And the Winner Is…

Today is the end of the Genea-Blogger Group Games!  The five competition categories involved citing sources, backing up data, organizing research, writing, and reaching out to help other genealogists.  I only had time to post one update during the games, but here is my final medal tally:

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources!

I first didn’t plan on competing in this category, but then I compiled 50+ sources just to write the biographical sketch of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny.  However, as the deadline to write the post got closer (and as I suffered for two weeks with a pulled muscle), I never did get all of the citations in the proper format.  Oh well, you can’t win them all.  It was a good exercise in tracking down the source information, and I will continue to try to do this.  Status: no medal

2. Back Up Your Data!

I completed “Task C” by backing up all of my data and photographs to an external hard drive.  This is highly recommended to provide you with a back-up, and it’s very easy to do.  Status: Gold medal

3. Organize Your Research!

I organized multiple piles of documents into two large boxes, filed by family name.  I also scanned 300+ photos to help a friend organize her own family history project.  Status: Silver medal, unless “scan 20 documents” can be multiplied out for my 300, then I won a Platinum several times over.  Of course, if the fact that they are not my family photos matters, then I only won a Bronze.

4. Write, Write, Write!

I did well in this category.  I participated in the Smile for the Camera Carnival with my favorite photograph, the Carnival of Genealogy with “Don’t Be a What?”, and the “Soundtrack of My Salad Days” meme with my musical genealogy.  I also technically prepared several posts in draft form; I usually try to do that.  I wrote a biographical sketch of an ancestor.  One task is tricky – sign up to host a future carnival.  During the GB Games, I hosted the Carnival of Genealogy for the first time.  But, technically speaking, I volunteered for it back in June.  So, I’m not sure if this counts or not.  The easiest task I planned to do – “write a summary of what your blog is about” – I did not.  I am coming up on my 100th post, and I planned on writing a similar post at that time, which will also coincide nicely with Terry Thornton’s challenge.  I’ll take a medal hit to do it “my way”.  Status: Diamond medal (or Gold if my COG hosting doesn’t qualify)

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

I commented on a new blog, Granite in My Blood, and joined a few blog networks on Facebook.  Unfortunately, I never got around to participate in an indexing project due to time constraints.  I already belong to two genealogical societies, and I couldn’t find another one to join.  My random act of kindness was the aforementioned scanning project, which now continues as I take those photos and make a music video for her parents’ wedding anniversary.  Alas, this does not count either!  Status: Silver medal

Thanks to the GB Games’ organizing committee: Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society and Library, Thomas MacEntee of Destination Austin Family and Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories. Thanks also to footnoteMaven for creating the cool logo!  It was a great exercise to get us into the practice of doing things that we should be doing on a regular basis…the games were only a warm-up because I know we’ll all continue with these activities!

Joseph Zawodny

In 1880, Poland was a divided land.  Officially, the country of Poland no longer existed.  The former Polish Kingdom was partitioned in three stages among Prussia/Germany, Austria, and Russian from 1772-1795.  Poland, with its long national history and cultural heritage, became only an idea.  The area that was southern Poland now belonged to Austria, while northern and western provinces were governed by the newly formed Germany.  Central and eastern Poland was ruled by the Russian Empire.

This map shows the distance between Joseph and his wife's birthplaces and the border of Germany in 1880.

This map shows the distance between Joseph and his wife's birthplaces and the German-Russian border in 1880.

Along the border between Germany and Russia, just fifteen miles into the new outline of Russia, lay a small village called Komorowo.  The village was so small that it did not have its own church.  Instead, residents traveled almost two miles away to the larger town of Dobrosołowo for their religious services. Dobrosołowo itself was hardly a large town; in 1827 it was reported as having only 19 houses and 194 residents.  But the town had a parish church, Św. Jakóba (St. James), which served as the only parish for surrounding villages.

In this small Polish town or Komorowo on the new border of the Russian Empire, Józef Zawodny was born on January 26, 1880.  His father, Wawrzyniec Zawodny, was a 27-year-old farm worker.  Józef’s mother was Katarzyna Mariańska, also 27 years old and born in Komorowo.  The couple had been married for almost five years before Józef’s birth.  Józef was baptized at St. James in Dobrosołowo.

Little is known about Józef’s early life.  He had at least two sisters and one brother.  Parish registers record the birth of a sister, Aniela, on September 18, 1876, but no additional information is known.   Research of the parish records is ongoing, but from U.S. record sources it was determined that Józef’s also had a brother, Stefan, and a sister Mary.  By 1902, Józef had met a woman named Wacława Slesinska; he wanted to make her his wife.

Wacława was born on August 29, 1880 to 29-year-old Wincenty Slesinski (also spelled Ślesiński), a blacksmith, and 20-year-old Stanisława Drogowska.   She was their first child; the couple had only been married for almost one year.  Wacława was born in a larger town, Wilczyn, which was about thirteen miles from Dobrosołowo and less than a mile from the German border.  Wilczyn was large enough to be considered an “urban” area with nearly 500 residents.  Wacława was the oldest of eight children, and by the time the youngest was born in August, 1901, the Slesinski family was living in Komorowo and attending church at Dobrosołowo, the same towns as Józef.

Józef and Wacława on or near their wedding day, 1902.

Józef and Wacława on or near their wedding day, 1902.

Józef and Wacława wed on January 29, 1902, one day before Józef’s 22nd birthday.  Years later their children would report that Wacława’s parents were very upset by this marriage.  Whether they disapproved of Józef or the couple’s plan to immigrate to the United States is not known.  But Józef told his children that Wacława’s parents never spoke to her again and letters home were returned unopened.  Neither Józef nor Wacława would ever see their parents again.  Józef’s father died in 1917; his mother in 1923.  Wacława’s parents died two days apart – her mother on December 30, 1918 and her father on January 1, 1919.

On March 23, 1902, only two months after the wedding, Józef boarded the S.S. Graf Waldersee in Hamburg, Germany.  He arrived in New York on April 6, 1902, with only the equivalent of $2 in his pockets.  His sister Mary’s husband, Piotr Szymanski, met him in New York at Ellis Island.  Piotr (Peter) and Mary Szymanski lived at 2830 Ann Street in a neighborhood of Philadelphia known as Port Richmond.  While Józef and Wacława would live in many houses over the years, the neighborhood of Port Richmond was always their home.

Photo from "Our Faith-Filled Heritage" prepared by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Photo from"Our Faith-Filled Heritage" prepared by the Archdiocese of Phila.

The Port Richmond section of Philadelphia is an area along the Delaware River that was not only an industrial area, but also had streets with rows of houses for those employed in the various factories.  It was, and remains, a “blue collar” neighborhood.  At the time, it was a mix of ethnicities including Irish, German, and Polish.  The mix is most evident by a lasting landmark on the neighborhood’s primary east-west thoroughfare, Allegheny Avenue – three large Catholic churches were built within a quarter mile.  Nativity of the B.V.M. was the first church established in 1882; though built for the German community, it became known as the Irish church.  The Germans built their church next, Our Lady Help of Christians, which was finished in 1905.  The Polish community’s church, St. Adalbert’s, was founded in 1904 although the building itself was not completed until 1909.

Józef was living with the Szymanski’s in July 1903 when Wacława arrived in the United States.  She traveled on the S.S. Westernland from Antwerp, Belgium, which went directly to the Port of Philadelphia.

When Wacława arrived, the couple had been married for eighteen months but had only been together for two.  They settled down to raise a family together – a family of American children christened with Polish names living in a Polish section of an American city.  In their Polish community, Józef and Wacława’s names remained the same.  To Americans, Józef used the English spelling of his name, Joseph.  The name Wacława does not have a direct translation into English, so she became known as Laura.

Joseph and Laura began their family almost immediately.  Nearly one year after she joined her husband in Philadelphia, their first child was born, a girl, on July 9, 1904.  Her name was Janina; later she would be known as “Jennie”, “Jen”, or “Jane”.

The family grew quickly.  Following Jen’s birth were Helena (Helen) on October 30, 1905, Marianna (known as Mary or Mae) on August 3, 1907, and Stanisław (Stanley) on May 8, 1909.  By 1910, the growing Zawodny family lived at 2826 Livingston Street.  Another son was born on February 1, 1911, Kazimierz (known as Charley), followed by Bolesław (William) on August 4, 1912.

Tragedy would befall the family for the next few years.  On March 8, 1913, Bolesław died from acute gastroenteritis – the stomach flu.  He was only seven months old.  The burial took place at the nearby St. Peter’s Cemetery.

Joseph Zawodny, c. 1915

Joseph Zawodny, c. 1915

Another son was born on January 18, 1914, Władisław (Walter).  He would also have a short life, dying on March 27, 1915 at the age of 14 months.  The cause of death was enteritis and a gum infection from teething complications.  He was buried with his brother in St. Peter’s.

Sometime between the two deaths, the family moved to 2618 E. Birch Street.  It was there that their last child was born on January 13, 1916, a daughter named Zofia (known as Dorothy).

Joseph supported his large family by working as a boilermaker.  He also worked as a file maker for G.H. Barnett Company on Frankford Avenue at Richmond Street.

After Laura’s parents died in 1919, her younger sisters all immigrated to the U.S.  Józefa (Josephine), Marianna (Mary), Janina (Jane), and Zofia (Sophie) all moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and Laura visited them on occasion.

By 1922, the Zawodny family was living at 2650 E. Birch Street, just down the street from their previous home.  On February 20, 1922, Joseph declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen.  He entered his Petition for Naturalization on April 26, 1926 and it was finalized on January 7, 1927. Joseph and his wife were now naturalized citizens of the United States.

