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History:  gossip well told.  ~ Elbert Hubbard

Partners in crime: Nancy and I, probably up to no good, at National Honor Society induction during junior year (fall, 1983).

I was a teenage car thief.

Or so the story goes. That isn’t quite exactly true, but it seems to be how the story is told years later!

In my girls-only Catholic high school,my friend Nancy and I were probably known more for what we didn’t do than what we did. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t drink. We didn’t cut class, hike our uniform skirts halfway up our thighs, and we didn’t even wear makeup.

Nancy and I were good, polite, studious young ladies who got mostly straight A’s. Boring? Well, maybe to some, but we both also happened to have a great sense of humor and a mischievous streak, so we certainly weren’t bored. And, after all, the great thing about a devious mind in a goody-two-shoes body is that you rarely ever got blamed for your own mischievousness!

In junior year, we both had the good fortune to have Mrs. Campbell for history class (we called it “World Cultures”). Not only was Mrs. Campbell very smart (little did we know then that she was a future Jeopardy contestant) and an excellent teacher, but she was fun, too! Mrs. C had a sense of humor and a mischievous streak that rivaled ours in addition to a penchant for really bad puns. Let’s just say that Nancy and I learned a lot from her.

One day Mrs. Campbell broke off into an off-topic tangent about a student who attempted a  practical joke on her and failed. With a daring twinkle in her eye, she declared, “NO ONE has ever fooled me!”

Seated on the left side of the room, I immediately turned to Nancy a few rows to my right and raised my eyebrow. Nancy discreetly caught my gaze and nodded. The game was afoot! With a silent shared glance and only the faintest hint of a smirk, Nancy and I were thinking the same exact thing: “We’ll see about that, Mrs. C!”

After class, we wondered what joke we could play on her. We quickly realized it had to involve her car in some way, for the car had become a frequent detractor from our daily lesson plan. The Campbell’s bought a brand new car, and it was a complete lemon. Never in the history of American car production had a brand new car had so many mechanical failures. They were at their wits’ end in trying to get help from the dealership.

“We should steal it,” I said.

Nancy looked slightly shocked, yet amused, and gave me a questioning look.

“Well, not really steal it…just, you know – move it. If her car wasn’t where she parked it, she’d think it was stolen!”

Nancy smiled, “That’s perfect!”

Yes, perfect, until it dawned on us, both National Honor Society scholars, that neither of us could drive yet. Our friends who could drive thought we were absolutely insane and wanted nothing to do with our devious plans.

Time for Plan B! In the end, Plan B doesn’t sound like much at all – but, history is more about how things are remembered than what actually happened. Our classmate, Deena, worked in the main office during our class period. She would enter our room with a (forged) note for Mrs. Campbell that would tell her to call the dealership about her car – urgently! That’s right, kids, there were no cell phones in the mid-80’s!

This simple message was merely meant to invoke her ire – at the car, not us – and send her into a brief tizzy of humorous car-related stories which would have the side effect of getting us off the day’s lesson plan for the rest of the period until we revealed the joke.

See, we were not quite comedic geniuses yet, just lazy history students.

On the appointed day (my fuzzy memory thinks it was possibly April Fool’s Day) and the designated time, the note arrives. Mrs. C read it and looked quite distressed. She then did something we didn’t expect – she said she’d be right back and bolted out of the room!

When our note-delivery girl returned with the second note that said something to the effect of “just kidding”, Mrs. C still wasn’t back yet. Deena saw her in the hallway talking on the pay phone. Those who knew of our plan asked us what was going on: “Who’s she calling?” Others laughed and said, “You’re both dead!”

She couldn’t possibly be calling the dealership, could she? Maybe moving her car was a better idea after all.

She returned to the room, breathless – not from the short walk to the classroom, but from all the talking she had just quickly done on her call. She was about to explain what happened when she noticed that Deena standing in the front of the room. Deena handed her the second note while backing towards the classroom door and simultaneously trying to give a death-stare to Nancy and me on our different sides of the room.

That second or two while Mrs. Campbell read the note seemed longer than waiting for the bell to end Sr. Cherubim’s class.

Then… she laughed! And then said, “Oh my God, I have to call my husband!” and ran out of the room. She quickly returned and was dismayed that his line was busy. She explained that she called him about calling the car dealership because something else was wrong with the car. By the time she finally did get in touch with him – before our class was over – he had called not only the car dealership but also the Vice President of General Motors to discuss the lack of quality of their new vehicles and their poor customer service.

Fortunately, Mr. Campbell was as easy-going as his wife and they both actually laughed at our little prank. They thought the car dealership needed to be told off anyway, and we just prompted them to do it a little faster.

My memory has faded on the detail of how Nancy and I were identified as the perpetrators, but either we openly bragged about it or she immediately guessed from our sheepish grins. I think she actually admired us after that for our brave initiative. Mrs. C was so cool that by the end of junior year, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell agreed to chaperone four friends and me on a trip to Rome after we graduated – and she kept her word!

No cars were harmed or even touched in the prank, yet forevermore Mrs. Campbell called Nancy and I her car thieves. And that is how I got my class out of a history lesson one day and went down in Archbishop Ryan High School for Girls history as a teenage car thief.

How Mrs. Campbell signed my yearbook in senior year: Dear Donna, You have a great future as a car thief.

Our prank made it into our senior yearbook as a caption on a photo of Mrs. Campbell teaching class!

