčková (1793-)
  • Died: 12 October 1812 in Zelów, Poland
  • My Line of Descent: Jan Poláček->Marie Poláčková Šulitka Miller->, Matej Miller-> Jan Miller-> Elżbieta Miller Pater-> Henry Pater-> mother-> me

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 8: Good Deeds

#52Ancestors

In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Today he’s off to Nürnberg, about 135 miles away so he’s likely stopping there on his way to Munich.

28 August 1912 ~ Nürnberg, Germany

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Front: The Bratwurstglöcklein in Nürnberg

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

Back: Ferdinand makes the best of bad weather

The postcard reads:

 Nürnberg 28.8.12  Es Grüßt Euch Herzlich aus Nürnberg, Euer Freund Ferdinand. morgen den 29ten Reise ich nach München Es war bis jetzt nichts als Regen und Kalt Näheres Mündlich nochmals die beste Gesundheit zu Allen

Translation:

Nürnberg 28.8.12  Sending you greetings from Nuremburg, your friend Ferdinand. Tomorrow, the 29th I travel to Munich. Until now it was only rainy and cold. More orally. Again, best wishes to all.

Ferdinand once again mentions traveling to Munich and he’s more than halfway there from his original location of Offenbach. But the weather! Some things never change – when you’re on vacation and it’s rainy and cold, you just have to complain about the weather. In fact, this is reminiscent of one of my own trips to Germany in 2006 where I had a string of cold and rainy days in late March.

So what’s a traveler to do when it’s cold and rainy? Whether it’s 1912 or 2006, the answer is the same – you find someplace warm inside and have something to eat!  And when one is in Nürnberg, there is only one meal to have – bratwurst! You can find all kinds of wurst all over Germany, but the first documented evidence of the sausage comes from the city of Nürnberg – all the way back to the year 1313! Six hundred years later, the weary traveler Ferdinand stops by the city to enjoy the same treat.

The bratwurst that’s particular to Nürnberg is a small sausage more akin to what Americans would consider to be breakfast sausage. It’s a pork sausage seasoned with marjoram that gives it a distinct taste and is usually accompanied with sauerkraut or potatoes.

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

Memorial plaque for the chapel and restaurant that was next to it

The particular restaurant that Ferdinand stopped in – assuming the postcard photo represents the actual place he went – is called the Bratwurstglöcklein. It was attached to the Moritz chapel (note the stained glass window to the right in the postcard) and was renowned for its freshly made sausages. In 1944, the chapel and restaurant were destroyed in air raids, but there is a restaurant on the spot today bearing the name (not so for the chapel).

I tried my best to identify the automobile in the lower right of the postcard, but I didn’t have any luck. I did not think there were quite so many car manufacturers in the 1911-12 time period! After going through images of various German, French, Italian, and British possibilities, I decided to let someone who is much more informed about antique cars find the image here and leave a comment identifying it.

Sources:

Part 5 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

Hilaury - left approx. age 9 in Regensburg, middle approx. age 20-23 in Amberg, right approx. age 25-30 in Philadelphia

Hilaury – left approx. age 9 in Regensburg, middle approx. age 20-23 in Amberg, right approx. age 25-30 in Philadelphia

The theme for Week 7 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Love” and my choice is a relative, but not an ancestor – my great-aunt, Hilaury Bergmeister Thumann. Baptized Hilaria, she was called Hilaury, or Lari for short, and Laura once she moved to America. I had to depart from the direct line of ancestors for this one, because the theme asked “Which ancestor do you love to research? Which ancestor do you feel especially close to? Which ancestor seemed to have a lot of love?” The answer to all three of those questions is great-aunt Laura because she continues to surprise me, I’ve found ancestors and relatives directly as a result of researching her (as opposed to her brother, my direct ancestor), and I feel like we share some things in common.

Laura’s Story

Much of Laura’s story might be familiar if you’re following along with these weekly posts – her brother, my great-grandfather Joseph Bergmeister, was profiled in Week 5. I’ve also written about Laura on the blog before, but since then I’ve discovered a few more things about my favorite great-aunt.

Laura Bergmeister was born on 10 January 1870 in Asbach, Bavaria, Germany to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. She was born illegitimate, but her father was named in the baptismal document and the couple married the following year on 11 April 1871 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.  Joseph was a flour merchant, the son of a long line of millers in the town of Puch. Since Joseph was not the oldest son who would inherit the mill, he was a merchant of the mill’s goods. His children are born in various towns throughout Bavaria, so I assume he traveled from town to town selling flour. Ursula was the daughter of an innkeeper in the town of Asbach, and that is where Laura was born. In 1871 the family was living in Vohburg a.d. Donau when a daughter named Marie was born on 17 November, but the baby did not survive. In 1873, Joseph was born in Vohburg. In 1873, Ignatz was born in Abensberg.

By 1879, the family appears to be living in Regensburg based on a photograph of Laura, her brothers, and their mother. Laura made her First Communion at the Dom St. Peter, the cathedral of Regensburg, in May, 1880.

At some point during Laura’s childhood, her father died. I have yet to find out when, but it was sometime after the youngest son’s birth 1876 and 1884, because in May of 1885 his widow is remarried and having another child. By 1884, mother Ursula is married to Herman Goetz (Götz). The Bergmeister siblings gained half-brothers Herman in 1885 and Julius in 1886 as well as a half-sister Elsa (birth date not yet known).

Often in discovering information about our ancestors and relatives through genealogical documents, we only uncover bare facts such as names or dates or places. However, I was given a couple of unique family heirlooms/ephemera that belonged to Laura that actually gave me some insight into her personality.

One is an “autograph” book, also called a stammbuch or poesiealbum (poetry album). The concept began in Germany among university students – almost like a yearbook by today’s standards, minus photographs – in which students would have friends and professors write a page, usually a poem, to the owner. By the late 19th Century – when Laura was a girl – the books were popular among teenage girls.

The very first entry in her book is signed by “father” on 24 October 1883 – I just can’t be certain (yet) that it is her father Joseph or instead her step-father Herman. The next page is signed by her mother, but not until 01 April 1884 and there are some entries later in the book that are dated in between those two. The book itself will result in a series of posts here once I get all of the entries translated, but in the ones I have so far it seems, based on the poems, that Laura had a cheerful spirit and spread that good cheer among others.

She started this book when she was 13 years old and entries include her parents, brother(s), cousins, and girlfriends. She collects a few entries each year all the way until she’s almost 26 years old for a total of 35 pages of poems or notes. Incredibly, she even has a few entries from people she met on the ship to America!

In July, 1893, 23-year-old Laura made her way to Antwerp, Belgium and boarded the SS Friesland. It arrived in New York on July 25th. It always intrigued me that she came, presumably alone, to America at a relatively young age for a woman to be traveling alone. She had no family in this country except for some rather distant cousins in Philadelphia – so distant that it’s unlikely they knew they were related. After seeing the autograph book, however, I realized Laura didn’t make the journey all alone – she had at least one girlfriend with her. One of the entries is in perfect English and reads:

In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. In eighteen hundred and ninety three, together we sailed you and me. From your loving friend, Wally Kuchenreuter

Wally Kuchenreuter's entry in Hilaury's autograph book circa July 1893

Wally Kuchenreuter’s entry in Hilaury’s autograph book circa July 1893

Sure enough, Wally, presumably short for Walburga, is listed on the passenger list immediately above Laura. She is 18 and listed as a servant. I found her in the 1900 census working as a maid in the household of a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. When I looked over the passenger list more closely, I noticed that there are several single woman aged 18 to 24 that are listed as “servant” – in Laura’s case, she is listed as “housekeeper”. Did they all come together for work? A couple of these young girls signed Laura’s autograph book on the way over, and there was even an entry from Louis Lester Rosenbaum who apparently was an engineer for Edison Electric Light. This tells me that young Laura wasn’t a shy girl if she has men signing her autograph book on board the ship!