By 1930, the family had moved to 2512 E. Indiana Street.  As with their previous residences, it was within the same Port Richmond neighborhood of Polish immigrants in Philadelphia.  Although Laura did not attend church services, Joseph was very active in St. Adalbert’s.  His children were baptized at the church, and with most of the children he followed the Polish tradition of naming the child after the “saint’s day” in the Catholic calendar.  In 1929, Joseph was even the president of one of the charitable societies at St. Adalbert’s.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Joseph and Laura’s adult children got married and began families of their own.  The first to be married was the second oldest child, Helen.  In 1923 at the age of 17, she married John Tiernan, a 22-year-old plumber.  The next wedding took place in 1925 as the eldest, Jane, married Sigmund E. Galecki at St. Adalbert’s Church.  Younger sister Mae served as her maid of honor.

Next to be married was Mae, who married Henry M. Pater on February 1, 1930.  Henry and his family lived on the same street as the Zawodny’s — the Pater’s were at 2506 E. Indiana Ave. while the Zawodny’s were at 2512.  Henry was only 17, five years younger than Mae, so the couple married in Media, PA where he would not need his parents’ permission.  They later had the marriage blessed at Joseph’s Zawodny’s insistence.  The blessing took place at St. Adalbert’s in June of the same year.

In 1934, Stanley married Elizabeth Tiernan, the sister of his brother-in-law, John.   Next, Charley married Frances Adamczek, who was the daughter of his father’s best friend.  Finally, Dorothy married Bennet Rozet.

By 1938, Joseph and Laura lived at 3553 Mercer Street.  But Laura was not well.  On December 6th of that year, she was admitted to Philadelphia State Hospital, known as Byberry.  Her diagnosis was “dementia praecox”, or schizophrenia.  Joseph made the long journey to Northeast Philadelphia to visit her on a regular basis, but she would never again return home to live with him.

After Laura was hospitalized, their daughter Mae moved in with her husband Henry and their two young daughters – 6-year-old Joan and 3-year-old Anita.  They would live with him until his death.  Joseph occasionally argued with his daughter over running the household, but he enjoyed having his granddaughters with him.  He especially enjoyed dressing up in their “Sunday best” to visit friends and relatives.  Unfortunately for the girls, this meant walking long distances in uncomfortable shoes.  But their aunts provided welcome moleskin when they reached their destinations.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Joseph fell ill with pneumonia and pleurisy.  He died three days later on June 9 and was buried in New Cathedral Cemetery.  He shares his resting place with his wife Laura, who lived until May 20, 1956, as well as his daughter Helen, her husband, their young son, and in-laws.

Four of the six Zawodny children lived into their 70s.  One, Charley, died at 58.  Dorothy is still living and is now 92 years old.  Joseph and Laura Zawodny had seventeen grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

[See Part 1 for my “original” biographical sketch of my great-grandfather written in 1980.  This sketch, Part 2, is based on documented sources.  All source information is available upon request.  As an endnote, the factual story ends as noted above, however, there is considerable speculation after a mysterious visitor identified himself as the “real” Joseph Zawodny after my great-grandfather’s death.  See Part 1 for details on the myth.  However, if you find this page because you are also descended from a Joseph Zawodny, and you grew up hearing about a man who stole your ancestor’s name, contact me!]

The Family History Project Revisited

Did everyone have a “Family History Project” in school?  I received my assignment in 8th grade, December, 1980.  Even though I was inspired by Alex Haley’s Roots three years earlier, I still knew very little of my family’s history except for my great-grandparents’ names.  Our assignment was to write an essay about one of our ancestors.  My grandmother lived with us, so I turned to her for help.  “Tell me about your parents!”  My Nan told me some stories, and I wrote it all down.  I received an “85” for the assignment, and I recently found that document.  As I read through it, I couldn’t help but laugh.  Not at my grade school grammar or writing style, but at all of the errors!  I began my genealogical research years later after college, and I proved “false” many of the so-called facts I thought I knew.  But, those errors created the basic information that I had when I began my research; it was all I knew.  I’ve since proved names and dates with the correct source information instead of relying on “word of mouth.”  As for my essay, well it certainly is an interesting story.  But is it true?

While there was some element of truth in the tale, overall it’s mostly false.  My grandmother did have a tendency to tell tall tales.  She may have told me a good story so that I’d have something interesting to write about for the assignment, because I didn’t know any stories about any other ancestors.  Or, she may have told me what she believed to be true based on her fuzzy childhood memories or the tall tales her own parents told her.  Let’s see how the story stands up against the truth as learned through real genealogical research.  I’ll look past the poor writing – I was 13 years old and I still had a lot to learn.  My 1980 essay is in bold, followed by my comments today.

“My great-grandfather Joseph Andrew Mueller came to America in about 1900.  Though his name was Mueller, he used Zawodny because it was his stepfather’s name.”

My great-grandfather was Joseph Zawodny.  Legend has it, as told by my grandmother and my then-nine-year-old mother, that after Zawodny’s death a stranger came to the door.  The stranger told my grandmother that he was Joseph Zawodny and that her father had used his name to “get into the country.”  His real name, according to that version of Joseph Zawodny, was Joseph Mueller.  Interesting…what a great story!  I was so sure that I’d find some evidence of it somewhere, somehow.   Instead, I found Joseph Zawodny’s birth and marriage record in Poland, with information that matches what he provided in the U.S. on documents such as his naturalization papers.  In order for this interesting tale to be true, the imposter would have had to assume the name Zawodny prior to his marriage.  Since the town in Poland was not very large, it is unlikely that a priest would have performed the wedding ceremony and recorded it with a false name, because he would have known both the bride and groom.  Evidence has revealed only the name Joseph Zawodny.

Regarding “Andrew” as his middle name, it was not recorded in either his birth or marriage record, but on his SS-5 application for Social Security, he wrote his own name as “Joseph Andy Zawodny”.

He did come to America “about 1900” – the precise date was April 6, 1902.  He arrived at the port of New York on the SS Graf Waldersee.  Of course, one could argue that this record only shows that a Joseph Zawodny arrived and intended to go to Philadelphia – what if he was using an assumed name?  Immigrants had to have the proper papers from their native land in order to obtain a ship ticket in the first place, so it is still difficult to imagine identity theft back then.

According to Joseph’s birth record, his father was Wawrzyniec Zawodny, who was born in 1853.  He was a farm worker who married Katarzyna Marianska on 10 May 1875 in Dobrosołowo.  She was born around 1853 in Komorowo and died on 29 July 1923 in Dobrosołowo.  Wawrzyniec died on 13 Dec 1917 in Dobrosołowo.  Based on these records, there is no evidence of a stepfather.

“He was born in Berlin, Germany on March 8, 1882, which is the same day I was born 85 years later.”

Joseph (Józef in Polish) Zawodny was born on 26 Jan 1880 in Komorowo, Poland near the town of Dobrosołowo.  I did hear the “same birthday” story growing up from my grandmother and mother.  I am not sure why my grandmother thought her father’s birthday was on March 8.  Several other documents throughout Joseph’s life, including some written in his own hand, confirm the birthdate, including baptismal record, WWI draft registration card, Social Security application, WWII draft registration card, a life Insurance policy, and his death certificate.

As for being born in Berlin, my grandmother thought he was German and named a German city.  Why?  He did speak German, but the area of Poland from which he came bordered Germany and many people spoke both languages.  He spoke Polish at home, lived in a Polish neighborhood, and attended a Polish church.

“Joseph was an infantryman in the German Army and he was serving as a guard in a prison.  One day he was caught giving cigarettes to the prisoners and he was sentenced to a court marshall.  Since he had to leave, he deserted the army and boarded a ship as a stowaway.”

Joseph was 20 years old when he left Poland for the United States.  The area in which he was born was in the Russian Empire a few miles from the German border.  The country was not at war when Joseph would have been the right age to serve in the military – would the army be guarding a prison?  I have found no evidence of his service in any army.

The stowaway myth was proven false by finding his passenger arrival record (noted above) as well as his departure record in Hamburg.  He definitely paid for passage on the ship!

“When he arrived in New York he spoke several languages, but not one was English.  One of his first jobs was loading logs on wagons.  Once he was putting them on and the foreman kept saying, “Push, push!”  Since he didn’t understand English very well, he did what the Polish “push” meant – he let go.  Needless to say, he lost his new job.”

I was amazed to discover in the Polish-English dictionary the word puszczać, which is pronounced poosh-chach.  It means to let go, let fall, or drop.  So, perhaps there is some truth to this story!

“Within two years he came to Philadelphia and got a job as a toolmaker at Nicholson File Company.  It was then his wife came over.”

Joseph arrived in New York on 06 April 1902.  Joseph’s passenger list indicates he is going to his brother-in-law P. Szymanski on Ann Street in Philadelphia, and his brother-in-law met him at Ellis Island.  It is unlikely that he stayed in New York at all.  His wife, Wacława, traveled directly to Philadelphia on the SS Westernland on 26 July 1903; her husband’s address is the same as his sister’s from the year before.

Joseph probably did work for the Nicholson File Company, or at least their subsidiary in Philadelphia, the G. H. Barnett Company.  Nicholson was a major manufacturing firm in the early 1900s.  On Joseph’s draft registration for World War I, he indicates he is a file maker for Barnett Co located at Richmond and Frankford Avenues in Philadelphia.

“Joseph Zawodny and Laura Slezinski were married at a young age sometime before he came over.”

A true fact!  Józef Zawodny married Wacława Slesinska on 28 January 1902 in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Wacława adopted the name “Laura” in the U.S.  Slesinska is the feminine form of the surname Slesinski, which can be found in some older church records spelled as Śleszyński.  When they married, Joseph was one day shy of his 22nd birthday and Wacława was 21.  The ages are typical for Polish marriages around that time – even a little on the “old” side.

“Daughter of a rich slaughterhouse owner, she was born in Warsaw, Poland on September 28, 1884.”

Daughter of a blacksmith, she was born in Wilczyn, Poland on August 29, 1880.  Her parents are Wincenty (Vincent) Slesinski and Stanislawa Drogowska.  Wilczyn is a large town close to Dobrosołowo.

“They probably met because she was a nurse and could have been helping the army.”

It is extremely doubtful that she was a nurse.