Left: Nancy and Mrs. C at our friend Mary’s graduation party, June 1985. Right: Mrs. C and me expressing our dissatisfaction with the hotel in Rome, July 1985.

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy: School Humor]

T is for Towns

My ancestral towns

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Series… T is for Towns! When I first started researching my family history, I did not know the names of the towns from which my great-grandparents came. Now I have a plethora of exotic-sounding foreign town names from Aichach to Żyrardów and Aschau to Zelów!

I always want to learn more about each place: What’s the history of the town? What was the town like when my ancestors lived there? What does it look like today?

Gazetteers are great for a historical perspective of your ancestral town. For Germany, I’ve used the Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs) and for Poland, the Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavonic Countries (Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowiańskich).But an easy way to learn more about a town is to “Google it”! I’ve found that most towns – even some tiny ones – have websites. With the help of some online translators, you can even learn more about the town’s history from their website. Many towns even have pages that provide information in English.

Once you know the names of your ancestral towns – consider visiting in person. There’s nothing like walking in your ancestors’ footsteps to get a sense of what family history is all about.

Read past posts about some of my ancestral towns: Żyrardów, Mszczonów, and Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm.

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

S is for Signatures

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… S is for Signatures! Yes, my name is Donna, and I am an Ancestor Autograph Collector. Other than a photograph, nothing makes an ancestor seem “real” to me like seeing their names written in their own handwriting. A signature is very personal – from the cautious, large, sprawling script of someone just learning to write to the stronger, more defined flourish of an adult to the smaller, diminishing scribble of the elderly, our signatures, though changeable with time, are unique.

For ancestors living in the 20th Century, there are multiple documents that they may have signed such as marriage licenses, social security applications, passports, and insurance applications. Immigrant ancestors may have signed declarations of intention, naturalizations, or alien registration forms. Male ancestors may have signed draft registration forms or military service forms. I assume you can find signatures on wills or estate files, but I have no experience with these records.

Prior to the 20th Century, my ancestors were either in Bavaria or Poland. In Bavaria, couples signed the civil marriage record similar to marriage licenses today. In Poland, signatures of the relevant parties or witnesses were often annotated on the church books, which doubled as civil records, for births, marriages, and deaths. However, nearly all of my Polish ancestors were illiterate – including those that came to the United States, but they eventually learned to write by evidence of their signatures later in life. The oldest signature I found was from my great-great grandfather, Stanisław Piątkowski, from his marriage record in 1863. I am still curious to know why he, among all of my ancestors, was literate. His occupation was “private official”.

Signature of my 2nd great-grandfather on an 1866 baptismal record from Warsaw: Stanisław Piątkowski, ojciec (father)

In order to display my ancestor autograph collection, I put together the following charts to show my great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides. I’ve been wanting to do this since footnoteMaven posted something similar back in 2008 in Sign Here Please!  As she so astutely points out, signatures have a way of making genealogy “interesting” to family members not usually interested in family history! Case in point – I showed my mother these images, and she asked if she could have a copy!

My paternal signature family tree (click image to enlarge)

My maternal signature family tree (click image to enlarge)

 Happy Autograph Hunting!

 

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

R is for Religion

Procession of First Communicants, St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 11, 1941.

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… R is for Religion! The faith of our fathers (and mothers) is important to genealogical research, because often times your ancestors’ places of worship kept records before the state or civil authorities did. Or, in the years after civil vital registration was mandatory, church (or synagogue, or other religious institution) record books can serve as an alternate record source to verify birth dates and other important data like parents’ names. But besides all of the wonderful record-keeping, religion can be important to family history on a much more personal level, especially if you share the faith that your ancestors handed down. Visiting the churches where your ancestors worshiped is a wonderful way to “connect” your family history from the past to the present!

My family is Roman Catholic. In records, it is hard to ascertain a person’s actual belief. In other words, just because they were baptized or married in a particular faith doesn’t mean they were devout. In my own research, I discovered that my one great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, probably was a faith-filled Catholic – he was a founding parishioner of St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia, a “Polish” church for all the immigrants in the Port Richmond section of the city. The parish jubilee book also lists him as president of one of the charitable societies.  For other ancestors, I have no idea how active they were in the church – or not. I know that my maternal grandfather was a self-declared atheist at one point, regardless of his baptism in the Church.

As my research progressed, I discovered that not all of my ancestors were Catholic after all. My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater, was Baptist. In researching her family I discovered that she descends from a unique group of individuals called the Unity of the Brethren, also called the Czech or Bohemian Brethren. The group was a Christian denomination that followed the works of the pre-reformation priest Jan Hus.

Around 1620, the counter-reformation was in full swing in Bohemia, and members of this faith were given the choice of leaving the country or practicing in secrecy (or, presumably, the choice to convert back to Catholicism). The sect continued despite persecution. In 1803, a group of these Brethren decided to leave Bohemia and they immigrated to Poland where they purchased a large amount of land and founded a new town called Zelów. It is in this Polish town that my Czech great-great grandparents were born. A sizable group of Czechs from Zelów, all textile workers, migrated north to two other Polish towns, Łódź and Żyrardów. My great-grandmother was born in Żyrardów in 1890…which explains why there are no records of her birth/baptism in the Catholic records of the town.

I’ve always been proud to be Catholic – like my Bavarian and Polish ancestors – but I was very happy to learn about this group of Protestant ancestors. Because of their faith, they took a bold step and left their homeland behind forever. Moving to a new country because of religious persecution in their homeland reminded me of the story of many of the colonial immigrants to the United States. To give up your homeland for your faith is truly a testament to your faith! The town of Zelów, Poland that was founded by the Czech immigrants is still known as the “Czech village”. I found a video online (subtitled in English) that shows the church and the town.