Laura (and Wally, for that matter) settled in Philadelphia. I don’t know anything about Laura’s life until three years later. On 15 June 1896, she married Max Thumann, a cabinetmaker originally from Regensburg, who was 13 years her senior. They come from the same city, but Max had been in the United States since 1883. If they knew each other in Germany, Laura would have only been 13 years old when he left!

Max and Laura at their home, September 1910

Max and Laura at their home, September 1910

At the time of Laura and Max’s marriage, she lived at 2827 Reese Street in Philadelphia. By 1900, the couple was living at 1033 Jefferson Street and Hilaire’s occupation is listed as “retail grocery”. Interestingly, one of the witnesses to Max and Hilaire’s marriage, Michael Hoffbauer, is a grocer at Hilaire’s old Reese Street address, so it is presumed that she continued to work there. Max and Hilaire bought a house at 6078 Kingsessing Avenue in 1907, and they lived there until their deaths.

Beginning in 1900, Max and Laura welcomed the arrival of the first of Laura’s brothers from Bavaria. When she left Germany, her Bergmeister brothers were 20 and 17, and her Goetz brothers were still children aged 8 and 7. I only recently found out about sister Elsa, presumable a half-sister, but I don’t know where she falls into the family. Despite their ages and the distance between them, communication must have continued through letters across the ocean. Because when each brother arrived in the US, their passenger list shows they were going to Hilaire and Max’s house and that the passage was paid for by their brother-in-law Max Thuman.

Joseph was the first brother to join Laura in America, arriving in New York City in May, 1900. Max paid for his passage, and his sister is listed on the passenger list as the relative who would meet him. Joseph stayed with the Thumann’s until he could find work and rent a house, and he is enumerated with them on the 1900 Census.

Next to arrive was 16-year-old half-brother, Julius Goetz, in September 1902. He is recorded as a locksmith from Regensburg going to his brother-in-law Max Thumann. Julius also lived with the Thumann’s until he found work in a factory and a place to live. He later returns to live with them after his 1919 marriage for a brief time.

In 1904, Ignatz Bergmeister arrives in New York City in June. His passage was also paid for by Max, and the list annotates that he was “met by sister at the landing”. It is not certain if Ignatz lived in Philadelphia for a time or if he stayed in New York City. He marries in New York in 1907 and is living there in 1910, but since Hilaire met him in New York it is possible that he also came to stay with the Thumann’s in Philadelphia for a short time.

The last brother, Herman Goetz, came to America in 1911 (after the death of their mother) at the age of 26. His passenger arrival record lists his brother Julius as his next of kin in America, but he lived with the Thumann’s for several years, including at the time of his marriage in 1913.

The Thumann’s were definitely involved with Joseph Bergmeister’s family. Joseph’s first son and first American-born child was also named Joseph, born in 1902. For his baptism, Uncle Max and Aunt Laura were his godparents. In 1905, Max was born, and the couple was once again godparents. In 1907, Julius had Aunt Laura as his godmother and his namesake Uncle Julius as his godfather. Two babies died shortly after birth in 1909 and 1911, including a daughter named Laura after her aunt. Joseph’s youngest child was Margaret, my grandmother, born in 1913. Aunt Laura again takes her place as godmother, and her godfather was Uncle Herman which explains Margaret’s unusual middle name, Hermina.

Laura was also involved as an aunt with her brother Ignatz’s children even though they lived farther away in Elizabeth, NJ. Ten-year-old niece Teresa wrote to her aunt in 1919 thanking her for the “beautiful things” she sent.

Laura (center) having some fun with family. The woman on the right is sister-in-law Teresa. The boy is Charles, son of Teresa and Ignatz and Laura's nephew. The girl may be his sister Teresa but appears too young. The woman on the left is unidentified but looks strikingly like my grandmother, which leads me to believe it is my great-grandmother Marie, Laura's sister-in-law. Approximate date:  1915-1917. Approximate place: Elizabeth, NJ

Laura (center) having some fun with family. The woman on the right is sister-in-law Teresa. The boy is Charles, son of Teresa and Ignatz (Laura’s nephew). The girl may be his sister Teresa but appears too young. The woman on the left is unidentified but looks strikingly like my grandmother, which leads me to believe it is my great-grandmother Marie, Laura’s sister-in-law. Approximate date: 1915-1917. Approximate place: Elizabeth, NJ

When my grandmother died, I found a “calling card” of Laura’s which tells me she was a sociable woman with a lot of friends. In addition to the wonderful autograph book, my cousin gave me Laura’s scrapbook containing a lot of postcards from family and friends (an entire series of cards from her husband’s friend Ferdinand is featured in an ongoing series of posts here). Some of the postcards were from her brother Herman before he immigrated, at least one is from the previously unknown sister Elsa, and some appear to be from a niece that is either the daughter of Elsa or a niece of husband Max. All of these things point out to me that Laura cared about friends and family and made the effort to keep in touch. Many of the cards thank her for either a letter, card, or package that she sent them.

In my post about Joseph Bergmeister, I highlighted the tragic events that befell Laura’s family members so I will merely summarize here:

  • 1914 Herman’s wife dies during childbirth
  • 11 October 1918, Herman Goetz died of pneumonia at the age of 32
  • 05 February 1919, Joseph’s wife Maria died from heart disease just weeks weeks away from her 44th birthday
  • 19 November 1919, Ignatz died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 43
  • 30 May 1927, Joseph died of nephritis at the age of 54
  • 16 November 1939, Ignatz’s wife Teresa died at the age of 59

Fortunately for Laura, her youngest brother Julius lived a long life so she was able to keep the family connection to him as well as her nieces and nephews for the rest of her life.

Max Thuman died on 26 November 1941 at the age of 84 from pneumonia. Laura only lived for another fourteen months, dying on 6 February 1943 from cancer. She was 73 years old. They are buried together at Mount Moriah Cemetery, which is located just across the street from their home on Kingsessing Avenue.

On the surface, what would I possibly find in common with this woman? I didn’t leave home at a young age to move to a new country. Nor did I marry. I’m probably not as outgoing as Laura seems to be (at least until you get to know me or vice versa). But there is something about her that makes me feel a kinship. Even though she didn’t travel (that I know of) once she moved here, Laura’s trip to this country reminds me of my own love of travel.  I didn’t get married (yet) like she did, but I’ve dated older men with an age difference like she had with Max. I try to keep relationships with friends and family over distance. I have a collection of postcards from friends and family. And the most significant commonality – I love my nieces and nephews as she did hers.

The theme this week asks “Which ancestor do you love to research? Which ancestor do you feel especially close to? Which ancestor seemed to have a lot of love?” I love researching Laura because she continues to surprise me with facts about her and her family that I didn’t know. I feel especially close to her – she had no direct descendants and neither do I, so if I don’t remember her amazing life, who will? Finally, she seemed to have a lot of love for her family and friends. I hope that I can be as fun-loving, caring, and thoughtful as she was!

Just the Facts

  • Name: Hilaury (Laura) Bergmeister Thumann
  • Ahnentafel: N/A – great-aunt, sister of #10 my great-grandfather
  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1843-?) and Ursula Dallmaier (1846-1911)
  • Born: 10 January 1870 in Asbach, Bavaria, Germany
  • Siblings: Maria (1871-1871), Joseph Bergmeister (1873-1927), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
  • Married: Max Thumann (1867-1941) on 15 June 1896 in Philadelphia, PA, USA
  • Immigrated: departed Antwerp aboard the SS Friesland; arrived in New York City on 25 July 1893
  • Children: None. At least 4 nephews and 5 nieces
  • Died: 06 February 1943 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 7: Love

#52Ancestors

Roots Un-Tech

"Records" from my archive...the early days of the search

“Records” from my archive…the early days of the search

This weekend many of my genealogy friends are attending the RootsTech 2015 conference in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, I’m not there. I figured that February travel ought to include someplace warm… Little did I realize that the high tomorrow for Salt Lake City would be 54 degrees while we’re expecting a wind chill of 0 here on the East Coast. But hearing about all of the new technology and how it can relate to or help our genealogy research is in stark contrast, much like the weather this weekend between those two locations, to what genealogical research used to be.