“After Laura arrived they bought a house on Livingston Street, where they went on to have eight children.  From oldest to youngest, their children were Janine, Helena, Marya (my grandmother), William, Walter, Stanley, Charles, and Dorothy.  Both William and Walter died when they were babies.”

True.  According to the 1910 Census, the family lived at 2826 Livingston Street in Philadelphia.  The official names for the children were in the Polish and were Janina (b. 09 Jul 1904), Helena (b. 30 Oct 1905), Marianna (b. 03 Aug 1907), Stanisław (b. 08 May 1909), Kazimierz (b. 01 Feb 1911), Bolesław (b. 04 Aug 1912), Władysław (b. 18 Jan 1914), and Zofia (b. 13 Jan 1916).  The names used in English (not all are direct translations) were Jen/Jane, Helen, Mae, Stanley, Charley, William, Walter, Dorothy.  Bolesław died at 7 months old; Władysław died at 14 months.

“After Joseph got fired for an incident at the file company, he got a job at Baden Housing, which was located in Cornwells Heights.  With this job he installed most of Atlantic City’s heating in the hotels.”

There is no way to confirm that he was fired.  It is unlikely that Joseph worked in Cornwells Heights, located just outside the Philadelphia city limits and close to where I grew up, and even more unlikely that he worked in Atlantic City.  He did not own a car to travel far distances to work.  The job that Joseph had with the file company was in the same neighborhood in which he lived, a section of Philadelphia known as “Port Richmond”.  Many Polish immigrants settled there, and more than likely he walked to work.

“When the Depression came, Joseph lost some land in Merchantville, New Jersey.  He also lost money in Richmond Bank, which is one of the big banks that collapsed.”

I can not substantiate the land claim.  Again, even though Merchantville is only directly across the river from the Richmond section of Philadelphia, would he have had the money to do this?  It is probable that he did lose money in Richmond Bank, but probably not much.

“He retired, but when World War II started he went back to work, this time for the Coast Guard.”

Philadelphia did have a large volunteer contingent for the Coast Guard during World War II.  However, in January of 1942 Joseph turned 63.  I haven’t researched this because I don’t think he would have volunteered at his age.

“In 1938 Laura got sick and was hospitalized.”

While I do not know all of the circumstances that led to this, Laura was admitted to Philadelphia State Hospital for schizophrenia on December 6, 1938.

“Joseph’s daughter Marya, her husband Henrick, and their daughters Joan and Anita (my aunt and mother) moved in to take care of him.”

My grandparents, Henry (Henryk in Polish) and Mae and their daughters did live with Joseph, although I am not certain of when they moved in with him.  They lived at 3553 Mercer Street in the Richmond section of Philadelphia.  My mother, who would have been three years old if they moved in after Laura was hospitalized, fondly remembers her grandfather and how proud she was to live with him.  Her scattered memories: he always wore a suit jacket at the dinner table; he listed to a shortwave radio in another language which sounded, to her ears, like German; he would take them out on the weekends to visit relatives, but they’d walk so far in their Sunday shoes that they’d have blisters by the end of the day.

“Five and a half years later he died on June 6, 1944, which also happened to be D-Day.”

Joseph died on June 9, 1944 – three days after D-Day.

There ends my quasi-biography of my great-grandfather.  It was interesting to see how the stories stacked up against the “truth” available in genealogical records.  While it may not have been a genealogically accurate biography of my ancestor, these family history projects are highly beneficial for children.  Today, the availability of so much information on the internet would have allowed me to disprove some of my grandmother’s memories immediately!  But regardless of whether what she knew was true or not, projects such as these were designed to get the children to talk to their older relatives to find out the family history stories.

For years now, I’ve been hoping my niece gets such a project since I’d be the one she’d call as “keeper of the family information”.  She has many interesting stories about ancestors on both sides of her family, all of which can be substantiated with actual records!  But I am beginning to wonder if they do these projects anymore with the prevalence of divorce, adoptions, and other family relationships that would have been considered unusual back in 1980.  Then again, maybe this is the year – she’s about to enter the 8th grade!

In Part 2 to this post, I’ll offer my biographical sketch of Joseph Zawodny based on information I have discovered in genealogical records.  It may not be as interesting as my grandmother’s tale, but it’s all true.  Well, it’s true as far as I can tell, anyway – supposing he was who he said he was!

My Musical Genealogy

Thanks, Tim, for reminding me what a freak of nature unique individual I am. You see, I’m probably one of the few people in the modern world that can’t name ten formative albums from my teen years.

After trying to participate in this meme, I finally have to admit what others have been telling me for years…I was a strange kid.  I have eclectic musical tastes today, and it started as early as I can remember.  If you would have asked 8-year-old Donna what songs rocked her boat, she would have probably answered: Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”, Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”, Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”, and the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”.  There’s really nothing wrong with the list, per se, unless you know that I was 8 years old in 1974 – other than Elton’s 1972 song, the rest are a bit before my time.  And even Crocodile Rock isn’t “current” for the 70s, but instead is a nostalgic look back to the good old days of rock ‘n roll.  I wasn’t alive for those “good old days”, but the music attracted me from an early age.

Of course, my list of favorites would have had Shaun Cassidy at the top, and may have even included the Bay City Rollers.  But in terms of long-term influence on my psyche, those wouldn’t make my list today.  I remember listening to 45s all the time (note: if you’re reading my blog and you don’t know what a 45 is, go ask your mother.  If she doesn’t know, are you sure you’re old enough to be reading my blog?).  The songs weren’t very good, and they aren’t any I’d listen to today except for a laugh.  Prominent in my memory: Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died” and Bo Donaldson’s “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”.  The one 45 I remember buying that you’d not only hear on the radio today but also not mind hearing is The Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.  But only two albums resonate from those early days: the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night and Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run.  I still listen to both today and enjoy them!

As a teenager, my musical tastes got even stranger, at least by popular standards.  Most high schoolers in the early 1980s were listening to Madonna; my friends and I were listening to songs about The Madonna.  We liked what would be called “religious” music.  Some I won’t admit to enjoying, but some of the albums I still love and will gladly tell all.  One is the original 1970 U.S. recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Some folks won’t consider this as religious music, and I don’t either, but it’s not the “Superfreak” that my classmates were listening to.  Another is John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper.  Talbot also recorded The Painter with his brother Terry, and that was played over and over as well.  I listened to the radio more during my teen years than I listened to albums…and again my musical tastes showed a fascination for a time in which I did not live.  I was hooked on the “oldies” of the 50s and 60s, especially Motown.  I was not alone in this endeavor…my friend Kathy and I knew the words to the Temptations and Sam Cooke way more than Duran Duran.

In my 20s, I discovered the popular music that was being played during the 70s when I was a kid, and I enjoyed Bill Joel and James Taylor, as well as something that actually both current and “hip” – U2’s The Joshua Tree.  In my 30s, the Gin Blossoms’ Congratulations, I’m Sorry was played – on cd, not vinyl – over and over and over  again.  At 35, I widened my musical tastes when I met Italian pop star Eros Ramazzotti for the first time via Stilelibero, which was then two years old.  Now my music collection  isn’t complete without a little Eros.

I feel like I’m admitting to a heinous crime when I say that I thought Madonna’s music was crap back when she was a superstar (except for “Crazy for You” which brings me back to 1985 in seconds), I didn’t listen to Bon Jovi until just a couple of years ago, and I hate metal. Yes, I have eclectic tastes.  My iPod has Benny Goodman, Celine Dion, Hawaiian singer Keali’i Reichel, Semisonic, Sister Hazel, and Linkin Park.  I never got into “convention” and if everyone was doing it, I probably wouldn’t be interested in doing it until several years later. So, just as my ancestry is a mix, so are the albums that “formed” me.  And I can guarantee that no one else will share my list!

Note: What’s Past is Prologue will return to its normally scheduled genealogical articles tomorrow!

Carnival of Genealogy, 54th Edition

Welcome to the 54th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy! I am delighted to host the COG for the very first time here at What’s Past is Prologue. This edition’s theme is The Family Language – and what a wonderful variety of languages we all have.  And I don’t mean the “usual” languages, but those certain special words used within families that make others say, “What?”

To tour our virtual Tower of Babble, there is no interpreter required.  But I can guarantee that you’re sure to get a laugh when you read about one another’s family languages – especially if you thought your family had some odd terms!

Starting us off on our tour is Wendy Littrell from All My Branches Genealogy with What a Bunch of Hooey!.  I’m sure that your Mom used some of Wendy’s mom’s “Mom-isms” too!  And that’s not a bunch of hooey, either.

Debra Osborne Spindle presents Family Language posted at All My Ancestors.  She has quite an assortment of interesting words and phrases from both her father and her grandfather.  Don’t be a Ned, and check it out.

Miriam Robbins Midkiff presents Our Family Language at AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors.   From Miriam you’ll learn about some interesting Alaskan expressions – and that’s no balderdash, either.

Oh, Yee Gods!  What in Sam Hill was Ruth Stephens‘ grandmother talking about?  Read more as Ruth presents Oh, Yee Gods! posted at Bluebonnet Country Genealogy.

Read an assortment of family language gathered from Canada, the military, and even small children’s mis-pronunciations at M. Diane RogersWhy Do You Say That, Grandma D, or, The Family Language – Carnival of Genealogy – 54th Edition posted at CanadaGenealogy, or, ‘Jane’s Your Aunt’.

Jasia presents There Never Was A Sweeter Word posted at Creative Gene.   Wow, I sure am hungry now after reading Jasia’s post, no matter what you call it in your family!

Terry Snyder, otherwise known as “Tee Tee Brown” presents What’s in a Name? posted at Desktop Genealogist.  You won’t believe how many nicknames the Desktop Genealogist has had!

Thomas MacEntee from Destination: Austin Family brings us two posts.  First, read about some New Yorkisms at Destination:Austin Family: New Yorkisms.   Some of these New Yorkisms are familiar to us Southerners in Philadelphia!  Thomas adds another delightful look at family language with some Mom-isms.   Would it kill you to read both posts?