No matter what the religion of your ancestors was, finding out about their faith adds much to your family’s story. Some other family history faith-related posts I’ve written include Faith of Our Ancestors, Praying with My Ancestors, and First Communion, 1941 Style (from which I borrowed the great photo above). I thought religion was so pertinent to family history that I even started a whole blog about it – the Catholic Gene is a collaborative effort that reflects on the Roman Catholic faith and family history. We’ve been quiet lately, but hopefully we’ll be back to posting soon.

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet challenge]

Q is for Questions

Continuing the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet Series… Q is for Questions! My genealogical research would be nonexistent if I hadn’t asked questions. Euripides once said, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” That, my friends, is sometimes what I think genealogy is like because we ask questions, find some answers, and end up with a lot more questions.

As a young teenager, I remember asking my maternal grandmother, who we called Nan, some simple questions. In retrospect, this marked the beginning of my future as a genealogist and family historian. I asked her questions about her parents: What were their names? Where were they born? When did they come here? What were they like? She told me some answers. They weren’t necessarily correct answers, but they were answers! 

After college I began researching my family. My Nan was no longer living, so my questions went right to my parents: When did your parents get married? Did they ever talk about their parents? When did your grandparents die? Where did they come from? I dutifully recorded their answers. Then I researched some records…and I found answers in spite of my parents’ answers, which led to more questions: Why didn’t you tell me you had great-grandparents in this country? Why didn’t you tell me about Aunt and Uncle so-and-so?

Their usual response: “Oh yeah, I forget about that!”

One would assume that genealogical records would provide concrete answers, yet inevitably the records led to tons of additional questions. Why isn’t she with the rest of the family on the census? Why can’t I find him on the passenger list? When did they immigrate? What was her maiden name?

Family history research is all about the questions – and finding some answers. But in some ways the questions are more important, because without them we would have no impetus for research, no reason for the quest. Answers are wonderful, but ironically every nugget of information leads to even more questions! I found you, now who were your parents?

Genealogy can be a greedy quest… Here’s to all the questions, and hopefully one day finding all the answers we can. I will close with one of my favorite quotes from poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The quote has absolutely nothing to do with genealogical research. But since it deals with questions, it is highly appropriate:

…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet

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

Naturalization Certificate of Elizabeth Miller Pater, who was naturalized on December 13, 1954 at the age of 64.

Of all the great discoveries I’ve made in over twenty years of genealogical research, one of the most amazing was made just this last month! It didn’t add a generation to the family tree or uncover new names, but it brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. Several months ago while finding my ancestors on the 1940 Census, I realized something that I should have realized a long time ago: my great-grandmother Elizabeth Miller Pater wasn’t naturalized, at least not in 1940. Even though her husband (Louis Pater) was naturalized in 1925, wives had to file separately. I searched for her papers in the same court that her husband used, but nothing was found. It finally dawned on me that she would have had to file for the Alien Registration Act in 1940. There were two things I desperately wanted to find regarding Elizabeth: her birthplace and a photograph. Would her alien registration papers help me?

I filed a request with USCIS, and they quickly located her index file. I found out that she was naturalized in 1954. I then sent for a copy of the full file. After many, many months of waiting, it finally arrived. It contained 30 pages of information, some useless and some priceless! Not only did the file include her petition and certificate for naturalization in 1954, but also her alien registration forms from 1940. I could probably write several posts about the complete documentation, but here are the highlights:

What Made Me Smile

I have written before about how difficult it was to find Elizabeth on the passenger arrival records. With a surname like Miller (or Müller), there were plenty of candidates. But I did find her eventually (see the link above). According to her passenger arrival record, she came from Żyrardów, Poland, which I assumed to be her birthplace. In the naturalization file, the first smile on my face was at the fact that the U.S. Government couldn’t locate her – at first – on the arrival records either.

Apparently my great-grandmother wished to apply for Social Security benefits, and she couldn’t get them without either proof of birth or proof of citizenship. She remembered the exact date she arrived – April 16, 1909 – but she could not remember the name of the ship. She mis-identified the port of entry as Philadlphia instead of New York, so the folks at the Immigration and Naturalization Service could not find the record. I guess Steve Morse’s site didn’t exist back then or it might have been easier for them!  The letter said:

Referring to your citizenship application in which you allege arrival at Philadelphia, PA on Apr. 16, 1909 via S.S. unknown, you are advised that all records at the port at which you claim entry have been examined and no record referring to you has been found.

I laughed….yeah, I couldn’t find her at first either! But eventually, they did, once they searched for the port of New York and looked under her maiden name. She was trying to remember an event that took place 45 years before, so her memory was a bit fuzzy on the details.

I also smiled because every paper in the packet identifies her birthplace as Żyrardów, which I assumed, and her birthdate as 21 November 1890, which I knew from other records. This made me smile because more than one researcher has been unable to find evidence of her birth in Żyrardów on that date. I know that should make me sigh, not smile, but my own conclusion based on my extensive research was exactly what she said.