In the last few weeks I’ve been organizing and de-cluttering my home office, and I found my notes from a non-credit genealogy course I once taught. From about 2000-2002, my friend Marie and I taught the basics of researching your family history in a 5-week class at a Philadelphia university. It wasn’t until I looked over those notes that I realized just how much genealogical research has changed in the last fifteen years – mostly due to computers, the internet, and digitization projects. Not to mention DNA testing!

The first week of the class we focused on Federal Census records (at the time, the latest year that was released was 1920 and none were online), and the first thing we “taught” was all about Soundex. Today, while newcomers to genealogy might hear about Soundex and understand it conceptually, there is no need to really use it anymore. When I first started my research back in 1989, figuring out the Soundex code for my surnames almost added to the thrill of the search because it appealed to the cryptogram and code-loving days of my childhood. Today, it really doesn’t matter that my name converted to P532 because we no longer have a 2-step manual search through various microfilms (yes, microfilm constituted high technology back then)-just a short wait after the click of a button to see the possibilities.

But besides the onslaught of the availability of online digitized records (which we sparingly covered in the last week of our class in 2000), I realized that much of what we taught still applies as much today as it did a decade ago – or two hundred years ago. Step #1 in researching your family history – then, now, and forever more – is gathering all of the information you already know from talking to relatives.

As evidenced by the photograph above, I used whatever means available at the time to capture that information. Yes, friends, that is a paper plate. And an envelope. You see, back in those beginning days of research, I’d constantly pepper my parents with questions. Once I’d find something, perhaps a fact or person they hadn’t mentioned, and I asked again, it would jog their memory to reveal more information that I’d hurriedly write down. My parents’ house is renowned for never having notepaper, or a pen, available when one needs it, so I’d reach for whatever would serve as paper.

Not as cool as Evernote, Family Tree Maker, or even Notepad – but it got the job done. Looking back on these relics of research (before I finally toss them in the recycle bin), one thing is certain – those little tidbits of information I wrote down were, eventually, all either proved or disproved by my research. They were clues, and the search – whether you are using a computer and the latest technological advances or not – begins with basic family information.

Don’t get me wrong – I am so happy with all of the technological advances that have happened since I started my research. But don’t forget about the how-to lessons that will never change no matter how much more easier technology makes our search:

  1. Write down everything you know.
  2. Talk to living relatives about everything they know.
  3. Remember that spellings can change and were flexible in the past.
  4. Remember that history is important to know and geographical boundaries change over time.
  5. Document your sources!

One other tip that people just getting started in genealogy in today’s age of technology just don’t quite fathom…not every record you need to trace your family can be found online. That doesn’t mean it can’t be found, it’s not not as easy as clicking a button. Happy Ancestor Hunting!

In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. Along the way, he writes to his friends back home, Max and  Laura Thumann (my great-aunt). About two weeks into his trip, Ferdinand is settled in Offenbach and taking day trips from there. Last week’s postcard was dated 21 August 1912, and he said he would “go to Munich next week”…but for now he’s off to Aschaffenburg, which is about 20 miles southeast of Offenbach.

27 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Front: The Steigerwald brewery in Aschaffenburg

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

Back: Ferdinand stops in a historic brewery and drinks to his friends in the U.S.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Lieber Max und Lary, Wir waren am letzten Sonntag in Aschaffenburg und haben sehr gutes Bier getrunken und habe zwei Liter mehr getrunken auf Euer wohl eine kleine Brauerei. Historisches Gebäude vom 16. Jahrhundert war auf den Bildern. Es Grüßt Euch alle. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach a/m 12.8.27. Dear Max and Lary, We were in Aschaffenburg last Sunday and drank very good beer. Drank two liters more to you (translator note: literally “to your health”). A small brewery, historical building from the 16th century was on the picture. Greetings to you all, Ferdinand

There is some confusion as to the postcard’s date. It looks like Ferdinand wrote 2-8.27 and the stamp is removed that would have revealed the postmark date. However, based on the dates and locations on other cards, it would appear that this is the 27th of August during his 1912 trip. He writes of the visit to Aschaffenburg “last Sunday” – in 1912, August 27 was a Tuesday, so the date of his visit to Aschaffenburg was August 25.

The address on the back of the postcard reads: “Steigerwald’sche Brauerei von Wilhelm Singer, sum Schlappeseppel. Schlossgasse 28, Telefon 525. Spezialität ff. Lagerbiere.”

schlappeseppelWhen on a trip to Germany, who among us does not stop in a historic brewery? I’m amused that Ferdinand drinks two liters extra as a special toast to his friends…was this the 1912 version of a drunk dial/text/email? Because after a few liters who wouldn’t brag about enjoying their vacation? “Hey, guys, guess what I’m doing?…but I drank to your health!”

Ferdinand stops at the historic Steigerwald Brewery in Aschaffenburg known for “Schlappeseppel” and specializing in lager. To be historic in Germany, your history has to go way, way back. In the case of the Steigerwald, the legend of the brewery’s origins goes back to the 17th century. The story goes that when Sweden invaded the city back in 1631, the beer barrels were empty. A soldier named Joseph Lögler knew something about brewing beer, and he had good reason to make himself useful since he injured his leg in battle and was going lame. The nickname for Joseph in German is Sepp and Seppel would mean “little Joseph”. The word schlappe means setback or defeat, so little Joe with the limp became Schlappe-Seppel. But he was apparently really good at brewing beer, and he stayed behind long after the King of Sweden left town.

And so the Schlappeseppel beer was born…and lived on through the centuries. In 1866, Josef Steigerwald took over the brewery. It changed hands again in 1899 to a man named Konrad Vogel. When he died in 1910, his wife Anna continued to run the brewery with her second husband, Wilhelm Singer. From what I could gather on the internet, the brewery today is still operated by the Vogel descendants.

The town of Aschaffenburg was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War 2. If the brewery was destroyed, however, it was rebuilt and still stands today. If I go visit one day, I hope to drink a liter or two to Ferdinand. Prost!

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann -  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Photo taken of Schlossgasse 28 in Aschaffenburg on 20 August 2012 by Lutz Hartmann –
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AB_Schlossgasse_28_Brauerei_Schlappeseppel.JPG

Sources:

Part 4 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

The theme for Week 6 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “So Far Away”. This theme asked “Which ancestor is farthest away from you either in distance or time/generations?” My answer would have to be my 14th great-grandfather, Six Welshofer. I found it quite appropriate that a man with the first name of Six would be fit the theme for Week 6! At sixteen generations back, he is definitely the ancestor who is farthest away from me. I find the concept of sixteen generations mind-blowing since my goal when I started researching my family history was to discover where my eight great-grandparents were born in Europe.

Six’s Story

This is the part of the weekly post where I regale my readers with the story of my ancestor’s life and explain why I chose them for this week’s theme. However, I have one problem in telling Six’s story – there aren’t enough facts to fashion a life story. I am not even certain of his birth or death dates. What is known, however, based on the house histories for the town of Armetshofen in Bavaria, is that a man named Six Welshofer, a farmer, existed and lived in the town. He is assumed to have been born approximately in 1487 based on when he appears in the town’s history. I don’t have evidence of his death date, but the name of his son and the next several generations were recorded in the house-owner history of the town.