Susan J. Edminster presents Pit and Siz posted at Echo Hill Ancestors Weblog.  Susan shares a wonderful remembrance of her brother, Bob, who died too young.  Bob had some great expressions and nicknames for the family – and illustrations, too!

Elyse presents The Funny Names, Words and Phrases of My Family posted at Elyse’s Genealogy Blog. Wow – I’d definitely need a dictionary over at Booter’s house!

footnoteMaven presents Home To The Ear posted at footnoteMaven.   Learn about the side effects of losing the family language in this hilarious yet heartfelt lament.

Craig Manson presents Carnival of Genealogy: The Language of Families posted at GeneaBlogie.  From The World’s Smartest Sister’s Bubbas, we learn about the mix of expressions and “linguistic oddities” in his family.

Randy Seaver from Genea-Musings offers a look at San Diego Slanguage.  The man from Nasty City has some interesting “San Diego-isms” that would certainly come in handy if you’re ever in his neck of the woods.

Midge Frazel‘s family comes from Scotland and England, so Americans ought to be able to understand them, right?  Midge Frazel presents Right You Are! posted at Granite in My Blood.

Terry, er…Bill?  No wait! Teb?!  Let’s just say that Mr. Thornton presents Thwarted by Thweet Nicknames posted at Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi.  If the first paragraph doesn’t pull you right in, I don’t know what will.  Not all nicknames are welcome in Terry’s family!

Janet Iles presents Carnival of Genealogy 54th edition – Family Language posted at Janet the researcher.  If you were invited to Janet’s house for dinner, you’d get to enjoy a nice big plate of … slop?  You’ll have to read her funny post to find out exactly what she means!

Becky Wiseman presents Say What? posted at kinexxions.  Learn about some sayings that are cute and funny…just not to Becky’s nephew.

Elizabeth O’Neal presents Little Bytes of Life: Who Needs Ruby Slippers When You’ve Got Strawberries? posted at Little Bytes of Life.  Drop by for some funny musings on everything from children learning language for the fist time to Valspeak and other California-isms!

Robert Lord presents Lord and Lady: This one’s for “Dexter” posted at Lord and Lady.  Robert’s grandfather had an unusual good luck charm and a mysterious saying, “This one’s for Dexter.”  But does it involve an unsolved murder mystery?

Lisa from 100 Years in America presents The Hungarian Language and the “Poetry” of My Childhood.  In this thoughtful post, Lisa remembers the soundtrack of her childhood as provided by her Hungarian-Croatian grandmother.

Val M. presents The “Farmer” posted at One Point in Time.  Can a nickname lead you to dig deeper into your research?  Was “the Farmer” really a farmer?

Amanda Erickson presents Pittsburghese? posted at Random Ramblings.  Amanda presents quite a few interesting sayings from out west (Pittsburgh, that is!).

Lori Thornton presents Southern English posted at Smoky Mountain Family Historian.  Y’all need to tote yourself on over to Smoky Mountain for another lesson in Southern English.

Stephen J. Danko presents Polish Influences in my Family?s Language posted at Steve’s Genealogy Blog. Steve, who I will forever now think of as Staś, remembers the Polish influence is his family.  Hey, didn’t everyone have gołąbki and kapusta?

John Newmark presents A Family Language posted at Transylvanian Dutch.  John thought he had some great insight into his family’s use of nicknames, but he’s stumped by a rather unique expression found in a letter.  Exactly who is it that did what?

Sheri Bush presents The Family Language or The Mason/Dixon Line Runs Down The Middle of Our Table posted at TwigTalk.  Sheri is fluent in two languages!  North and South…

Now we’ll travel down the road a piece to Bill West‘s West in New England as he presents West in New England: DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE TO THE FORTRESS!.

Find out some unique Texas Talk native to David Bowles family in Talkin’ Texan posted at Writing the Westward Sagas.

Finally, the offering from yours truly, Donna Pointkouski, here at What’s Past is Prologue is presented in Don’t Be a What? I wrote about my grandmother’s influence on my language!

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy – thanks so much for attending!  I hope you enjoyed learning about everyone’s family languages as much as I did.  Thanks, Jasia, for the opportunity to host!  And special thanks to footnoteMaven for the cool poster!

Call for submissions! With Labor Day and the end of summer right around the corner it’s time to think about going back to school. So, the topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Show and Tell! Remember that fun little exercise you used to do in your grade school days? Here’s your chance to do it again 🙂 Show us and tell us about an heirloom, a special photo, a valuable document, or a significant person that is a very special part of your family history. Don’t be shy now, show us what you’ve got! This is all about bragging rights so don’t hesitate to make the rest of us green with envy! This is your chance to brag, brag, brag, without seeming like a braggart (you can’t be a braggart when you’re merely following directions ;-)… so show and tell!

This next edition will be hosted by Jasia on the Creative Gene blog. The deadline for submissions will be September 1st.  Submit your blog article to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page. See ya next time!

Don’t Be a What?

I was about seven years old when I first realized that not all families speak the same language.  I was on the back of a bicycle driven by a girl who lived up the street.  The “driver” would stand up to pedal while the “rider” sat on the seat and held on to the driver’s waist.  As we drove down the street, I started laughing.  “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Your dupa is right in my face!”

“My what?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.

“You know,” I said, pointing to her butt, “Your dupa!”

We came to a stop.  She turned around, looking bewildered.  “You mean my heiney?”

Now it was my turn to be perplexed.  “What’s a heiney?”

Truly a lesson for the ages – language, which either brings cultures together or separates them, learned by two children as they argued over the “correct” word for their buttocks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dupa and many of the other “odd” words I heard growing up came from my grandmother, who lived with us.  Although she was a first generation American who was born in Philadelphia, she learned Polish as a child from her immigrant parents.  Her husband, also U.S.-born to Polish parents, did the same, and they used Polish to communicate in front of their own children when they didn’t want them to understand what they were saying.

This explains why several Polish words crept from my grandmother’s vocabulary to ours, such as dupa.  The Polish-English dictionary defines it as:  dupa [“doo-pa”], ass (vulg.).  Because it’s a vulgar term, its true meaning leans more towards a derogatory term about how someone behaves rather than a person’s rear anatomy.  But my brother and I used it as kids for the latter term, and fortunately we did not live in a neighborhood with others who spoke Polish!

We adopted some other normal Polish words like zupa [“zoo-pa”], the Polish word for soup, and shmata [shmah-tah], which is a Yiddish word for rag that my grandmother used to refer to a “housedress”.  We also frequently used the Polish word dudek [“doo-dek”], which means fool or dummy. We pronounced it as “duh-dek” instead of the correct pronunciation.

Another word in use by my grandmother was plut. I can’t find this in the Polish dictionary, but it likely comes from the word plutokracja, meaning plutocracy or of the wealthy.  As “plut” was applied to someone with no sense of humor or someone who looked down on others, usually in reference to the expression on their faces, it seems that this might be where she coined the term.

My grandmother also had a cascade of nicknames.  My mom was always “Chick” and my aunt was “Jub” or “Jubie”.  My brother didn’t have a moniker, but sometimes she called me “Dora”.  Now my mother is the only one still living from her immediate family, and there’s no one left to call her Chick (and she is glad about that!).  Of course, it should be taken into context…my grandmother had a nickname, too, given by my grandfather.  She was called “Killer” – and she loved it!

From my father’s side of the family, his Bavarian aunt told the story that her mother used to call the father “Zeff”, a nickname for his proper name, Joseph.  My aunt, who is eight years younger than my father, called him “Brub”, which was as close as she could get to “Brother” at a young age.  Even today, my 3-year-old niece calls her same-age cousin “Bibbias”. Even though she can properly say “Olivia” now, she still insists on calling “Bibs” by her nickname.

Our family language and propensity towards nicknames expanded considerably when I was 14 years old.  I became friends with Louie; he became my adopted brother and one of the family.  Consequently, the word “dudek” took on a new life.  I can’t remember if he was familiar with the term or not – he also had Polish grandparents.  But, if he hadn’t heard it before, he certainly adopted it.  In addition to that term, there was one other that my grandmother used, origin unknown: gazeutch.  It’s hard to explain, but you’ll understand with examples.  It’s a very flexible word and can be an adverb, as in “Don’t get all gazeutch about it” or as a noun with “You’re acting gazeutch.”

For four years – and even continuing today, everyone was a dudek and we were usually gazeutched as a result.

We also called our then-favorite poison, Mt. Dew, swill.  Louie had a habit of re-naming most of the adults in our lives with nicknames; he was the king of names.  The adults who frequented our church were Bluegown, Dead Dog, Hubachi, the Russian Empress, Mad Dog (no relation to Dead Dog), and Abendego. Even our much beloved pastor was “the Wiz”, and I think he’d have probably laughed in secret had he known then.  Lou’s father was known throughout the neighborhood as “C.L.” – short for “Communist Leader”.  My father became “What the hell” since it was usually the first three words he uttered upon seeing us.  “What the hell is this mess?”  “What the hell is all the noise down there?”  You get the idea.

So, when someone is being a dudek and has you all gazeutch, don’t act like a plut – just share some swill and just remember that he’s probably just a dupa because he doesn’t speak your family’s language.

[Written for the 54th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The Family Language]

GB Games: Days 1-3

We’re supposed to be tracking our progress in the Genea-Blogger Games, so it’s time to chime in with what I’ve been doing.  I think I pulled a muscle already, but hopefully I can keep going.

1. Go Back and Cite Your Sources!
Create proper citations of sources for as many events possible. I didn’t think I’d be competing in this category at all, but as it turns out, I’m citing many sources for my biographical sketch that’s still in process.  The work isn’t complete, but I’ll probably take home a high medal in this one!