What Made Me Cry

A recurring theme on this site is my desire to find photographs of my ancestors because I have so few. I even entitled one post about Elizabeth “Do you have a photo of my great-grandmother?” I did have one, and I didn’t want to be greedy because one is so much better than none at all. So when I saw Elizabeth’s photo included in the naturalization documents, I cried. It was tears of joy, but it was the first time in my life I found a new photo of a great-grandparent – the few photos of six of my greats have been with me since childhood. This one was new. She’s a bit older, and looking not-too-happy, but it brought me great joy to see her. And also to see a resemblance-she immediately reminded me of my Aunt Joan, Elizabeth’s granddaughter.

Surprise!

As I casually read through Elizabeth’s Alien Registration papers (no photo required with those, in case anyone is wondering – I will transcibe the questions on the form in a future post), one little word raised my eyebrows and would have knocked me over had I been standing up.  The question:

13. I have the following specified relatives living in the United States:

Parents: (one, none, or both) _______

Her response? One.

Um, wait… WHAT?  SHE HAD A PARENT IN THE UNITED STATES IN 1940? I had a great-great-grandparent here in the United States! That, my friends, was news to me. When she came to the country in 1909, she came alone (at age 18), and there was never any indication that either of her parents came here.

I have suspicions it was her mother (yet another future post on why I recently had those suspicions). Either way, again the surname of Miller is a bit problematic. I have found one candidate on the 1940 census for her mother, Elizabeth Smetana Miller, and none for her father, John Miller. Both were born in Poland, likely in the town of Zelów in the Łódź province, and lived in Żyrardów in the Mazovia province since before Elizabeth’s birth in 1890 and at least at the time of her immigration in 1909. Much, much more to come on this new development as I track down which parent was here, when they came, and where they lived. And the obvious…that one parent here in 1940 was also required to register as an alien (assuming they hadn’t been naturalized prior to 1940)!

That’s the great thing about genealogy – you’re always discovering and finding something to smile about (or sometimes cry about). And, there’s always the possibility that you’ll be surprised. Here’s to more great discoveries!

[Written for the 121st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Great Discoveries]

Photo by katieb50 under the Creative Commons license (click on image for link to katieb50′s Flickr page for this photo)

It is my pleasure to present the 4th annual Festival of Strange Search Terms – the weird, bizarre, and unusual phrases that folks have entered into search engines…and for some weird, bizarre, and unusual reason they wound up here anyway. Here are some of the best of the strange and odd search terms that have brought visitors here in 2012 – with my comments, of course! Note: these are actual search terms used!

If Only It Was That Easy

how did aunt joan die – Well, I know how my Aunt Joan died. I’m not really sure about yours.

what heritage am i – Who needs a DNA test or all that annoying research? Just Google it!

ww2 my grandpa in his uniform with my grandma – I wish finding photographs was this easy!

my grandmother in 1927 – And they really expected to find her…

find grampa – I’m tempted to Google this to see the search results. Maybe my grampa is there too!

my great great grandparents – Ta Da! I wish my smartphone was that smart. It would have saved me tons of research time.

Things That Make You Go “Huh?”

if only i had shown him my heirlooms – I so want to know the story behind this one! We need to make this a writing prompt for the next Carnival of Fictional Genealogy!

alien skulls – Hmm…

missouri recycling statistics from 2008-2011 – What’s amusing about this one is: 1) it led to my blog, which as far as I know has never mentioned  either Missouri or recycling, and 2) they stayed long enough to view two posts.

worst libraries – Why search for the best of anything when you can search for the worst?

animated obsessive compulsive – Do they mean a cartoon of an obsessive compulsive, or just an obsessive compulsive who uses a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions?

Make Me LOL

did fotomat have bathroom – While I may have wondered that as a kid, I would have never thought to search for the answer online.

if plan a doesn’t work, remember there are 25 more letters in the alphabet – If you need 26 tries to make your plan work, it’s probably not that great of an idea. Just say’n…

cat movie camera – Is this a movie camera that can only be used to film cats or one that can only be operated by cats?

a story from my past – Oh, wait, I’m drawing a blank on that memory so let me search for it online…

i used to have a life then i discovered genealogy – Didn’t we all?

This Sounds Like Fun

fountain of youth birthday party – I’ll drink to that!

time travel pictures 1940 – If they are pictures obtained by traveling back through time to 1940, then I’m all ears!

facebookancester.com [sic] – Because if they only had Facebook back then, we would now know that Grandma was often bored and played FarmVille all day.

“gene kelly’s ass” – Who could ask for anything more?

So there you have it! The next edition of the What’s Past is Prologue search term carnival will include more bizarre, freakish, and unusual ways that bring me more traffic. Until next time, I remain the Queen of Grampa’s Alien Heirlooms and Time Travel Photos of Gene Kelly’s Ass.

[Note: My past crown titles include Queen of Forgotten Unusual Facial Expressions and Dumb Mistake Cake Spelling Roulette, Queen and Super-Finder of Renegade Name-Labeled Regal Dog Portraits and Queen of Ugly Teady Beer Shakespearean Transvestite Marriage Photos. I bet you’re really jealous now.]

P is for Proof

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series, P is for… Proof! I had a lot of possibilities for the letter “P” such as surnames (including my own) and town names (not to mention the country of Poland, the source of most of my ancestors). But what good is all the information we collect without proof? How do we really prove our family history? Well, there’s an “app” for that – the application of the Genealogical Proof Standard, the measure by which one’s research is credible.