While I don’t know anything about the man who was Six Welshofer and the dates are mostly unknown until the 1600’s, I know that names that make up his line of descent lead down to me. Five generations of Welshofer men after Six lead to a female descendent. From there, another five generations of females lead to my 3rd great-grandfather. The final six generations from him to me are three pairs of fathers and daughters. So, in the absence of a story about the man named Six, I’d like to present his line of descent ~

Line of Descent

  1. Six Welshofer, b. circa 1487, born & died in Armetshofen
  2. Georg Welshofer, b. circa 1515, born & died in Armetshofen
  3. Johann Welshofer, b. circa 1555, born & died in Armetshofen
  4. Georg Welshofer, b. circa 1600 in Armetshofen, d. Dachau
  5. Johann Welshofer, b. circa 1620 in Armetshofen, d. 16.04.1662 in Viehhausen
  6. Ursula Welshofer, b. circa 1640s in Viehhausen, d. 22.10.1688 Webling, m. Wolf Hintermayr in 1661
  7. Maria Hintermayer, b. circa 1660s in Webling, d. 11.07.1735 in Breitenau, m. Martin Jaiß in 1694
  8. Katharina Jaiß, b. 06.07.1696 in Breitenau, d. 29.11.1739 in Breitenau, m. Johann Märkl in 1724
  9. Rosina Märkl, b. 28.02.1734 in Breitenau, d. 05.04.1808 in Röhrmoos, m. Andreas Baumgartner in 1751
  10. Anna Baumgartner, b. circa 1755 in Röhrmoos, d. 07.12.1793 in Schönbrunn, m. Jakob Sedlmair in 1780
  11. Katharina Sedlmair, b. 22.04.1781 in Schönbrunn, d. ? in Prittlbach, m. Josef Dallmayr in 1818
  12. Josef Dallmayr, b. 02.03.1819 in Prittlbach, d. ? in Asbach
  13. Ursula Dallmayr, b. 21.09.1846 in Asbach, d. 21.01.1911 in Regensburg, m. Josef Bergmeister in 1871
  14. Josef Bergmeister, b. 12.02.1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, d. 30.05.1927 in Philadelphia, PA, United States
  15. Margaret Bergmeister, b. 11.04.1913 in Philadelphia, PA, d. 14.01.1998 in Philadelphia, PA, m. James Pointkouski in 1934
  16. James Pointkouski (my father)
  17. Donna Pointkouski 
Area of Bavaria of the line of descent from Six Welshofer - gray line is distance from Armetshofen to Viehhausen, the move of Six's great-great grandson Johann.

Area of Bavaria of the line of descent from Six Welshofer – gray line is distance from Armetshofen to Viehhausen, the move of Six’s great-great grandson Johann.

Looking at the names and town names for Six Welshofer’s descendants offers a great history lesson on what life was like in Bavaria from the 16th through the 19th centuries. In fact, these lessons match my research on another family line in the Bavarian town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm in which I used church records to get back to the 1600’s (research on Six’s line has been primarily through town histories). Comparing the information I found in both places leads me to make a few generalizations about what life was like during that time and in that place:

  • Men usually lived and died in the town of their birth – but they did move, and when they did it was usually for their profession or if they were not the eldest son inheriting the land from their father.
  • Occasionally a man “married up” and moved to a different town to marry a wife of a higher social status
  • Women generally moved from the town of their birth to a nearby town in order to marry someone. After marriage, they would have a lot of children (by today’s standards)!
  • Infant mortality was very high.
  • When either spouse died young, they remarried – quickly!

In my ancestral line back to Six, it was his great-great grandson Johann Welshofer that apparently moved from the ancestral town of Armetshofen. He moved to Viehhausen, about 85 miles northwest of his birthplace, and got married there. My line after Johann switches to six generations of females, and all but one move to a different town to get married (and live the rest of their lives there). Only Johann’s great-granddaughter marries and dies in the town of her birth (Breitenau). Her story illustrates several of my generalizations listed above. She gave birth to 9 children in 10 years, but only five survived past infancy. She died at the age of 44 (leaving children aged 4, 5, 12, 14, and one who’s age is unknown). Her widower remarries seven weeks later! But her daughter from that marriage (the 5-year-old), lives to the age of 74 and outlives her own daughter.

After that first move up north to Viehhausen, the family moved back down towards Dachau (Armetshofen) in the next generation. All of the town names in the following generations are all in this general area – until generation #13 when my great-great grandmother moved to Regensburg – near Viehhausen. The biggest move of all comes from her son, my immigrant to Philadelphia.

It’s certainly hard to fathom sixteen generations. And humbling to realize that someone who lived and died so long ago made it somehow possibly for my own life in my time and place five hundred years later.

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 6: So Far Away

#52Ancestors

In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. So far, he arrived in Hamburg and stopped to see the lovely view nearby in Blankenese. Now he heads to Offenbach, which will be his “home base” for much of his trip.

21 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Zeppelin "Schwaben"

Front: Zeppelin “Schwaben”

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Liebe Freunde ich amusiere mich sehr Gut hier und werde nächste Woche nach München fahren und werde von dort Euch schreiben Ich hoffe es Geht Euch Alle Gut und Grüßt Euch beide recht Herzlich. Ferdinand

Translation:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Dear friends, I am enjoying myself and will go to Munich next week and write to you from there. I hope you are all well. Greetings to you both. Ferdinand

This is a very interesting card! The caption on the front of it reads: Erster offizieller Postflug des Zeppelin-Luftschiffs “Schwaben” unter der “Reichs” Postflagge (Abwerfen der Post mittelst Fallschirm) which means “First official postal flight of the Zeppelin airship ‘Schwaben’ under the ‘Empire’ postal flag (dropping the mail by means of parachute)”.

The zeppelin, or airship, on the postcard, called the Schwaben, was built in 1911 for passenger service and is considered to be the first passenger-carrying airship that was commercially successful. It was 460 feet long, but the cabin only held 20 passengers and a crew of 13. It began passenger flights in July of 1911 and made 218 flights in the next year.

Advertisement in the  Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

Advertisement in the Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

But the Schwaben is significant for another reason that’s noted on the card – it was the zeppelin that first carried mail – in other words – the first air mail via zeppelin! Its maiden air mail flight was from June 10-23 in 1912 when the airship went between Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz, Offenbach, and Worms. But the story gets even better – it wasn’t just air mail that the zeppelin carried during that trip – it was postcards.

The Hessen Royal Family created a home for mothers and children, and as a charity fund-raising event Postkartenwoche (Postcard Week) would have mail delivered by air from both the Schwaben and a propeller biplane called the Gelber Hund. The Schwaben carried the bulk of the mail and was piloted by the most famous airship captain at the time, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Funds were raised for the charity from the sale of special airmail postcards and stamps and admission to the parade grounds to watch the mail drops and pickups.

To put this in perspective, the distance between Frankfurt and Darmstadt is about 20 miles. It took the Schwaben about 13 minutes to make the trip.  Theoretically, that’s even quicker than a trip on the autobahn by car today, which according to Google should take about 34 minutes. Considering that the entire concept of flight began less than ten years before, this event in 1912 was huge by today’s standards. Crowds showed up to see the airship make the delivery, and there was a party atmosphere that included food, military bands, and an appearance by the Duke and Duchess. It was reported that 460,700 postcards were transported (between the airplane and zeppelin) and 35,000 marks was raised for the charity.

Shortly after Postcard Week, on June 28, 1912, the Schwaben was destroyed while landing. Strong winds and a buildup of static electricity caused a fire that destroyed the airship; over 30 people were injured in the accident.

Back to Ferdinand… On 21 August 1912, it was just weeks after the Schwaben came to its demise after over a year in the spotlight as a successful airship. While he didn’t have this postcard carried by the airship or mailed during the famous postcard week, I imagine it was one of the very last postcards of the airship still available for sale. Later on Ferdinand’s grand tour, airships will again be the subject of his greetings to friends in Philadelphia.

Sources:

Part 3 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

The theme for Week 5 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Plowing Through” and my ancestor is my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. One might assume he was a farmer since the theme is “plowing through” but he was a baker. He did, however, have to plow through one particularly tragic year in his life.