2. Back Up Your Data!
Backup data to choice of formats (flash drives, CDs, DVDs, online) or storing hard copies properly (safety deposit box, safe, etc.). Thus far I’ve backed up all of my digital photos and genealogy data on an external hard drive.  And the thing STILL has room!  It’s great!  I also spent my Saturday scanning family photos to help a friend with a family history project – 313 photos, to be exact.  I don’t even think I own that many family photos!

3. Organize Your Research!
Take time to review your collection of documents and photos, both hard copy and digital, and work to organize those items for easy access. I’m working on it…

4. Write, Write, Write!
B. Participate in a genealogy or family history related blog carnival. My post to the Smile for the Camera Carnival has duly been submitted.  I’m also busy writing my post for this weekend’s Carnival of Genealogy.

C. Prepare several posts in draft mode (if possible with your blog platform) and pre-publish. My platform doesn’t allow pre-publishing, but I’m working on several in a word processor.

D. Write a brief biographical sketch on one of your ancestors.
I’m having a blast on this one and I’m planning to publish my masterpiece next week.

E. Sign up to host a future carnival. Hopefully the fact that I’d already volunteered to host the COG this weekend counts!

5. Reach Out & Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness!

A. Comment on a new (to you) genea-blog.
Today I commented on Midge’s Granite in My Blood, which was a new one for me.

B. Join another genea-blogger’s blog network on Facebook Blog Networks. Today I signed up for 100 Years in America and All My Branches on the Blog Networks.  I’m already fans of both and subscribe in Google Reader.

That’s all for me so far.  Time to get back to writing and citing sources.  After I put some ice on my muscle…

One of Many Favorite Photographs

When I saw the topic for the 4th Edition of the “Smile for the Camera” Carnival, I had the same reaction as many other genea-bloggers: “Maven, what? Are you kidding?  Just one?!”  The theme is “My Favorite Photograph” – but when it comes to photographs there are no favorites because I love so many of them.  When put in the context of genealogy, this is a truly impossible task.  I have few photos of my great-grandparents, so every one I have is precious.  However, in using the “Ace of Hearts” as the prompt, the carnival asks to see a photo that won your heart.  Again, many of the photos in my personal collection have won my heart, but I had to choose only one.

Wacława Zawodny

Wacława Zawodny

This is my great-grandmother, Wacława Zawodny (in Polish, the feminine form of her married last name would be Zawodna).  This is presumed to be her wedding photo – readers will see the corresponding photo of her husband later this month in his biographical sketch.  Wacława, maiden name Slesinka, was born on 29 August 1880 in Wilczyn, Poland to Wincenty Slesinski and Stanisława Drogowska.  On 28 January 1902 she married Joseph Zawodny in Dobrosołowo, Poland.  Joseph left for the United States about two months after the wedding, and she followed in July, 1903.  I have several photos of Wacława, who used the name Laura in the U.S., when she was older.  This one captures my heart to see her as a young woman 21 years old.  She sure captured my great-grandfather’s heart!

[This post was submitted for the 4th edition of Smile for the Camera: A Carnival of Images.]

5 Ways that Genealogists are Similar to Athletes

There are two concurrent “games” going on during the next two weeks — the Genea-Blogger Group Games here in the blogosphere and the Olympic Games in Beijing.  There’s been a lot of fun among the genea-bloggers talking about the competition.  Naturally, our competition deals with “nerdy” non-athletic feats like properly citing sources and writing.  There may be a few athletic genealogists out there, but more than likely the majority of us are more comfortable sitting in front of a computer or in a library than competing in races or breaking world records!  Olympians are the ultimate physical athletes – the cream of the crop.  While we genealogist will never be on par with Olympians in the world of athletics, there are a few things that these two disparate groups have in common.

1. We are Skilled – Athletes are talented individuals.  Although most of us possess the basis skills from which athletes build upon, athletes develop these normal physical skills in order to excel in competition. Basic athletic skills like balance, speed, and strength are developed and enhanced to achieve new levels of performance. Like athletes, genealogists need to develop basic skills in areas such as research or investigation, organization, and communication.  As we develop by applying skills, we begin to learn more specialized skills.  For athletes, weightlifters may develop a greater upper body strength, while runners develop strong legs and lungs.  Similarly, genealogists develop additional skills.  If you search for immigrant ancestors, you may become more skilled at passenger arrival list research than others.  If you have Irish ancestors, you’ll know more about Irish records than researchers who don’t have Irish ancestry.  Other skills that genealogists can specialize in include writing, interviewing, technology, or languages.  One skill that all genealogists develop is the ability to read bad handwriting!

2. We are Hard Workers – Little league players don’t become World Series Champions overnight; it takes a lot of practice and hard work. Likewise, you can’t learn the history of your family with the push of a button or a ten-second internet search.  Both fields of expertise require a strong determination – and a lot of sweat doesn’t hurt.

3.  We are Focused – Top-notch athletes set their sights on a particular goal or achievement whether it’s winning a game, breaking a record, or beating a personal best.  Once achieved, a new goal is set with the focus always on accomplishing the goal.  Genealogists also focus on a goal related to our research: find someone’s birth record, find their parents’ names, find where they lived during the census!  Once one goal is met, another takes its place.

4. We are Motivated – Without motivation, athletes could not be successful in competition – especially at a high level like the Olympics.  But getting to such a high level of performance requires a strong sense of motivation.  Genealogists who get discouraged easily don’t last very long.  A “real” genealogist searches through some microfilm all day without finding anything, only to show up and do it again the following week.  Athletes and genealogists don’t give up.  Someday, we’ll win that race or find that ancestor!

5. We Have Fun – Yes, it may be Hard Work…but would any athlete play the game if it wasn’t any fun?  Genealogists have fun, too!  If we didn’t enjoy it and couldn’t see the humor in our research, it wouldn’t be worth it.  Unfortunately, only fellow genealogists share a genealogist’s humor.  But, we like to stick together because we all believe that finding ancestors is fun stuff!

It’s Not All Fun and Games

The press coverage is non-stop about a certain competition that’s about to take place among athletes with ancestries from all over the world.  No, not that one that starts with an “O”!  I mean the Genea-Blogger Group Games.  All the genealogy blogs are writing about it.  “Athletes”, also known as family historians, are flooding Miriam with sign-ups.  I’ve obviously gotten in some fun with the event, but I wasn’t sure about “officially” participating.  Posting my “goals for achievement” just sounded too much like something my employer would require me to do.  Genealogy is supposed to be fun!  But, it’s not all fun and games.  To be honest, genealogy is hard work!  With that in mind, I’ll join the merry band of goal-setting researchers in hopes of achieving some great things – and maybe win some prizes, too!  Wait, no prizes?  Oh well, the prize will be a job well done in completing some tasks essential to genealogical research.

There are five competition categories in the GB Games involving citing sources, backing up data, organizing your research, writing, and reaching out to help other genealogists.  All five of these things are of vital importance to any genealogical quest.  If there are any beginners reading this blog, I can assure you that you can’t be successful at genealogy without learning skills in each of these categories.  Even though I’ve been doing this for a while, I still have a few things to learn.  Although “Go Back and Cite Your Sources!” is definitely my weakest skill and the event I would most benefit from, I don’t think I have the amount of time required to be successful at this in the next two weeks.  I will, however, pay close attention to my fellow competitors and learn from their example – and hopefully their tips after they’ve completed their tasks.  (Oh my, I almost used the phrase “Lessons Learned” – another staple phrase of the full-time business world.)

“Back Up Your Data!” is another weak area, but I will take up the challenge to compete.  Even a small effort towards backing up data will bring me rewards, and it’s been on my “to do” list for a while.

I will compete in “Organize Your Research” as this is something I’ve struggled with for months.  I definitely won’t take home the platinum in this one, but, just as in backing up your data, any advancement in this area is beneficial.  My goal here is to re-organize some piles of paper I have scattered about, organize some of my photo collection, and do some scanning.

I hope to compete in the “Write, Write, Write!” category as well, especially since I am planning on participating in some of the upcoming carnivals.  Since I’ve already volunteered to be the host for the next COG, and this takes place during the GB Games, does this count as completing one of the tasks?

“Reach Out and Perform Genealogical Acts of Kindness” is another category I’ll be competing in, I’m just not sure to what extent.  I’ve been wanting to participate in an indexing project for some time now, but I may have to set my goals for this category a little lower due to some other projects I’m working on during the competition period.

It’s going to be a fierce competition…these genea-bloggers are a rough group.  Join us at the Opening Ceremonies tomorrow!  Ready, set, RESEARCH!

Top Ten Genea-Blogger Group Games That Were Cut by the Committee

If you’re a genea-blogger, by now you’ve probably heard the announcement about the Summer 2008 Genea-Blogger Group Games which are being held August 8 – 25.  But you may not know that several competition categories were cut from the event by the official Committee (Thomas, Terry, Miriam, Kathryn, footnoteMaven, and Denise). We’re not sure why these events were cut, but the rumor is that certain participants were sure to win the gold by a mile.  So as not to embarrass the other participants, it was decided that these categories would be cut due to the unfair advantage that many genea-bloggers had.  But I was able to get my hands on a copy of the original program…here are the events you won’t see, and who was expected to take home the gold (or rather, the diamond, since that is the highest medal given in the Genea-Blogger Group Games).

