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Recently Ancestry.com put up a new set of records called “Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records.” The collection contains a wide variety of miscellaneous records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  I actually found a few items of interest in the collection.  One subset of records comes from the Wackerman Funeral Home, a funeral home which still exists today but is no longer in its former location.  In these records, I found information on the funeral arrangements for my great-grandmother, Marie Bergmeister, who died in 1919 at the age of 43.  Marie (or more usually, Maria) left behind a husband, Joseph, and five children – including my grandmother Margaret, the youngest, who was not quite six years old.

The funeral home record for the costs of Marie Bergmeister's funeral, 1919.

I knew that my grandmother’s family was poor, but it was interesting to compare the bill for my great-grandmother’s burial to some of the others who died at the same time.

Casket

  • $55 – Gray crape
  • $65 – Chesnut
  • $90 – Square chesnut with ext handles
  • $125 – Solid maple
  • $200 – Solid mahoghany

Case

  • $14 – Pine
  • $35 – Chesnut

Hearse

  • $10.50 to $13.00

Service

  • $5 – Low Mass
  • $25 – Solemn Requiem

A more costly funeral found in the same records.

If my grandfather Henry Pater was still alive, today would be his 100th birthday.   This post is in his honor:

Henry Marion Pater (1912-1972)

Just the Facts:

  • Parents: Louis Pater (born Ludwik Pater, 1893-1957) and Elizabeth Miller (born Elżbieta Müller, 1891-1972)
  • Born: 25 March 1912, Langhorne, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  • Baptized: 04 April 1912, Our Lady of Grace RC Church, Penndel, PA
  • Siblings: Walter (1913-1975), Louis (1916-1940), Victor (1919-1951), Eugene (1920-1979)
  • Married: Mae Zawodna on 01 February 1930 in Bromall, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. The civil marriage was blessed on 21 June 1930 at St. Adalbert’s RC Church, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Children: Joan and Anita
  • Died: 17 October 1972
  • Buried: 20 October 1972, Oakland Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Anita Pater, Henry Pater, Joan Pater and Richard Zukowski

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from Genealogical Records:

  • All four of my grandparents were first generation Americans; however, my grandfather Henry Pater was the only grandparent to actually know his own grandparents, Joseph Pater (1864-1945) and Antonina Pluta Pater (1863-1938).  He also is the only grandparent to have met one of his great-grandparents, his great-grandmother Francziska Anna Wojciechowska Pluta, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1909 and died in 1914 at the age of 74.
  • Henry was five years younger than his wife – although I would not know this from the marriage license alone since they both lied about their age.  At the time of their marriage, Henry was 17 and Mae was 22, but the record says he is 22 and she is 21!  He is also the third generation Pater male to be younger than his wife: his father Louis was 2 years younger than his mother, and his grandfather was 1 year younger than his grandmother.
  • The young age at Henry’s marriage is likely why he was married “twice” – my grandparents lived a few doors away from each other.  After their civil marriage, they each went home to their parents’ house.  Neither set of parents were happy when the news was eventually announced.  They had the marriage blessed in a Catholic Church at the insistance of the bride’s father, Joseph Zawodny (I didn’t learn this fact from the records, but I did learn the addresses and the dates of the marriages.)
  • Henry became a very young grandfather.  His first grandson, my cousin Richard “Ricky” Zukowski, was born in 1951 when Henry was 39 years old. Sadly, Ricky died at the age of 15 months. Henry would have to wait another seven years to become a grandfather again.
  • Records alone would have left me confused about Henry’s middle name if my mother didn’t know the truth. On his birth record, his name is Henry M. Pater. His baptismal record lists no middle name. His marriage record indicates the “M” is for Marion.  His death record mistakenly lists it as Martin. However the marriage record, in his own hand, is the correct name.

Henry and Mae Pater

Five Things About My Grandfather I Learned from My Mom:

  • Henry worked as a knitter in hoisery mills, and was quite accomplished at it.  He preferred working the night shift when he could operate several knitting machines at once.
  • When Henry was introduced to his future son-in-law (my father) for the first time, he said, “Call me ‘Hank'” which caused my mother and grandmother to double over in laughter because he had never, ever used that nickname before.
  • Henry called my mother “Chick” – apparently a nickname he got from a book.  His other daughter Joan was called “Jub”.  And his wife, my grandmother, was “Killer”.
  • Henry liked to read. I wonder if that’s where I got the reading gene? I wish I knew what sorts of books he liked to read.
  • Although Henry was born in the United States, he learned Polish from his parents, aunts & uncles, and grandparents. His wife Mae also learned Polish from her Polish-born parents. When the couple married and had children, they frequently communicated in Polish if they wanted to discuss something without their girls listening in on the conversation.