Joseph’s Story

Josef (Joseph) Bergmeister was born on 12 February 1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, Bavaria, Germany to Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Dallmaier. His father was a flour merchant, and based on the fact that the children were born in different towns throughout Bavaria (Asbach, Vohburg, Abensberg) I assume that he was a traveling merchant. Joseph had a big sister, Hilarie (called Hilaury, Lari, or Laura for short) who was three years older. Another sister was born in between but she did not survive. Joseph became the middle child when his brother Ignatz was born in 1876.

At some point during Joseph’s childhood, his father died. I have yet to find out when, but it was sometime after the youngest son’s birth 1876 and 1884, because in May of 1885 his widow is remarried and having another child. I know that the family – with or without their father Joseph – was settled in the city of Regensburg by 1879. By 1884, Joseph’s mother Ursula is married to Herman Goetz (Götz). The Bergmeister siblings gained half-brothers Herman in 1885 and Julius in 1886 as well as a half-sister Elsa (birth date not yet known).

Joseph Bergmeister, circa 1893-95

Joseph Bergmeister, circa 1893-95

From 1893-95, Joseph served in the Bavarian Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. They were headquartered in Munich at that time.

By 1897, Joseph is in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm. It’s just an assumption, but given that his uncle lived there I presume he went there to work for his uncle. Uncle Castulus Bergmeister owned the bakery in Pfafenhofen (still in operation and run by my Bergmeister cousins) and Joseph was also a baker. In Pfaffenhofen, he met and married Maria Echerer, the daughter of a bricklayer whose family had been shoemakers in Pfaffenhofen for centuries. The couple married on November 2, 1897…just in time, for the following February – in fact on Maria’s 23rd birthday – they had their first child, a girl named Maria after her mother.

In May 1900, Joseph left Pfaffenhofen for Antwerp, Belgium where he boarded a steamship for the United States. His big sister Lari had immigrated in 1893. By 1900, she had married another German immigrant named Max Thumann. When Joseph arrived at the port of Philadelphia, Lari was there to meet him. Joseph lived with the Thumann’s for a while, but by the following year he had moved to a home of his own. In June 1901, his wife and 3-year-old daughter arrived in the U.S.

Joseph’s family started to grow considerably after that. Just nine months and two weeks after the happy couple reunited, they welcomed a son, Joseph. Two more sons followed: Max in 1905 and Julius in 1907. During these years Joseph’s family enlarged in another way as well – his brother Julius arrived in the U.S. in 1902 and Ignatz in 1904.

Unfortunately, Joseph and Maria lost two children who were born premature: a son, Charles, in 1909, and a daughter, Laura, in 1911. Earlier in 1911, Joseph’s mother died in Regensburg, and afterwards his brother Herman immigrated to Philadelphia.

One final child was born to Joseph and Marie – a daughter, Margaret, in 1913 – my grandmother! Despite the 15-year age gap between the oldest and youngest (and the 5-year age gap between the second youngest and my grandmother), the five siblings were close.

So far I’ve mentioned a few sad events in Joseph’s life such as losing his father when he was a boy and the deaths of two infant children. In addition, the year after Margaret was born, Joseph’s sister-in-law – the wife of brother Herman – died during childbirth due to a ruptured uterus. However, these tragedies are not why I chose Joseph’s story for the theme of “plowing through”. I realized that during one particular time period – from October, 1918 through November, 1919 – he had to plow through and struggle through some very sad events.

First, on 11 October 1918, Herman Goetz died of pneumonia at the age of 32. At the time, brother Julius was serving in the U.S. Army and his siblings were likely concerned about his welfare since the world was at war (he survived unscathed and died many, many years later at the age of 84).

Then, not quite four months later, on 05 February 1919, Joseph’s wife Maria died from heart disease. She was just weeks weeks away from her 44th birthday. Joseph and Maria’s oldest daughter was weeks away from turning 21 years old. Their sons were 16, 14, and 11, and my grandmother was not quite 6 years old.

The final event in the tragic year was the death of Joseph’s brother Ignatz. He died on 19 November 1919 at the age of 43 leaving behind a wife, an 11-year-old daughter, and a 10-year-old son.

Joseph had a very difficult time after his wife died, and according to his children he did not take good care of himself. He passed away from nephritis  on 30 May 1927 at the age of 54. At the time of his death, he had three granddaughters, Marie (age 7) and Mabel (age 3) from his oldest daughter and Helen (age 1) from his oldest son. He would eventually have a total of 14 grandchildren (as well as 30 great-grandchildren, 48 great-great grandchildren, and…I lost count of how many in the youngest generation at the moment!).

I wish I knew more about Joseph, and my grandmother wished she knew him a little longer. But I’m glad he had the strength and grace to plow through his struggles. He leaves a legacy of “plowing through” whatever life throws at you to inspire his numerous descendants.

Part of Joseph's entry in his sister's autograph book signed in the town of Plattling on 12 October 1890: Zur Erinnerung an Deinen Bruder Josef (in memory of your brother Josef)

Part of Joseph’s entry in his sister’s autograph book signed in the town of Plattling on 12 October 1890: Zur Erinnerung an Deinen Bruder Josef (in memory of your brother Josef)

Just the Facts

  • Name: Josef (Joseph) Bergmeister
  • Ahnentafel: #10 (my great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Joseph Bergmeister (1843-?) and Ursula Dallmaier (1846-1911)
  • Born: 12 February 1873 in Vohburg a.d. Donau, Bavaria, Germany
  • Siblings: Hilarie Bergmeister Thumann (1870-1943), Maria (1871-1871), Ignatz Bergmeister (1876-1919), Herman Goetz (1885-1918), Julius Goetz (1886-1971), Elsa ?
  • Married: Maria Echerer (1875-1919) on 02 Nov 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria, Germany
  • Immigrated: departed Antwerp on 03 May 1900 aboard the SS Aragonia; arrived in Philadelphia on 18 May 1900
  • Children: Maria Bergmeister Eckert (1898-1990), Joseph Bergmeister (1902-1986), Max Bergmeister (1905-1974), Julius Bergmeister (1907-1963), Charles Bergmeister (1909-1909), Laura Bergmeister (1911-1911), Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski (1913-1998)
  • Died: 30 May 1927 in Philadelphia, PA
  • Buried: 02 Jun 1927 in Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 5: Plowing Through

#52Ancestors

Many times old photos come with mysteries…have I solved this one? I recently acquired a number of photographs from a kind cousin. Many of the photos were either labeled or we knew who the people were from having other photos of them. Most of the photos were of Julius Goetz, my cousin’s grandfather, who was the half-brother of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. I still only have one photograph of Joseph, but I have many of Julius who was a very photogenic young man. In one photo, Julius is standing with another man – could this be his brother Herman? I’ve written about Herman before – because he died so young, no one in the family even knew who he was much less had any photographs of him. But, my cousin had two First Communion photographs of boys, and we knew which one was Julius. By assuming the other photo is brother Herman, and by using other available information, I’ve deduced that this is indeed a photograph of the Goetz brothers.

The Photograph

Julius Goetz is on the right - is the man on the left his brother Herman?

Julius Goetz is on the right – is the man on the left his brother Herman?

The Facts

Herman was born on 14 May 1885 and Julius was born on 09 November 1886. While the two men may not resemble each other very much, I know a lot of siblings that don’t look much like each other because each favors a different parent. From Herman’s passenger arrival record in 1911, we know that Herman was 5’9″. On Herman’s WW1 draft registration card, filled out shortly before his death, he describes himself as tall and stout with grey eyes and red hair. Julius was not as tall as his brother. On both his Declaration of Intent in 1908 and his 1919 U.S. Army discharge papers, he is listed as 5’5″. Also on both his is listed as having blue eyes, brown hair, and a medium build.