( 10 ) The 1000 Meter Dash – Using only online sources, quickly connect with as many living cousins as possible.  Would have won: Randy Seaver

( 9 ) Long Jump – Trace your maternal line back to the Garden of Eden using mtDNA.  Would have won: Blaine Bettinger

( 8 ) Relay Race – Quickly pass on a meme to five other genea-bloggers before they’ve been hit by someone else.  Bonus points if you find out that the genea-bloggers are actually your cousins.  Would have won:  Becky Wiseman

( 7 ) Wrestling – The genea-smackdown event!  Wrestle with boxes and boxes of uncategorized and unlabeled documents and photos, organizing and scanning as you go.  Would have won: Craig Manson

( 6 ) Parallel Bars – Determine if two families with the same surname are related or not, documenting the search with correct source citations.  Would have won: Thomas MacEntee

( 5 ) Synchronized Scanning – Scan the greatest number of documents during Scanfest while, at the same time, chatting online with a dozen genea-friends, checking out the latest info on the Facebook wall, transcribing records for FamilySearch Indexing, submitting to the Carnival of Genealogy, and publishing a post on your blog.  Would have won: Miriam Midkiff

( 4 ) 100m Backstroke – Transcribe, photograph, and index all of your local cemeteries.  Would have won: Terry Thornton

( 3 ) Hurdles – Track down an elusive female relative’s parents’ names as well as her descendants.  You know, the relative who  married five times and moved frequently.  All sources must be properly documented, and her story should be presented in the creative nonfiction format.  Would have won: FootnoteMaven

( 2 ) Balance Beam – Serve as carnival host while writing your family history project and hosting more than one genea-blog.  Would have won: 3-way tie between Jasia, Lisa, and fM

( 1 ) Pole Vault – Find your immigrant ancestor’s hometown when the only placename listed on every vital document is either “Poland”, “Russia”, “Austria”, or “Prussia”.  Would have won: Steve Danko

Oh well, these events would have been fun.  But, there are still plenty of events to choose from!  Let the games begin!

Blogging Friends Forever

The BFF (Blogging Friends Forever) meme is being passed around in the genea-blogosphere for the last few days.  I am honored to have been tagged by Becky Wiseman at kinexxions. Thanks, Becky!

The meme rules are:

  • Only 5 people are allowed to receive this award.
  • 4 of them followers of your blog.
  • One has to be new to your blog and live in another part of the world.
  • You must link back to who ever gave you the award.

This was rather difficult – not because there aren’t at least five bloggers I’d like to honor.  In fact, my personal BFF list has much more than five.  But, nearly every genea-blogger I know (and several that are new to me), have already received this award.  So, there may be some recycling in this list…if you’ve already received the BFF award, just consider yourself doubly-loved!  My BFF awards go to:

  • Lisa of 100 Years in America.  Lisa actually is the author of 3 genealogy blogs that I enjoy very much, but I chose the one I found first.  I’ve been a fan ever since.
  • Tim Agazio of Genealogy Reviews Online. Tim and I technically work for the same “company” (Uncle Sam).  I always learn something new at his blog.
  • Six talented genea-bloggers have combined their talents to create Facebook®Bootcame for Genea-Bloggers. It just appeared on the genea-blogging scene, but it’s already given me some very useful advice.  Thanks to Denise, Terry, Kathryn, Miriam, fM, and Thomas, who get a group BFF award only because they’ve already been tagged by others for their individual work.
  • Taneya at Taneya’s Genealogy Blog is a relatively new find for me.  Hopefully, you’ll like her blog as much as I do – and she’s got a brand new home for her blog that looks great!
  • As for someone that is new to my blog and lives “in another part of the world”…  Ruth Stephens from Bluebonnet Country Genealogy.  And yes, Bluebonnet Country is technically a different part of the world than Philadelphia.  Even though Ruth already received the BFF from Terry Thornton (Thanks, Ter, first you shame me into Facebook, and now this!  But, you’re still a BFF to me, too!), Ruth gets an extra one because she is willing to be my cousin (like so many other genea-bloggers have connected).  That is, she’s willing as long as I can find a family surname that she can spell!  I’m working on that one, Ruth, but my “Miller” name doesn’t have a -ski so that might qualify.  😉

What Secrets are in Your Family’s Closet?

Author Diana Raab made some interesting discoveries about her family history.  The first is a sad discovery, one that no one wants to find – her grandmother’s suicide.  The other discovery is one that every genealogist longs for – her grandmother’s journal.  In Regina’s Closet, she tells her grandmother’s life story in a mix of memoir, history, family documents, and – naturally – her grandmother’s own writing.

Regina, the grandmother, wrote a journal in her later years that recounted her harrowing youth and young adulthood.  Born in Galicia in 1903, her youth in Poland was spent among the difficult years of World War I and cholera epidemics.  Orphaned at a young age, Regina’s descriptions of loneliness and poverty are heartbreaking.  She also writes about her immigrations to Vienna, Paris, and eventually the United States prior to World War II.  But despite the hardships Regina endured and the glimpses of depression that would later cause her to take her life, the book also shows the strength of her spirit – a strength her grandaughter Diana inherited.  The focus of the short book is not necessarily her grandmother’s suicide, but the life she lived.  It’s about family and relationships, and it offers an interesting glimpse into history and how it affected people’s lives.

I was attracted to the book for several reasons.  Any book that involves a “secret journal” peaks my interest!  Who wouldn’t want to find a relative’s secret journal, something in their own had that would give us more than just simple dates and facts that we dig up in historical records.  A journal is personal, revealing – it offers insight into who the person was and how they felt.  I have no such documents in my family history, so I’m left to wonder about what my ancestors were really like.  But the way Raab weaves her own story into her grandmother’s poses an interesting question to genealogists – what are you doing to tell your own story for future generations?

Another reason I read this book was the fact that her grandmother committed suicide.  I also have a suicide in my family history, my great-grandfather John Piontkowski.  He hung himself from a rope in the basement of his house when he was 71 years old.  It happened five years after the death of his wife.  My father was a boy, and his father never told him much about it in later years.  In an attempt to uncover some insight into his death, I even located the inquest case file from the Medical Examiner’s Office.  It revealed very little: he was likely dead for three days before being found, the police found “nothing suspicious” about his death, and his son signed an affadavit saying “There did not seem to be anything wrong with him, he was not under any doctor’s care.”  Yet another family mystery regarding the only great-grandfather of which I have no photograph, no sense of who he was or how his personal history affected him.

Stories like Regina’s Closet remind us that all of us have a story to be told, and it inspires us to try to discover our ancestors’ stories.  Diana Raab has a wonderful quote in the book from Francois Mauriac in The Desert of Love:

We are, all of us, molded and remolded by those who have loved us, and though that love may pass, we remain nonetheless their work — a work that very likely they do not recognize and which is never exactly what they intended.

Blog Update and Other Musings

I wanted to post a note about some updates I made to this blog.  First, I re-categorized my posts and added a Category box on the sidebar in case a specific category is of interest to you.  Next, I added three PDF fils for some of my recent articles.  Copies of “20 Best Sites for Italian Genealogy”, “Writing Letters Overseas”, and “U.S. Draft Cards” have all be added to the My Articles page and are available to download.  Finally, I’ve added a page with detailed genealogical information (and some photos) on The Bergmeister Family.  The ability to create pages is why I used WordPress to begin with, so it’s great that I was finally able to get one family page created.  Look for more in the future!  I am hoping to find others researching the same families.

Speaking of blog changes, I received a link today from the California Genealogy Society and Library Blog as a comment on “several” of fellow genea-bloggers that post weekly “best of” picks.  I discontinued my “Donna’s Picks” a couple of months ago for a few reasons.  First, I realized that most of my readers are other genea-bloggers, so if I highlight one of their blogs chances are that almost all of my “readers” have already seen that post.  Second, when I did highlight some non-genealogy blogs,  nearly no one ever clicked on the link.  That, combined with the lack of comments (other than from those I linked to), led me to stop the weekly Donna’s Picks round-up.  I might start it back up, though.  I enjoyed it, even if few readers did!

As an aside, I have to comment on PERSPECTIVE as it relates to genealogy.  Lately I’ve been lamenting my apparent lack of old family photographs.  Some genea-bloggers seem to have photos of their 4th great-grandparents…I didn’t even know that photography itself was that old!  I cherish the few photos I have, and I’ve always dreamed of suddenly receiving a box full of genealogical goodies.  For months now, I’ve been contacting cousins in hopes of receiving some photos, but no one has any (or no one has sent me any).  Then, I read about Craig’s find…unbelievable!  Every genealogist’s dream come true!  That would have made me a little depressed over my own lack of family photos, until I learned it’s just a metter of perspective.  I got together with a friend yesterday whose grandparents were the immigrants to this country.  She never met them because they died long before she was born, but she does have at least one photo of each set of grandparents.  When I showed her the photos of three of the four sets of my great-grandparents, she was impressed and told me how lucky I was to have them.  I have to admit, I am lucky.  Just not as lucky as Craig!

How the Irish Saved Civilization

I always look forward to reading the latest edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, but I’m always disappointed that I can’t join in.  I have no Irish ancestry, and I haven’t had time to research my friends’ Irish genealogies or my niece’s Irish genes.  So I’m thrilled that the latest topic for the Carnival is the Summer Reading Challenge!  I love learning about cultures and what makes them tick, and reading about Irish culture was especially enlightening.

My choice for the reading challenge was Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization.  As book one of Cahill’s “Hinges of History” series, he focuses on “the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medieval Europe”.  Cahill’s histories do not focus on one static event of history, but rather the “hinges” of history as the world moves from one static period to another.  Before Cahill can explain how the Irish saved civilization, he explains exactly what civilization was almost lost.  The first third of the book isn’t centered on Ireland at all, but on the world of the Roman Empire and how that Empire crumbled.

The second third introduces a legendary Irish figure – none other than St. Patrick himself!  This section focuses on Irish pagan culture, and what Patrick brought to Ireland and Irish culture.  Here Cahill introduces a very interesting thought — that the Christianity that Patrick introduces to Ireland is, in effect, the first “de-Romanized Christianity in human history.”  He explains that even though Rome formally received Christianity in the year 313 AD, Christianity didn’t really receive Rome.  In Ireland, however, a brand new Christian culture emerged that changed Irish thought.  Things that were a part of Irish culture, like slavery and human sacrifice, became unthinkable after Christianity was accepted.  But, the Irish managed to maintain their “physchological identity”.  Irish culture became a part of Irish Christianity.