The Board for Certification of Genealogists defines the Genealogical Proof Standard as a conclusion that contains five elements:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search
  • complete and accurate source citations
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

A conclusion based on all of these standards is proven, genealogically speaking. Of course, true “proof” of who are ancestors were could really only be obtained with genetic testing. But, absent the ways and means to perform such testing, the Genealogical Proof Standard is how our “evidence” is proven to be credible.

I, for one, am often stuck in the (un)reasonably exhaustive search phase – or as speaker and genealogist Warren Bittner refers to it, the “reasonably exhausting search”. Complete and accurate source citations are a continuing challenge for me, but it helps to make my case. Conflicting evidence is perhaps the most challenging part of proving a fact, but isn’t that sort of analysis and detective work what makes family history fun?

Can you prove your family history?

[Written for the weekly Family History through the Alphabet challenge]

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet series… O is for Occupations! Some of the many interesting things I’ve learned while researching my family history are my ancestors’ occupations. What skills, trades, and talents are on your family tree?

I’ve written about my family’s occupations in the past, so for today’s post I’m taking a different approach to the topic of working for a living. Has your own choice of a job or a particular talent been unknowingly influenced by your ancestors?

On the episode of Henry Louis Gates’ Finding Your Roots featuring Martha Stewart, Dr. Gates seemed surprised to discover that many of Martha’s ancestors’ jobs involved such decorative arts as basket-making, iron work, and gardening. These crafts have also played a role in Stewart’s career as a decorator. But when she embarked on that career, she knew nothing of her family’s history in similar fields.

I was not as surprised as Dr. Gates because I have experienced exactly the same thing in my own family history research when comparing some of my ancestors’ occupations to that of my brother and myself.

My brother has some similarities to our great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. Joseph’s primary occupation in life was a baker – my brother is not. However, we found a curious connection in another earlier occupation of Joseph’s. During his mandatory military service in the Bavarian Army, Joseph served in the Leib Regiment, or the Königlich Bayerisches Infanterie Leib Regiment. This roughly translates to the Royal Bavarian Infantry Life Guard Regiment. This elite regiment protected the royal family, and was headquartered in Munich at the royal palace. Our great-grandfather served in this unit from 1893-95 when he was only 20 to 22 years old.

When my brother was 21 years old, he joined the United States Marine Corps, another elite branch of the military known for their rigorous training and “spit and polish” image, much like the Leib Regiment. While in the Marines, my brother served as an Embassy security guard, which would have had similarities to the Leib Regiment not only in function – as a protection and security unit – but also in form in terms of strict protocol and image.

While these two military jobs were similar, my brother’s later career mirrored Joseph’s Leib Regiment service even more closely. Years later, my brother served in the state police. His time in service included working on the executive protection detail guarding the governor. Coincidentally, the uniform of the Leib Regiment and the state police have one remarkable similarity – they coat/shirt of each uniform are a bright light blue.

As for my own career, I’ve spent the last twenty years as a “civil servant”. I was surprised to discover that the career I stumbled upon by accident is closely interwoven with the careers of multiple ancestors. None were civil servants, but their jobs instead are directly related to the industry that I’ve worked with in my government job – the U.S. clothing, textile, and footwear industry. I’ve worked with this shrinking domestic industry, one that is nearly entirely dependent upon the military, for my entire career.

When I first started my job in 1992, I knew that my maternal grandparents had worked in the textile factories that once populated Philadelphia. But after that, as I spent more spare time researching my genealogy, I began to uncover more generations involved with this industry – a whole collection of weavers, seamstresses, cloth merchants, and shoemakers! Some of these occupations are on both my father’s and mother’s side of the family tree including generations of both Bavarian and Polish shoemakers. My maternal grandfather’s family, all weavers, came from Żyrardów, Poland – a town founded to produce textiles. It soon became the largest textile-producing town in the entire Russian Empire by the end of the 19th Century. I may not weave fabric or make clothes or shoes myself, but thanks to my desk job I know more about these industries than I ever thought possible.

I wondered about other occupational connections in the family. My father worked as an accountant, and while I haven’t found any bean counters in his family’s history, I realized that in his younger days he was quite talented at construction-type jobs around the house. Did that talent stem from his Bavarian carpenter and mason ancestors? My mother also worked as a bookkeeper and a bank teller, but her dream job, and her talent, was designing and making clothes. Did that passion come from her weaving ancestors?

Perhaps we have a genetic memory within us that calls us to certain occupations or pastimes. I’d like to think so, but then again maybe it’s just a matter of some remarkable coincidences. I’d like to know who the historian in the family was… Because I think I inherited that gene!

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

Continuing with the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… N is for Napoleon! Napoleon may have been a dictator, but he did a few other things as well – one thing in particular that may even have an impact on your family history research today. In 1804 he instituted the Civil Code, which is now known as the Napoleonic Code. It was adopted throughout many of the lands he conquered, and it remained in effect after his death. The Civil Code granted many things we take for granted today such as freedom of religion and equality. Of course, it stated other things that we wouldn’t necessarily be happy with today like patriarchal power – in other words, husbands rule the household. But genealogically speaking, we have Napoleon and his code to thank for civil registration of vital events such as births, marriages, and deaths. The Roman Catholic church had been keeping records prior to this – in some places for centuries – but the Civil Code made the record-keeping a state function.