If the above photo does show the Goetz brothers, it would have been taken between April 1911 (when Herman arrives in the United States) and October 1918 (when Herman dies). The brothers would have been between 25-26 and 32-33 though I’d guess it was taken shortly after Herman’s arrival when they were reunited. Julius had been in the United States since age 16 in 1902, so nine years had gone by since the two had seen each other. One can easily assume they would want to commemorate the reunion with a photograph!

The Brothers as Boys

These are the two First Communion photos. Both were taken at the same photographer in Regensburg, Germany: Gustav Wild on weisse Lilienstrasse G. 93. It even looks like the same exact pedestal, crucifix, and background!

Herman on the left, Julius on the right. Julius' photo had the year 1897 on the back, so he'd have been 10 years old. This is consistent with a First Communion certificate for his half-sister who was also 10 when she received hers in 1890.

Herman on the left, Julius on the right. Julius’ photo had the year 1897 on the back, so he’d have been 10 years old. This is consistent with a First Communion certificate for his half-sister who was also 10 when she received hers in 1890.

Comparing the Boys to Men

Do you think the man on the left is Herman?

Do you think the man on the left is Herman?

In comparing the photos, the shape of the ears, noses, and mouths appear to be the same from the children to the adults. This, as well as the confirmed height difference of the two men as shown above, makes me believe that it is Herman with Julius. What do you think, readers?

In last week’s first installment of this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, just arrived in Hamburg on 10 August 1912. The postmark is illegible on the next postcard, and he didn’t indicate the date, but the postmark is definitely from August. Based on a map, this location would have been his next stop on the tour based on the date and location of the following postcard.

August 1912 ~ Blankenese, Germany

Front: Postcard from Blankenese

Front: Postcard from Blankenese

Back: a rather short but nice message

Back: a rather short but nice message

The postcard reads:

Blankenese  Freund Max und Laury Es Grüßt Euch Herzlich Euer Freund, Ferdinand

Translation:

Blankness Friend Max and Laury, sending you warmest greetings. Your friend, Ferdinand

Blankenese was a small town located on the banks of the Elbe River; today, it’s a suburb of the city of Hamburg. But one thing hasn’t changed since Ferdinand visited – it’s still a tourist destination and a resort town! The winding stairs, the castle at the top of the hill, and the picturesque views of the river remain the same. Ferdinand may have been just passing through on his way to his destination, but I hope he stopped and stayed a while and enjoyed the view.

This card reminds me of the quick “wish you were here” greetings that I’ve sent on postcards when I was younger and in a hurry. Spoiler alert: his messages to his friends get more interesting as he settles into his trip. I just like the fact that he’s sending his friends “warmest greetings” along the way so they can see what he’s seeing.

I found an image on Wikipedia very similar to the 1912 postcard – 100 years after Ferdinand’s visit, the view is just as beautiful. You can also view some great historical photos at this site.

A 2012 photo of Blankenese's view from the hill by Kroppe - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg-Blankenese(01).JPG

A 2012 photo of Blankenese’s view from the hill by Kroppe – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamburg-Blankenese(01).JPG

Part 2 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

Niederscheyern in the Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm district of Bavaria, Germany

Niederscheyern in the Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm district of Bavaria, Germany

The theme for Week 4 of the 2015 edition of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge is “Closest to Your Birthday” and my ancestor that holds that dubious distinction is my 4th great-grandfather, Dionys Daniel. Truth be told, I never noticed that Dionys’ birthday was close to mine until I looked in my database for this week’s challenge. But I have always admired Dionys because he has one of the coolest names of all my ancestors! Dionys is the German form of the name Dionysius, the Greed god of wine, revelry, and debauchery. I wonder if young Dionys was a rabble-rouser that lived up to the name or the complete opposite? Of course, the name shouldn’t only be associated with the infamous Greek god – it is also the name of several saints, and there are monasteries and churches dedicated to St. Dionys throughout Bavaria where my Dionys, status of saint or sinner unknown to his descendants, was born.

Dionys’ Story

Dionys Daniel was born on 07 March 1784 in the small town of Niederscheyern in Bavaria. He was the son of Anton Daniel and Anna Maria Olfinger.

The statue of Mary and Jesus in the Church of the Annunciation dates back to 1500! The church itself is unchanged since 1752, so it is the church in which Dionys was baptized, married, and died.

The statue of Mary and Jesus in the Church of the Annunciation dates back to 1500! The church itself is unchanged since 1752, so it is the church in which Dionys was baptized, married, and died.

I don’t know much about Dionys’ life, so I investigated the town in which he lived. Niederscheyern, or “Lower” Scheyern, lies in the shadow of the larger town of Scheyern. For centuries, Niederscheyern was a popular pilgrimage site itself. In the early 16th Century, miraculous powers were attributed to a statue of Mary in the Church of the Annunciation (Kirche Maria Verkündigung). The miracles and answered prayers attributed to Mary’s intercession were recorded in “miracle books” – from 1635 to 1804 there are over 16,000 entries of thanksgiving. The books still exist today in the library of the Benedictine abbey of Scheyern. The abbey also had a relic of the Holy Cross from Jerusalem – since 1180 – and many pilgrims came from all over Bavaria to pray there. The abbey was also the Wittelsbach family monastery (the Wittelsbach dynasty ruled over Bavaria for over 700 years into the Twentieth Century).

My Dionys wasn’t part of the royal family, however. He was merely a farmer living in Niederscheyern. I have no evidence of what his crops were or how much land he owned, but when I visited the area the primary crop is hops. In fact, hops growing is so prevalent that it is known as “green gold”.

The Catholic faith seemed to govern all aspects of Bavarian life at the time, and I wonder how closely his farming life revolved around the seasons of of the liturgical year as closely as the calendar year. One thing is certain – he lived during an interesting time. On 21 March 1803, a big change came to the Scheyern Abbey – the abbey was dissolved under the “secularization” of Bavaria. Dionys was 19 years old and grew up with the Abbey as the center of life in the area – how did its closure affect him? Or his livelihood as a farmer?  Or the surrounding towns? All I know is that the monastery came to life again during his lifetime – in 1838, Ludwig I of Bavaria re-established the monastery, and the monks returned.

On 11 September 1809 he married Walburga Schober – he was 25 years old and his wife was 31. In 1812 they had a daughter, Anna Maria, who is my 3rd great-grandmother. They also had a daughter named Rosalie, but I’m not certain of her birth year.

I don’t know much more about Dionys’ life other than his death date, which was 25 May 1873. He was actually alive when my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, who is Dionys’ great-grandson, is born. I hope he got to meet him.

Dionys lived to be 89 years old, and what is amazing about this fact is that he outlives all of my direct ancestors in his line. One of his descendants, his great-great-granddaugther who is my grandmother’s sister, finally beats his age when she died at the age of 92 in 1990, more than two hundred years and four generations after his death. While 89 is an admirable age at death, life as a farmer in the 19th century had to be difficult and physically demanding, so making it to that age is rather impressive. Maybe Dionys didn’t live up to his Greek god namesake with a life of revelry (or maybe he did and that was his secret to good health)!

Just the Facts

  • Name: Dionys Daniel
  • Ahnentafel: #82 (my 4th great-grandfather)
  • Parents: Anton Daniel and Anna Maria Olfinger
  • Born: 07 March 1784 in Niederscheyern, Bavaria (Germany)
  • Siblings: unknown
  • Married: Walburga Schober (1778-1856)
  • Children: Anna Maria Daniel Bergmeister (24 Jun 1812-02 Feb 1871); Rosalie Daniel Fottner
  • Died: 25 May 1873 in Niederscheyern
  • My Line of Descent: Dionys Daniel-> Anna Maria Daniel Bergmeister-> Joseph Bergmeister-> Joseph Bergmeister-> Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski-> father-> me

52ancestors-2015

Written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition– Week 4: Closest to Your Birthday

#52Ancestors

In 1912, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, took a trip back to Germany. While there, he sent postcards to his friends Max and Laura Thumann. Laura is the sister of my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister, and she saved her friend’s postcards in a scrapbook. They offer a fascinating look at travel just shortly before the Great War. While not directly related to genealogy other than the familial ownership of the collection, as ephemera these cards give us a glimpse into travel, communication, and connection with friends before the days of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Each week I will post a different card from Ferdinand’s “grand tour” of his homeland, and in the final installment I’ll try to provide more information about who Ferdinand was.  I welcome you to follow along with Ferdinand on his journey home…

10 August 1912 ~ Hamburg, Germany

Postcard from the Prinz Adalbert of the Hamburg-America line

Front: Postcard from the Prinz Adalbert of the Hamburg-America line

Back: Ferdinand has arrived in Germany!