In my quest to prepare for the 1940 Census by documenting all of my relatives and their potential 1940 addresses, I realized there was a relative or two I never found in earlier censuses.  One such relative was my great-grandfather’s half brother, Herman Goetz. Herman and his brother, Julius Goetz, left a rather good paper trail except I was never able to locate Herman – with certainty – in either the 1920 or 1930 Census.  The name “Herman Goetz” was not exactly “John Smith” but it was a common name among German immigrants, and I never really tried to determine if any of the Herman’s I found was “my” Uncle Herman.  Did he move out of state?  Did he return to Germany?

In genealogy, as in life, sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.  I couldn’t find Herman in the 1920 Census because he died.  It’s almost comical that I never considered that possibility until I discovered it, quite by accident, in one of Ancestry’s newer databases: Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.

There does not appear to be a complete list of what records are included in this collection, but in my searching of various surnames I’ve found some hits in funeral home records and some Catholic cemetery records.  I found Herman in the Record Books for the John Kimmerle Funeral Homes.  He died on 11 October 1918 from pneumonia and was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery on 18 October.  His sister, Hilaury “Laura” Bergmeister Thuman, paid for the burial.

His death in 1918 finally answers the question of why my father never heard of him – my grandmother barely knew him since she was only 5 years old when he died.

When I first began my genealogical research, I asked my dad about relatives and he said to look for his mother’s “Uncle Julius Goetz”.  Neither of her parents was named Goetz, so I wasn’t clear how he was an uncle until I found her parents’ marriage record. Joseph Bergmeister and Maria Echerer were married in November 1897 in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Oberbayern, Bayern (Bavaria), Germany. The record indicates that the bachelor Joseph was the son of the “deceased flour merchant Joseph Bergmeister of Munich and Ursula Dallmeier (who later married a Goetz), residing in Regensburg.”

Portion of the 1897 marriage record that details the status of Joseph Bergmeister's parents.

My great-grandfather’s mother re-married a man named Goetz, so any children from her second marriage are half siblings to my Bergmeister’s.  While I have a record in Julius’ hand that lists Ursula as his mother, I only have circumstantial evidence that Herman is also her son. (The circumstantial evidence is his “connection” to both Julius and the Bergmeister family – I can now send for his death certificate to verify his parents’ names.) Even if he was a step-brother to both Julius and the Bergmeister children, he was certainly involved in their lives based on the documents I have found. Here is Herman’s “paper trail” in the United States:

22 Apr 1911 – Herman sets sail from Antwerp aboard the S.S. Finland.  He is listed as Herman Götz, a 26-year-old locksmith from Regensburg whose father, also named Herman Götz, lives in Regensburg. He is traveling to his brother, Julius Götz, who is living at 500 Lehigh Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. On 03 May 1911, Herman’s ship arrives in New York City.

24 Mar 1913 – Herman receives a marriage license to marry Florentina Bottner. He is living at 6078 Kingsessing Street (the address of his half sister, Hilaury Bergmeister Thuman, and her husband, Max) and was born on 14 May 1885 in Germany. Florentina lived at 3458 Amber Street and was born on 14 Aug 1877 in Germany.  Parents’ names were not requested on the license, and neither had been married before.

11 Apr 1913 – My grandmother, Margaret Hermina Bergmeister, is born and apparently named after her Uncle Herman. She is baptized on 13 July 1913 and her godparents are Uncle Herman Goetz and Aunt Laura Bergmeister Thuman.

12 Aug 1914 – Herman’s wife dies. Her death certificate lists her name as Mrs. Flora Goetz with the same birth date as the marriage license above. Although she is listed as married, the information is provided by her mother and the address given is that of her mother’s and the same as provided in her marriage license. She died from peritonitis “due to ruptured uterus during child birth”.

12 Sep 1918 – Herman registers for the draft. His draft card shows he is living with his sister and brother-in-law at 6078 Kingsessing Street and Laura is listed as his nearest relative. He was born on 14 May 1885.  He is naturalized, although I have not yet found his papers. He is employed as a machinist at Standard Roller Bearing Co. at 49th and Merion. His physical description: tall, stout, grey eyes, red hair.

Front of Herman Goetz's WWI Draft Registration Card.