The Code spelled out exactly what must be recorded in the vital records, and the information required was more than what was customarily kept in church record books. For example, a religious baptismal record would likely indicate the child’s name, date of birth, date of baptism, parents’ names, godparents’ names, and the location. Napoleonic birth records required the exact time of birth as well as the full names, ages, residences, and professions of the parents and witnesses. Napoleonic marriage records are rather detailed and include the ages, residences, and professions of the bride and groom, their parents, and the witnesses. I don’t think the Napoleonic death records are as detailed as those for birth and marriage because it lacks the cause of death and the birthplace of the deceased. But, the Civil Code required that these events be registered within the community whereas prior to this it was merely a religious function.

The Civil Code was adopted in countries occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars and became the basis of law in Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, and parts of Germany. I gave an example of a Napoleonic birth record in the Baptism of Jozef Piontkowski. Learn more about translating Polish vital records in the Napoleonic format at this link.

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

This is a great photograph of my mother in 1950. She was only 14 years old yet to me she looks glamorous and sophisticated. But what’s funny about this photo is that my mother always said she never really learned how to ride a bike. I saw her ride one once, but she was a bit unsteady and gave up quickly. Even if it’s not her bicycle, you have to admit it makes a nice fashion accessory!

Posted for Sepia Saturday #138

 

 

M is for Maps

Continuing the Family History through the Alphabet Challenge… M is for Maps! What do maps have to do with family history? Maps can mean a lot to research – after all, how can you find the history of your family if you don’t know where to look? Maps can help us look in the right direction in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite kinds of maps or map sites that I use in my research:

Google Maps – Besides helping me find my way between a myriad of places, I use Google Maps to look up all sorts of locations in my family history research. I can use it to see a town in Europe – or to see if that town name actually exists. Or, I can look up a census address to see if the house is still there, and if a “Street View” exists I can even see how the location looks today. For cluster research, I can create a custom map and “pin” all of the locations of a particular family or group of neighbors.

Historic Maps – I love historic map sites! What genealogist doesn’t? One of my favorites for my hometown research is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network interactive map viewer. I can see past maps of the city layered on top of today’s map (using Google Maps). My favorite is the 1942 Land Use map that includes businesses, factories, churches, and more. With this old map, I can literally walk around the neighborhood of my ancestors and “see” what they saw as they walked the streets of Philadelphia. (See my previous post, Fun with Maps in Philadelphia, for more on the site.) Old maps of Europe were essential to my research to determine country borders – was it Poland or Russia? Bavaria or Austria?

Factories in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, 1942

Pinpointing a town with maps – Sites like the JewishGen Gazetteer (formerly called the ShtetlSeeker) can not only show you a town on the map, but show you towns within a ten-mile radius. You can also search for a town name phonetically, which is  useful for misspelled town names. The Gazetteer contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Learn more about it in my previous post, ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore.

Surname Maps are a very different sort of map that also have a place in family history. Several sites allow you to create a map of surname distribution in a particular country. The maps are usually based on current data, such as census records or phone books. Such maps can lead you to potential relatives back in the old country or even validate your place of origin. I try to use a surname map in each of my Surname Saturday posts to illustrate the name’s distribution. Frankly, they are really just plain fun. I recently entered a rather unusual surname into a surname map-maker for Poland and found a total of one person with that name – in exactly the same town my ancestor came from. Hello, cousin?

How have maps helped your family history research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

After writing about libraries this week I began to reminisce about the “olden days” of genealogical research. It wasn’t entirely a fond reminiscing either. There used to be a lot of waiting involved in research – mail a letter, wait for a response. Or send away for some records, wait for a response. Or even worse – wait for a day to make a research trip to the archives, and slowly scroll through microfilm to find your answer.

The internet changed all of that waiting for the most part, and it took away whatever patience I had left. Everything is instant now. If a question arises about a movie, historical event, a sports statistic, or just about anything, gone are the long debates over the correct answer.  Google it, declare the winner, and move on. Handwritten letters? Even email is too much anymore – we settle for text messages.

With genealogy, so many records are online and instantly accessible that when something is not online that waiting that used to seem normal now just seems long. Very long. I’ve grumbled about the waiting game before and I bring it up again because I’d have a lot of good fodder for new blog posts if only some of the genealogical “things” I’m waiting for would only arrive. I can’t remember waiting for this much information since the early days of my research. At the moment, I’m waiting for:

  • A naturalization file from USCIS  for my great-grandmother that I never thought to look for until recently. In it may be the solution to my biggest mystery – her birthplace. They did the index search quickly. But the record request? Not so much.
  • A visa file from USCIS for my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law that may provide clues as to the family left behind in Poland. Again, the index search was quick. What I want is there somewhere.
  • A death certificate from the State of New Jersey for someone who died in 1944.  The name of that someone is the same as one of my 2nd great-grandparents. The name is a bit common, but there were enough coincidental facts about this particular person that made me wonder if my 2nd great-grandmother did indeed immigrate to the U.S.  If I ever get that death certificate, I may actually know if it’s her or not.
  • My AncestryDNA results, the first genetic genealogy test I ever had. Lord only knows what that will reveal.

I wanted to send for some marriage license records from the City of Philadelphia and write to a potential cousin, but I don’t want to wait for even more mail to arrive. Genealogy-wise, each of these things will be rather exciting (except maybe that death certificate if it’s not the person I think it is). Each will probably give me something to write about here besides the Family History through the Alphabet challenge. But for now, I wait. And wait. It reminds me of the old days…but I’m too used to the new days to call them “good”!