Of course, how the Irish saved civilization is through the works of Irish monks preserving the Roman world’s literature, and native Irish literature, and later passed it back to the rest of Europe through education.  What sounds quite simple become utterly fascinating in the way Cahill describes history.  If it wasn’t for the work of these Irish monks, most of what we know today of the ancient world would have been lost.  The end of the book deals with how Irish civilization itself fell.

One quote from the book really struck me.  In a 9th Century manuscript, a monk living far from his native Ireland cites a favorite quote from the Roman Horace: “They change their sky but not their soul who cross the ocean.” How true is this quote of our immigrant ancestors?  Whether Irish or another nationality, they left their native lands but kept a part of their homeland inside.

If you enjoy history, you’ll enjoy this book.  I’ve also read the next two books in Cahill’s series: “The Gifts of the Jews”, which focuses on the cultural and religious legacy left to the world from the Jewish people, and “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, which focuses on who Jesus was in His time as well as His impact on the world at large.  I have not yet read two others in the “Hinges of History” series: “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea” about the Greeks, and “Mysteries of the Middle Ages” about, obviously, the Middle Ages!

I thought I would also have a fiction book that qualified for this summer reading challenge, but the book as a whole didn’t stay focused on Ireland.  Still, I highly recommend Pete Hamill’s Forever for an insightful look into Ireland’s past.  Forever focuses on Cormac O’Connor, an 18th Century Irishman.  The first third of this novel is set in Ireland and beautifully recounts Cormac’s family life and the Irish culture.  While Cormac himself is not Catholic, it also details the dreadful Penal Laws and their consequences.  After his father’s death as a result of these laws, Cormac immigrates to America to seek revenge.  He befriends an African slave, who later saves his life in a fantastical way.  The slave is actually a shaman, and he restores Carmac’s life – forever.  As long as he stays on the island of Manhattan, he will not die.  The novel moves forward throughout Cormac’s long life all the way through to 2001.  Some readers will find it too unbelievable, but isn’t that the beauty of fiction?  The novel is beautifully written.  I had hoped that Cormac’s love for Ireland would remain more closely integrated to the rest of the novel, but he becomes less of an Irishman and more of a New Yorker as the years of his long life move along.  But, the beginning offers a very detailed, beautiful, and historically accurate glimpse of Ireland in the late 1700’s.

[Written for the 7th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture: Summer Reading Challenge]

Haller’s Army

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Image – Polish Army in France recruitment poster, courtesy of Wikipedia.

One unusual record source for those with Polish ancestry is Haller’s Army records.  What was Haller’s Army?  During World War I, Poland did not exist on any “official” map of the world.  General Jozef Haller formed a regiment of Poles in France to join the fight in the name of their homeland, with the ultimate goal of Polish independence.  They were also known as the Blue Army because of the color of their uniforms.

Many people have never heard of Haller’s Army or of their contributions during “the Great War”.  Because it isn’t well known, many Americans of Polish descent may be very surprised to find out that their ancestors, who had already immigrated to the U.S. prior to 1917, volunteered to fight for the Polish Army in France under Haller.  It is estimated that nearly 25,000 Polish men, immigrants to the U.S. and Canada, volunteered and fought in France.  Most were recent immigrants who had not yet become American or Canadian citizens.  Despite immigrating to a new country, these young men were fiercely proud of their homeland.  They willing volunteered to fight for Poland’s democracy and independence.  Because of the Partitions of Poland, none had grown up in a free Poland, and Haller’s Army was the first free Polish Army since Napoleon’s time.  At the war’s end on November 11, 1918, when Poland officially regained its independence, Haller’s Army continued the fight in the Polish-Soviet War until 1921.

Did Your Ancestor Volunteer?

The Polish Genealogical Society of America holds the recruitment records, and while the records themselves are not available online, the index is searchable by surname at the PGSA site.  If you find a match, the records can be obtained through PGSA by mail for a minimal donation – see complete information on how to order copies at

I’ve referred to this as an index of those that volunteered for Haller’s Army, but if you find your relative’s name it does not necessarily mean they served.  A search for the surname “Pater” found several matches, but I was surprised to find “Ludwik Pater” from Philadelphia.  Ludwik is the Polish form of Louis, my great-grandfather.  I ordered a copy to see what I could learn.  The form is in Polish, as are the applicant’s responses, but the volunteer who looked up the record also provided a translation for most of the entries.  An online copy of the form is available in English here.  For the responses, a Polish-English dictionary will help.

The record provides a wealth of genealogical information including date and place of birth, address, marital status and number of children, name and address of nearest relative in both America and Poland, and a full physical description.  The U.S. WWI Draft records are similar and from the same time period, but the form for Haller’s Army is more detailed regarding relatives both at home and in Poland as well as the physical description, which includes not just the eye and hair color, but also height, weight and other features such as teeth, chin, and “distinguishing marks”.

Another feature of the Haller’s Army recruitment papers is some very detailed questions that could offer clues for searching other records.  The form asks:

  • Are you a citizen of the United States of America (second papers)?
  • Did you serve in the Army?  Type of arms?  How long?  Rank upon discharge?
  • What Polish organizations in America do you belong to?
  • If you belong to the Falcons, for how long…and do you hold any office?

Responses to these questions could lead you to naturalization, military, or fraternal organization records.  [Note: The Falcons were established in Chicago in 1887 as an immigrant aid society concerned with physical education, Polish culture and heritage, and gaining Polish independence.  The organization still exists today.]

My great-grandfather filled out his registration card for the U.S. Draft on June 5, 1917.  At the time, he was 23 years old with a wife and 3 young children.  On November 12, 1917, he volunteered for Haller’s Army.  I had never heard about military service during a war by any member of the family, so I assumed he wasn’t accepted because he had a family to support (which is why he was not drafted by the U.S.).  As I researched this article and found the English translation of the form, I learned, with some surprise, that he was sent to the training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on November 18, 1917 – less than a week after he volunteered.  But the information provided by the PGSA didn’t indicate an actual record of service in the Army, so what happened?

I’m not sure, and I’m rather puzzled to finally notice that he went to training camp!  I will have to investigate this further.  I do know that he was home in Philadelphia by May, 1918 because his fourth son, Victor Pater, was born the following January.  If he did make it through the training camp successfully, he could not have served in the Army long enough to make the journey to France to fight.

It does speak volumes about the Polish character if young men like my great-grandfather were willing to fight for their homeland – even though they no longer lived there.  My great-grandfather immigrated at the age of 14 and had lived here ten years by the time he volunteered, but he felt strongly enough about the cause for Polish independence to fight in a foreign land.

If you have Polish ancestry, it’s worth typing your surname into PGSA’s index search to discover if your ancestor played a role in Haller’s Army.  The Haller’s Army website best describes these Polish immigrants, recent arrivals to a new country but with a deep love for the old country.  The site proclaims: “They fought for their family. They fought for their ancestors. They fought for their freedom. Most of all they fought for their homeland – Poland.”

[Image Source: Polish_Army_in_France_WWI_recruitment_poster.jpg]

For more information on Haller’s Army:

[Posted for the Carnival of Central and Eastern European Genealogy: research experiences and techniques.]

Age: By the Numbers

Courtesy of!

Courtesy of!

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” ~ Mark Twain

The 52nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy focuses on the topic of “age”:
Take some time to look over the data that you have collected on members of your family tree, and share a story of age with us … With the understanding that “age is often a state of mind”, share your family story about someone whose story stands out because of their age, either young or old.

I am one of those people that will read an obituary for any centenarian.  I am amazed by their lives, simply because of their sheer length and how much they saw the world change during that time.  Some graduated from high school and college before my parents were born, and many spent my entire lifetime as a widow or widower.  Their lives fascinate me, and I really wish I was related to one of these long-living people because it would make a great story.  My friend’s grandmother lived to 101!  But, as you will see in my musings on age, none of my ancestors have made it that long (yet).  I have no ancestors who climbed Mt. Everest or graduated from Harvard at advanced ages, nor do we have any child prodigies either…yet.  But, hopefully I’ve found just a few fascinating “age” facts among my seemingly boring ancestors that make them “stand out” in the crowd.

Who Lived the Longest?

My Ancestor Who Lived the Longest is my grandmother, Margaret Bergmeister Pointkouski.  She died at the age of 84 years 9 months, beating my other grandmother by six years.  My grandfathers died young by comparison at 69 and 60 years old.  I do not have all of the exact dates for my entire family tree, but I was surprised to discover that of all those “greats”, none lived as long as Margaret (even though some came close).

Margaret’s older sister, Marie, wins the distinction of being my Collateral Relative Who Lived the Longest.  She died in 1990 a few weeks past her 92nd birthday.  She will not hold the title for much longer though, because my Oldest Living Collateral Relative is “Aunt Dot”, my other grandmother’s younger sister, who is currently 92 years, 6 months, and counting!

While these older relatives all lived in the 20th Century, I was surprised to discover that some of the ancestors further back in my family tree actually lived much longer than some of my other “modern” ancestors.  For example, my grandmother Margaret far outlived her own parents.  Her father Joseph Bergmeister died at the age of 54, and her mother Marie Echerer was only 43.  Yet each of her parents had ancestors who survived to what I thought were very old ages for the times.  Even though her father Joseph lived longer than his own father by more than ten years, his great-grandparents lived to the ages of 77 and 75 in the mid-1800s.  His wife Marie’s great-grandfather also lived to 77 around the same time.

Variable Marriage Ages

My research has shown that marriage customs vary from country to country.  In Bavaria, the groom was usually in his mid-to-late 30s – or even his early 40s – while the bride was usually in her 20s.  I think this was mostly due to the long period of training for craftsmen to become a full member of a guild, which would then give them the economic capability to support a family.  In fact, the guild required that a newly professed member become married shortly after being accepted into the guild or they were disqualified.  Many young women died in childbirth, so the widower would seek to marry another young woman – in some cases, this further increased the age discrepancy.  If the woman was strong and survived many pregnancies, sometimes the men would die in their 50s or 60s – leaving a widow with many small mouths to feed.  Further research will tell me if these ages were common only to craftsmen – my assumption is that farmers married much younger than their 30s!