Back: Ferdinand has arrived in Germany!

The postcard reads:

Hamburg 10 Ag 12   Leibe Freunde ich bin so weit gut angekommen gute Reise gehabt und bin gesund soweit Es Grüßt Euch Alle  Herzlich  F. Müller

Translation:

Hamburg 10 Ag 12    Dear friends. I have arrived well.          Had a good trip and am healthy so far.                                Sending you warmest greetings. F. Müller

The Hamburg-American line was established in 1847 and was the first German transatlantic steamship line. The SS Prinz Adalbert was launched in 1902. It was one of several ships that spotted the iceberg that sank the Titanic months before Ferdinand’s crossing. Most of us are familiar with the trips from Hamburg to the United States – I can only wonder what the trip from Philadelphia to Hamburg was like. I am sure the ship was a lot less crowded than the western voyages that would bring hundreds of new immigrants to the U.S.

Advertisement for the Hamburg-American line from the Washington DC newspaper, The Evening Star, July 23, 1912

Advertisement for the Hamburg-American line from the Washington DC newspaper, The Evening Star, July 23, 1912

The SS Prinz Adalbert left Philadelphia on Saturday, July 27. If the date on Ferdinand’s postcard is his arrival in Germany, it took two full weeks for the transatlantic passage.

What I love about this first message is the fact that he immediately let them know he arrived safely and he’s healthy. I also like how Ferdinand sends “warmest greetings” – the affection he has for his friends Max and Laura come through with every card he sends. I wonder how long it took them to receive the postcard in the mail? The journey begins…

Part 1 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand

On January 12, 2009, I wrote a post entitled Research Plan: Finding Death Dates for Joseph Bergmeister and Ursula Goetz, my great-great-grandparents. I knew their birth dates, but hadn’t yet found their death dates. I could go backwards several generations on Joseph’s side to include birth, marriage, and death dates, but I was still perplexed as to when he died. So, I developed a solid plan based on what I knew. Plans are great, but in order for them to work you actually have to put it into action. I didn’t. However, luck was on my side…without trying, I found the death date of Ursula!

Corrections!

I had some errors in my original post. I wrote:

Ursula Dallmeier was born in Aichach on 17 Mar 1847, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier from Aichach and Ursula née Eulinger.

The bold items were incorrect. The correct information is as follows:

Ursula Dallmeier was born in Prittlbach on 21 Sep 1846, the daughter of innkeeper Joseph Dallmeier  (or Dallmayr) of Asbach and Ursula née Eichinger.

The Plan

Based on the dates of the births of her children, I made some assumptions on the death date of Ursula Dallmeier Bergmeister Goetz. Based on the fact that she was alive at the time of her son Joseph Bergmeister’s marriage and she was not by the time of her younger son Julius Goetz’s marriage, I assumed she died between 1897 and 1919. The place was assumed to be Regensburg.

The Find

Funeral card of Ursula Götz

Funeral card of Ursula Götz

As I said, I never actually put the research plan into action, but I continued to research the family by tracking down some cousins. When I found her son Julius’ grandson, he shared a treasure trove of documents and photos with me. Among the pile were some funeral cards…and suddenly, I knew when Ursula died – 21 January 1911.

I still don’t know when her husband, my ancestor Joseph Bergmeister, died, and I don’t know when she married her second husband, Herman Goetz. But I now think that both events happened in Regensburg based on some of the information my cousin gave me. But there was something even better than filling in that piece of information about Ursula’s life. Some of the photos were labeled, and some were actually of Ursula. This is one of Ursula, approximately from the late 1870’s, taken at the Photographie von Martin Kraus, Ostengasse H 163, Regensburg:

Ursula Dallmayr Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911)

Ursula Dallmayr Bergmeister Götz (1846-1911)

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

52ancestors-2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Václav’s Story

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

Birth Record of Vaclav Jirsak

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Migration trail of my Bohemian exile Family Jirsak

Just the Facts

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

Sources

52ancestors-2015

 

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

 

 

52ancestors-2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth Miller Pater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth and siblings

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

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

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

Just the Facts

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

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

#52Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

My great-grandmother!

My great-grandmother!

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

Update!

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater

Elizabeth Miller and Louis Pater, August 1910

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

"15 with sea view" (C)  Leo Reynolds https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

“15 with sea view” (C) Leo Reynolds https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

On New Year’s Day a lot of people like to make resolutions to improve habits in the upcoming year. If the word “resolution” connotes something that is not usually achieved, then take heart – consider this list of things to do as mere suggestions! Either way, cultivate the habit of doing each of these tasks in your daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly genealogy to-do list will greatly improve not only your research, but also allow you to have more fun while doing it. If you’d like to have a highly effective genealogical new year, consider adopting these habits:

  1. Contact – specifically, reach out to cousins! I had several names of cousins for years before I finally made the decision to make contact – and each time, I was sorry it took me so long to do it because my cousins were not only welcoming, but they also occasionally provided critical information to our shared family history. Whether it’s by email, phone, Facebook, or a letter by mail, don’t wait until it’s too late – contact cousins while you have the chance.
  2. Focus – on one research problem at a time. Often I’ll get distracted while researching, especially if I’m using online databases. Resist the urge to do a mass search if you have one particular problem in mind. Focus on that challenge and you’re more likely to find the path to a solution.
  3. Document – the sources you’ve searched so you don’t make the mistake of fruitlessly searching them again. Sometimes a list of “negative” searches is as useful as the list of records we’ve already found.
  4. Scan – photos and documents! Having digital copies of important photos and documents safeguards against loss or damage of the originals. Better yet, backup your digital data with multiple copies.
  5. Learn – new techniques or record sources. The opportunities for learning new genealogy skills are many. Consider webinars, online classes, local seminars, or attending regional or national conferences. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about genealogy, you may be surprised to learn something new.
  6. Share – your finds with your family. Sometimes your fellow genealogists get more excited by your new finds than your family members. But don’t stop trying! Share your ancestors’ stories with your family. One (or more) will one day thank you!
  7. Test – DNA! If you haven’t jumped into the gene pool with DNA testing, consider getting an autosomal, mtDNA, or a Y-DNA test (men only) for you or your family members. Sometimes research problems are solved through DNA – and even if it doesn’t help you solve your biggest brick wall, testing still offers an interesting glimpse into ourselves and what we’ve biologically inherited from our ancestors.
  8. Create – something unique. Whether it’s a beautiful chart, a photo collage, a scrapbook, or a full-fledged book of your family history, creating something unique about your family history is creating a lasting heirloom for your descendants.
  9. Photograph – places and people! You can’t take photos of your departed ancestors, but you can photograph their tombstones, the houses or towns in which they lived, or where they worked.
  10. Help – newcomers. We all were newbies once! And we all experienced acts of kindness when more experienced researchers showed us the way. So whether it’s in person at your local library or genealogy society or online in a genealogy forum, consider offering that same help to someone who is new to genealogy.
  11. Watch – genealogy on television! Fortunately genealogists have several opportunities to watch genealogy-related tv, including Who Do You Think You Are?, The Genealogy Roadshow, and Finding Your Roots. Each one is unique, and each offers some interesting stories.
  12. Join – a genealogy society. Societies can be valuable to genealogists for many reasons – a community to share ideas, libraries with specialized records or books, publications with great articles, seminars or conferences to learn new things, and even special members-only online research databases. Societies can be local, regional, national, or belonging to specific ethnic groups – each is useful in their own way.
  13. Read – blogs and books. Educate yourself by reading books about history and genealogy for your areas of research. There are also hundreds of genealogy blogs that offer news, tips, and great stories about others’ adventures in research.
  14. Write – your ancestors’ stories. Or if that’s too daunting, then write just one story. If you think you don’t know enough about your ancestors to tell even one story, then here’s a different challenge – write your story. Just one story from your life. Everyone has a story (or two), and if you don’t write it down no one else will ever hear it.
  15. Find – that one ancestor you’re missing. You know who it is – we all have one. I don’t like the term “brick wall” because I believe any brick wall can be knocked down if you have the right equipment. Or at least climbed over if you have enough helping hands to hoist you over it! Use the tasks above to help you figure out that angle you’ve been missing. The answer is out there – be determined to find it!