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyz/3962573662/ Date; 2009-09-26, Author: Stuart Caie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/77047514@N00 Stuart Caie from Edinburgh, Scotland

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge…L is for Libraries! I have long been a lover of libraries. When I was a little girl, I loved to visit the library for a stack of new books to read (I still love it as a big girl, too). Since I went to high school and college in the stone age before Wikipedia, Google, and computers, I relied on the library to research my term papers (and I relied on typewriters to write them, but that’s another story…). I was downright giddy on a visit to The British Library, and the Library of Congress was also impressive. The worst thing about the big, beautiful libraries in other countries is that I can’t read all the books because I’m not fluent in foreign languages, but I can still admire the beauty of the collections. But aside from my love of books in general, where would my family history research be if it weren’t for libraries? Long ago before a multitude of information was available on the internet, the library was the sole source for any serious research.

My first visit to the Family History Library in April, 2010.

My family history research began shortly after I graduated college. My friend Marie and I were attending grad school and we started talking about family history. Specifically, we talked about our desire to know more about our respective family histories. We asked each other, “How do you get started with genealogy, anyway?” By that point in our academic lives we knew there was one place to find the answer – the library! We visited the college library together and left with a stack of genealogy how-to books (Angus Baxter’s In Search of Your European Roots is still in print!). Thus began my 20+ year journey among records, archives, microfilm, and – eventually – computers.

Libraries have always been my favorite source of books to read, but they can also be a great resource for books and other media related to genealogical research. Even though many records are now available online, the Free Library of Philadelphia remains the only place where I can see the city’s newspapers after 1920 and city directories from certain years.

Then, of course, there is the Ultimate Library for genealogical research, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is truly a mecca for genealogists no matter your family’s country of origin. If you’re a genealogist and you haven’t been there yet, put it on your “bucket list” – you won’t be disappointed!

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

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…K is for Księgi Parafialne (Polish for “Church Books”) via the website http://www.ksiegi-parafialne.pl/. If your family history is Polish, this site is a must and yet it is not mentioned very often among guides to Polish research or “best of” lists. What is it? A site that lists, by province, every town that has church books indexed. The indexes (indices) are all on other sites – this is merely an index of indexes and links are included to get you there. As such, this site is only helpful once you’ve discovered the name of the town from which your ancestors came.

First, click on “Województwa” to find the province. Since the entire site is in Polish, you must look for the Polish name of the province (Pomorskie for Pomerania, etc). Each province has a separate page with a list of towns. Find the town name in the first column, parafia / USC. If available at one of the online sites, it will be listed. The dates in the columns show what records have been indexed for Chrzty/Urodziny (Baptisms/Births), Małżeństwa (Marriages), and Zgony (Deaths). Under Strona www is a link to the web site with the indexed records. There are over a dozen sites that have images (or at least indexes) of the records available. Included among them are Geneteka, which I’ve praised here before, and the Polish church books included on FamilySearch.org. What’s not listed? Anything on microfilm available via FamilySearch – this site lists only records/indexes available online. As with any record site, some provinces have many more towns with online records available than others. But towns are added weekly and the site is a great way to keep track of  what’s available for your ancestors’ towns. There are hundreds listed – is your ancestors town among them?

On the main page next to “Województwa” you will also see “II Rzeczpospolita” or “Second Republic”. This list includes areas once associated with Poland during the interwar period. There is also a heading “Dokumenty metrykalne” which offers documents that describe the format of the records. However, as the documents are in Polish, it will not nearly be as helpful as various translation guides in English.

For those of you with Polish ancestry, how cool is it to have a site that lists all available online records? I think it’s great…I just wish Germany had a similar site! Happy searching…

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

And they all have a name that begins with J… Top Row: Jane, Jozef, Julius, Donna Joan. 2nd Row: James, James, Jean, Josef. 3rd Row: Jane, Nicholas James. Bottom Row: Joseph, Anita Jane, Joan, James.

The Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge has been rather, er, challenging so far… I was particularly stumped with the letter “J” and I wondered if I should talk about the Joy of genealogy or the Journeys I’ve taken during my research. But the fact is that “J” is actually quite prominent in my family – that is, as the starting letter of names!  The J-names are hanging on every branch of my family tree. Sure, there are some Maria’s and Anna’s (and tons of Maria Anna’s and Anna Maria’s in Bavaria) as well as several Elizabeth’s. For the men I have a few named Louis, Karl, and Ignatz or Ignacy. But one letter is prominent by far – the letter J.  Therefore, J is for J Names!

Starting with my father’s paternal side, there is my grandfather James. James named my father James, who in turned named his son James, who in turn used James as a middle name for one of his sons. My grandfather James named his daughter Jean after his sister Jean. His brother, Joseph, named one daughter Jean and another Josephine, and his son is named John Joseph. The father of James, Jean, and Joseph? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the next branch of the family tree, grandfather James married Margaret. She can be forgiven for her lack of a J-name by the sheer number of J’s in her ancestry. Her brother Joseph was named after their father, Joseph, while brother Julius was named after Uncle Julius. Joseph’s father, Joseph, had a father named Joseph. In fact, if it wasn’t for the elder Joseph’s father, Jakob (son of Joseph!), there would be an unbroken line of seven generations of men named Joseph Bergmeister starting in 1763 until today with my 20-something cousin in Texas. Oh, and the father of the Joseph born in 1763? John (Johann in German).

On my mother’s side, neither grandparent has a J-name, but my mom’s middle name is Jane. My middle name, Joan, is the same as my mom’s sister Joan. Their father’s grandfather was named Joseph (Józef), the son of John (Jan). Their father’s other grandfather? John (Jan in Polish).