In Poland, the marriage custom was very different.  My research has shown that most couples married when they were in their early 20s, or even at 18 or 19.  The Ancestor Who Married at the Youngest Age is my Polish great-grandfather, Louis Pater, who married his almost 19-year-old bride the day after his 17th birthday (here in the U.S.).

Your Mamma was So Old…

While the media might make you believe that “older” mothers, meaning women over 40, are “new” to the modern age, this isn’t quite true.  My “Oldest Mother” Ancestor is my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizoweter Piontkowska, who delivered my grandfather in 1910 just weeks before her 44th birthday!

But I have some even crazier mammas in my family tree… Jakob Bergmeister married Anna Daniel in 1835 when they were 30 and 23 – young by Bavarian marriage standards.  They proceeded to have 15 children in 19 years – Anna was 24 at the birth of her first child and 43 at the birth of her last!  Infant mortality was very high though – at least 7 died as infants.  Of the rest, the fate of 5 are not certain, but 3 others lived to adulthood.  As for the parents, Jakob died at the age of 65 in 1870.  Anna died one year later at the age of 58 (probably from exhaustion!).

Maybe Jakob was trying to model his prolific marriage on that of his own parents, Joseph Bergmeister and Kreszens Zinsmeister.  When they married in 1800, Joseph was 37 and Kreszens was considerably younger at 23.  They started having children right away.  In the end, they had 12 children in 16 years, with Kreszens 23 years old for the first and 39 for the last.  Of these children, I can not yet account for the fate of 8, but there are 2 confirmed infant deaths and at least 2 who lived to enjoy adulthood.

Age is Mostly a State of Mind

I don’t know much else about her other than “vital statistic” dates and a few other facts, but based on numbers alone I’d have to award my 3rd great-grandmother, Franciszka Wojciechowska Pluta, the Most Amazing Feat for an Older Woman award.  At the “young” age of 69, she boarded a passenger ship to travel from Poland to the United States, alone.  According to the passenger arrival record, she was 4’10” and limping, but she made the journey!  She spent those last years in the U.S. living with her daughter’s family, and she died at the age of 73 in 1914.

So there you have it – just a few “facts of age” from Donna’s family tree.  While I don’t have any centenarians, you really can’t say “never” when it comes to genealogy.  Who knows what I’ll discover next as I record and transcribe dates?  And who knows how long the current generation will live?  We might just have a centenarian in the family yet!

[Written for the 52nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Age]

Home: A Place in the Heart

This edition of Smile for the Camera: A Carnival of Images celebrates home.  Home is something very personal, and I didn’t think I could capture it in one image.  Words also proved inadequate to the task, for home involves feelings and emotion as much as a physical place.  Here is my rendition, in both images and words, of my personal celebration of HOME.

[This post was written for the 3rd edition of Smile for the Camera: A Carnival of Images.]

Famous Lives

Sometimes we forget that “stars” are people, too.  And as regular folks just like us, their genealogy can be traced with the resources we all use online.

I was saddened to hear of the death of actress and dancer Cyd Charisse on June 17.  I knew her date of birth to be March 8, which happens to be my birthday, but I was surprised that newspapers couldn’t quite agree on her year of birth.  No surprise there since it’s not unheard of for Hollywood stars to fib about their age.  So, I decided to confirm it for myself.  As she was “believed to be 86” according to her New York Times obituary, I knew she’d likely be on the 1930 Federal Census.  Her birth name has always been reported as Tula Ellice Finklea.  Place of birth: Amarillo, Texas.

After a quick search on, I found Ms. Charisse on the 1930 Census (though she is indexed as “Lula” vice “Tula”).

The Finklea Family, 1930

Cyd/Tula is 8 years old, so her birth year is 1922.  Her father Ernest is a jeweler, and the family also has a cook and a maid living with them.  All were born in Texas, but her father’s roots are from Alabama and Texas.  Her mother Lela’s parents were from Mississippi and Louisiana.  It would be interesting to see how far back her American roots go.

In other Ancestry records, I found what appears to be her birth record, though the name is blank and only her mother’s name is listed.  Her father died in 1938 when Cyd was only 16 years old.  Her mother must have moved to Hollywood with her – her death is listed in a 1990 record at 88 years old – clearly Cyd got her longevity genes from her mother!

I’ve written a short tribute to Cyd on my Gene Kelly blog, including resources for more information on her life and career.  If you’re a fan of movie musicals as I am, you know that she was graceful and beautiful – she looked fabulous even in recent photographs.  Rest in peace, Tula – the world will miss you.

My Grandfather Served in the CCC…Sort Of – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about CCC records as a resource in Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.  When I first started my genealogical research, I decided to find out more about CCC records because my grandfather supposedly served in the Corps.

My father remembered his dad talking about the CCC, but he didn’t know any details.  In 1993, I wrote to the National Personnel Records Center to find out.  I learned that my grandfather did indeed serve with the CCC…in a manner of speaking.

On April 7, 1933, James Pointkouski applied with the U.S. Department of Labor for “Emergency Conservation Work”, another name for the CCC, just weeks after President Roosevelt began the program.  His application states that he was born in Philadelphia on July 6, 1910.  His occupation is “chaueffuer” [sic], but he had been unemployed since October, 1932.  He lists his education as 1 year at Northeast H.S. and 1 year evening at Central H.S.  He lists his parents, John and Rose, as recipients of his $25 allotment each month and their address.

The very next day, Grandpop signed his “Oath of Enrollment” at Fort Hoyle, Maryland.  In the oath, he swears and affirms “to remain in the Civilian Conservation Corps for six months … obey those in authority and observe all the rules and regulations…”  The oath also relieves the government of responsibility if he suffers injury while working, and he understands that he won’t get any allowance when he is released from camp other than transportation home.

My grandfather’s physical examination record tells me that he was 5’9″ and 150 pounds with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion.  He has good hearing, but his eyesight wasn’t that great – 20/50 in one eye and he suffered from strabismus, or “lazy eye”, in the other.  I didn’t remember that about him as he got older, but the lazy eye is apparent in photos of him when he was young.  Otherwise, he was quite healthy, which was good news considering that he was only 22 years old.  CCC members also had to receive shots for typhoid (3 doses!) and smallpox, all of which are annotated on the form.

Before I discuss the record of his service, fast-forward to a few years after I received these records.  I accompanied my father to my grandmother’s house to remove some belongings and prepare the house to be sold.  My grandfather was long deceased, and my grandmother was either in a nursing home or had just died (I can’t remember when the house was sold since she spent several years in a home).  I found very few photos or papers of genealogical interest in my grandmother’s belongings.  But, one of the few things I found was a handwritten note from my grandfather to my grandmother.  It is dated April 22, 1933 – while he was serving in the CCC!

My grandparents were not married until January, 1934, and the note offers some clues to their relationship.  It begins: “I didn’t mean it when I told you to forget me…” He goes on to encourage her and cheer her up as if he heard (through her letter?) that she was sad or depressed.   He goes on to say (in a run-on but touching sentence), “Do you realize that if I had been working steady last winter the ring I gave you for Xmas would have been an engagement ring so you must know I appreciate a lovely girl, but owing to the way things were (at) home and no work, how could I tell you how I felt toward you.” After cheering her up some more, he adds, presumably in case she didn’t get the ring reference above, “I hope to be more than a friend someday.”

He goes on to talk about “camp”:  “Well, our stay in camp is near over, we all have received our 3 shots and I hear we leave for the forests next week.  I’m feeling so good and don’t even think of rum, don’t care if I never see another drink.  Let’s forget about money.  Perk is well able to get by anywhere, I always did.  Well, goodbye Marge, I am Your one and only, Jimmy.” In the postscript he asks her to send a snapshot and adds at the end “Love + Lots of Kisses”.

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

April 22, 1933 letter from James Pointkouski to Margaret Bergmeister

I was amazed later to match the date to the time he was in the CCC.  For the first time, I could see the impact that the Great Depression had on my grandparents.  It was also interesting to see “Perk” as my grandfather’s likely nickname/alias.  His older brother, Joseph, simply dropped the actual surname of “Piontkowski” and used “Perk” for the rest of his life.  My grandfather by this time had already adopted the creative alternate spelling of “Pointkouski”, but he must have still referred to himself as Perk as a nickname.  What amazes me the most about this note is that my grandmother kept it for so long – to me, this means it was very important to her.  Could it be that, because of his note, she realized how much he loved her?

Regarding leaving camp for the forests, I looked back at his enrollment record.  From 8 April to 5 May (1933), he was stationed at Fort Hoyle, MD performing “general labor”.  His manner of performance was “satisfactory” (the form indicates that the choices are excellent, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory).  From 6-8 May, the location changes to Ellenton, PA and his manner of performance changed to “unsatisfactory”!  He was discharged from service on 11 May, well short of his six-month service requirement, due to “absence without leave”.

Why did he suddenly leave?  Did he miss the rum too much?  Or did he miss his girl Marge too much?  Was he tired of the physical labor, or did he get an actual job offer for his usual job driving a truck?  Neither of his children know the answer.  Perhaps he went home to Philadelphia for the weekend and decided to stay.  Based on his note, he obviously missed my grandmother quite a bit.  By January of the following year, they were married.  I’m not sure if he actually did get her that engagement ring or not – the marriage was precipitated by the news that my grandmother was pregnant!  She gave birth to a healthy baby boy, named James after his father, in August.

I’ll never know why my grandfather cut short his vow to the CCC, but one thing’s for sure – Perk was well able to get by.  He spent the rest of his life employed as a truck driver, raised two children, and lived happily with his girl Marge until his death in 1980.  Thanks to my grandmother saving that one small remnant of their past, I know without a doubt that he loved her a lot more than he loved working for the CCC!

For more information on the Civilian Conservation Corps and the great work they accomplished, see the links at the bottom of my previous post, Civilian Conservation Corps: A Genealogical Resource – Part 1.