2014: A Look Back

Branagh as Macbeth in 2014

My Bucket List item – completed in 2014!

Even though I took the year off from blogging, my new year’s eve wouldn’t be the same without my look back at the past year.

Since this is a genealogy blog, first things first – genealogically speaking, it was a very good year. I met several new cousins and discovered some new ancestors. I even attended a conference – the Southern California Genealogical Society Genealogy Jamboree! One of my finds was the 1834 birth record of Jan Pater – I’ve known the approximate year and town name from his marriage record for years, but I had difficulty finding the little village – until earlier this year. Thanks to that find, I also found his 1833 marriage record of his parents, Hilary Pater and Agnieszka Kochanoska – my 4th great-grandparents. On another side of the family I finally located the marriage record of my 2nd great-grandparents (one of my 12 goals for 2012 – better late than never), Jan Kizeweter and Marianna Ostał. This was no easy feat for two reasons: they moved frequently and each of their several children was born in a different town, and, to make it more confusing, Jan would occasionally use his middle name for official records. But, now I know where each was born and their parents’ names, and records are available for both of those towns that go back a bit farther.

Besides finding more ancestors farther back, I also found some new information about my great-grandparents. In one case, I tracked down details on a sister of my great-grandfather after finding her husband’s death record. In the other instance, I found out that my other great-grandfather had a half-sister I didn’t know about thanks to some family postcards from the 1910’s.

With cousins Mary and Judy in California

With cousins Mary and Judy in California

But the best part about this year in terms of genealogy was that it was the Year of Cousins! I had the opportunity to meet many cousins! First I celebrated the birthday of my mom’s first cousin and met four of my second cousins for the very first time. On my trip to California, I met two of my mom’s second cousins and one of my dad’s first cousins. I had a wonderful time meeting all of them. I also tracked down some second cousins on my dad’s side and we can’t wait to meet.

The rest of my year was exciting in other ways, too. I made a new friend that brightened up the arctic blast of a winter we had in January and February by forcing me off of my sofa to explore my own hometown. We saw many wonderful things and shared many great conversations and that time together has created a cherished friendship.

I crossed off a Bucket List item this year! I wanted to see Kenneth Branagh perform Shakespeare live. I figured that one day far in the future I’d travel to England and see him – probably when he was old enough to play King Lear. But suddenly he was appearing in New York City for the very first time and I seized the opportunity to see him as Macbeth. Three good friends and I were mesmerized by a performance that could best be described as an “experience” rather than merely “seeing a show.” The tickets were expensive, but watching rival Scottish clans have a sword fight in the rain and mud just steps away from your seat? Priceless!

My travels this year didn’t take me out of the country, but the trips were still magical. I went to southern California specifically to meet my cousins and attend the Genealogy Jamboree conference with my old (and new!) friends. While there I also had fun looking through family photos, tasting at wineries, touring San Juan Capistrano, and hanging out on Laguna Beach. I spent a fun weekend walking around New York City and a week in southern Virginia where I hiked on the Appalachian Train and rode on the back of a Harley-Davidson.

Besides seeing Branagh in Macbeth, I saw a great production of The Comedy of Errors at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA. In my own city, I saw a fun play called Incorruptible and went to Mary Poppins with my mother and two nieces. I went to four concerts that were all absolutely amazing. First was an acoustic Rob Thomas concert with my genea-bestie Lisa Alzo in Atlantic City. Next was a fun time seeing Reilly and Maloney for about the fourth or fifth time (on possibly their last tour of the East Coast). In June, I saw the amazing singer-songwriter Dan Wilson of Semisonic fame on his Words and Music tour. It was so good, I’m seeing him again in February! Finally, in December I saw one of my absolute favorite bands: Sister Hazel. I’ve been a fan for almost 20 years and seeing them perform live was really special.

2014 was a year in which I fell in love, discovered fun things about my own hometown, watched someone I met become a saint, celebrated my father’s 80th birthday, spent a lot of money beautifying my house, had my first job interview in ten years, discovered that I remember how to play the guitar after a 25-year break, and learned that if you do something for 100 days it becomes a habit. Fortunately it was a good habit: I now write every day. Maybe I can work on other healthy habits next year!

I enjoyed several books by Deanna Raybourn, Jill McCorkle, Harriett Evans, and Kate Racculia as well as Liane Moriarity’s What Alice Forgot, Felix Palma’s Map of the Sky, and Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions. My television favorites were both old (Rome) and new (Outlander).  My soundtrack of the year would definitely include John Legend’s “All of Me”, O.A.R.’s “Peace”, One Republic’s “I Lived”, and Barenaked Ladies’ “Odds Are”.

McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail

McAfee Knob on the Appalachian Trail

The biggest lesson from this year is that having a positive attitude is one of the healthiest things I can do and goes a long way towards being happy. I can thank one friend in particular for helping me cultivate the habit of thinking positively. He also taught me that we are how we treat each other and nothing more. Be kind; it’s worth it!

I learned that I’m not too old to make new friends. But unfortunately I also didn’t do my best to maintain the friendships that have sustained me for, in some cases, 35 years of my life. Next year I definitely want to be a better friend, and I hope to be a better aunt as well and spent more time with the four people who mean the whole world to me.

I’ve spent some time this December reflecting on 2014’s gifts and challenges. I found some deep questions to help me reflect, and one asked “If you had to describe your 2014 in 3 words, what would they be?” My answer: smile, enjoy, hope. I did all three, and as I welcome a brave new year I pray that I can continue to smile at life, enjoy relationships and experiences, and hope that my dreams will come true. Thanks for sharing the ride with me!

Coming Soon!

Coming SoonIt has been 364 days since I last posted to this blog, and in 2013 I only had seven posts – six in the first four months of the year. So to anyone out there in the blogosphere that is still here and now reading this brand new post – thank you! I said I would keep blogging until it wasn’t fun anymore and, well, it started to not be fun anymore. But, I did a lot of research in the last two years. In the last few months, I’ve done a lot of writing. The combination of the two has created a lot of ideas, and suddenly the idea of blogging is fun again. So I’m back for the new year!

Some of the posts to come in the new year are:

  • Updates to several previous posts based on new information that has been found. I have updates for Do You Have a Photo of My Great-Grandmother?, The Millers’ Tale, the Research Plan on finding my great-greats’ death dates, the story of the Sister Who Disappeared, and a few of my Surname Saturday posts
  • An inspiring story about a group of my ancestors who fled religious persecution
  • Adventures in DNA matching
  • Some tips on using several resources that offer millions of digitized Polish records
  • Several old postcards that offered new insights into my family history
  • An fascinating example of a German Stammbuch – and how it told me a lot about the owner’s personality
  • Tracing my traveling blacksmith ancestor throughout Poland
  • 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – I’ve decided to attempt to participate each week in Amy Johnson Crow’s 2015 Edition of the weekly 52 Ancestors Challenge

After a long break, I’m really looking forward to blogging again. I hope that you’ll be along for the ride next year!

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