Moving to the final branch, my mother’s mother’s family, my great-grandfather was named – how did you guess? Joseph! He named a daughter Jane and one of his sons had a Joseph and a Joyce. My great-grandmother has sisters named Jane and Josephine. The sisters’ dad’s dad was Józef and their mom’s dad was Jan.

Really, I’m not making this up…it’s all in on the family tree!

Sure, there are some other names on the family tree, but none come close to the amount of J-names. Oddly enough, I have yet to uncover a single surname that starts with the letter J. Maybe I will find one in my research one day. If I do, I can place a sure bet that if I find a man with a “J” surname, his first name will almost certainly be Joseph or John and if it’s a woman she’ll likely be Jane, Jean, Joan, or Josephine!

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

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…I is for Imieniny! Imieniny is the Polish word for name days. Many countries celebrate name days or feast days which were originally based on saints’ feast days in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. As a primarily Roman Catholic country, Poland enthusiastically celebrates imieniny. However, my family history research discovered something rather unique about Poland’s imieniny. Many Polish Catholics used the liturgical calendar not to celebrate a feast day after a child was named – but to actually name the child.

In several of my Polish families, every child’s name is based on a saint’s feast on or near the date of birth. At first I thought my great-grandfather, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, was named after his maternal grandfather, Ludwik Pluta. But I soon noticed a naming pattern among the Pater children – they were not being named after relatives, but after the saints on whose feast they were born. My great-grandfather was born on 24 August 1893, and his grandfather was born on 21 August 1843. The feast of St. Ludwik is 25 August!

This wasn’t just a coincidence – every single child of my great-great grandparents Józef and Antonina Pater is named after a saint’s feast near their birthday – and Józef and Antonina and their siblings are as well! Based on my research, the Pater children did not pass on this tradition when it came time to name their own children.

Not every Polish ancestor followed this tradition, but many did. I last wrote about this tradition in a post called Polish Names and Feast Days in 2008 –  the third post written for this blog. As my research continues, I’m finding more and more ancestors named after the saint’s feast near their birth.

I always thought the imieniny naming tradition was fun and it would certainly take the stress off of parents who debate over names for their child – just let the church’s calendar decide for you. Then again, there is a certain risk involved, for not every name is equally liked! Your first name is very important for your sense of identity, so I can’t help but wonder how name choices affect people. Just by the random chance of the day you were born could have christened you Adam (24 December) or Zenon (22 December), Aniela (31 May) or Zuzanna (24 May).

Of course, if you weren’t named after the saint whose feast happened to fall on your day of birth, you can always celebrate your imieniny anyway by finding the corresponding saint on the calendar. Any reason for a party (and cake) is a good reason, so take a look at the list of names and celebrate your name day!

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

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…H is for History. Researching your family history isn’t just about the history of your family, but it’s about how your family fit into the history of the world. Genealogy puts a face on history – the faces of your ancestors. When we learn about a particular time period, we wonder how our ancestors were affected by the events. And just maybe we can learn something from our family’s past.  After all, what’s past is prologue, right?

While researching my family, I’ve learned a lot of interesting historical facts that I never knew before. Some of these events are not well known and would have held little interest to me, but knowing my own ancestors were a part of it makes it more significant and meaningful. I’ve learned about Haller’s Armythe Polish Army in France during World War I led by General Haller. Over 25,000 Polish immigrants to the United States and Canada volunteered to serve and fight for their homeland’s independence including my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who had been in the U.S. for ten years.

I also learned about Häuserchronik - house histories published in Germany that present  a centuries-old city directory loaded with extra-special information such as marriages and occupations. It was great to learn the name of the hometown of my Bavarian immigrants, but knowing that several generations of my family lived in the same house for over a hundred years makes the town’s history more personal.

So many other Historical events took on a more personal connection through my research, whether it was the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Holocaust, an obscure battle in the War of Austrian Succession, or the saint who once played in my own backyard. History is all around us! Take the time to learn all about the time periods, places, and events during which your family lived.

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

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge…G is for Google? What does Google have to do with family history?  The Google site is much more than just a search engine – it has become a very useful tool for genealogical research.  Here are some of the ways I use Google for genealogy:

  • Search for names and towns on Google 
  • Read all of my genealogy (and other) blogs on Reader
  • Share information with my family on Docs.  It is also a useful place to store info among  my various computers (work, home, laptop).
  • Find references to ancestors or towns in old books and newspapers, especially foreign texts, on Books. This is how I found out about a fire in my ancestors’ town, my fugitive immigrant, and I located many sources for my Józef Pater story.
  • Translate words, phrases, or entire texts from Latin, Polish, German, and many other languages with Translate. While the translations are not 100% accurate, you do get the general idea of the text.  You can also translate directly from Google Books if the full text of the book is available.
  • Set up Alerts for names or places so you don’t miss any references
  • Virtually walk in my ancestors’ footsteps with Maps and Earth
  • Remember family dates or set up an editorial calendar for a blog with Calendar

I even use Google’s web browser, Chrome, their photo editing tool, Picasa, and their email platform, Gmail! The only Google apps I don’t really use are the blogging platform, Blogger, and the social networking site, Google+, because I like WordPress and Facebook better. However, many other genealogists find both of these tools to be useful to their family research as well.

This “Google Doodle” was used for Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. As the inventor of the Daguerreotype photograph, I thought it was appropriate to illustrate Google and Family History!

How do you use Google for your family history research?

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

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