11 Oct 1918 – Herman died from pneumonia based on information found in the funeral home records. His address is the Thumans’ address on Kingsessing Street, which is directly across the street from the cemetery in which his is buried on 14 Oct 1918, Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

What little I do know of “Uncle Herman” is sad – although he quickly found love in his new country, his wife died in childbirth the following year and he died only four years later at the age of 32.  It is also the beginning of a very sad chain of events for my great-grandfather, Joseph Bergmeister. First, in October, 1918, his half-brother Herman dies.  Less than six months later, in February, 1919, his wife Maria dies at the age of 43, which leaves him as the single parent of five children.  Later that year, in November, his brother Ignaz Bergmeister dies at the age of 43.  Joseph would only live to 54 himself, dying in 1927. Of the Bergmeister and Goetz siblings, despite the young deaths of Herman Goetz and Joseph and Ignaz Bergmeister, their sister Laura Thuman lived to 73 and Julius Goetz lived to 84. There was a 16-year age difference between Hilaury and Julius, however, so Julius was the sole surviving sibling for many years after Laura’s death in 1943.

Although my grandmother never knew her “namesake” Uncle Herman, I assume she had some familial relationship with Uncle Julius.  Although my father knew who he was, he didn’t recall meeting him and their lives overlapped by quite a bit – Julius did not die until 1971.

If it wasn’t for the “accidental” searching of this new record collection on Ancestry, I would not have solved the mystery of what happened to Uncle Herman any time soon. Although Pennsylvania death indexes were recently made available, I would not have ordered any record for a man with the name Herman Goetz without more evidence as to the correct one, which I now have. I hope to eventually find a photograph of both Uncle Julius and Uncle Herman – I recently learned the name of Julius’ grandson and plan on contacting him soon.  Even if I can’t see what Herman looked like, I’m glad I learned what I did about him so his too-short life can be remembered. That’s what family is for…

In only 35 days genealogy geeks everywhere will rejoice in the release of the 1940 Census. It will be the first Federal Census in which my parents make an appearance. When I came up with 12 Genealogy Goals for 2012, goal #3 was to “Find all my relatives in the 1940 census.”  But just how many relatives is that? Until I started gathering notes, I didn’t realize just how much my great-grandparents’ families grew from the time of their immigration between 1900 and 1909 to 1940.  Here is a chart that outlines the, er, relative growth of the families:

The additions in the great-grandparent generation or above were immigrations, and decreases were due to deaths. The additions for the grandparents and below were births. I’m counting my paternal grandmother in the above counts because she was alive, but I’ve yet to actually find her on any census ever. And I’m not double counting the several relatives that were counted more than once in prior censuses!  The spouse category includes all spouses of any generation that are not directly related to me. So, it appears I only have to find 108 relatives. 

The good news is, this is roughly about 32 households.  Of those 32 households, 27 live in the city of Philadelphia which had a 1940 population of “only” 1.93 million.  It appears I have my work cut out for me! 

What am I doing to prepare for the research? Well, other than mapping out the list of individuals that should be alive, I’m trying to determine their 1940 addresses.  Mostly I’m relying on the 1930 addresses, but in some cases I’m using other available documents like death or marriage records if the events took place closer to 1940. I even have my grandfather’s driver’s license from 1940, so I am confident I can find my father at that address with his parents.

After compiling a list of the possible addresses and/or what the 1930 ED (enumeration district) was if I’m using that address, I then head to Steve Morse’s Unified 1940 Census ED Finder. Unfortunately, for a city as large as Philadelphia the result usually yields two or more possible ED numbers based on either the 1930 ED or an actual street address.  To narrow it down even further, I am literally mapping out the address and relying on Steve’s links to the descriptions or maps of the EDs.

While this whole exercise would bore most of my non-genealogy friends to tears, the research has been fun.  Well, not as much fun as converting surnames to Soundex codes back in the day and scrolling through microfilm, but fun. While an index will certainly make research easier, I’m still confident that the ease of using free digitized images will make finding all 108 relatives relatively easy.  And I’m sure I’ll find some surprises once I find these families!

In everyone’s family there seems to be a “birthday season” in which many family events fall in the same month.  In my family, February is not one of those months.  So I was rather surprised as I looked through some of my genealogical data that February had a huge significance in the life of one of my ancestral families, the Bergmeister family.  I’m sure that after you “collect” hundreds of ancestors, there are bound to be a lot of common dates among the data.  But the sheer preponderance of February dates is striking.  I first noticed the coincidence just back in my grandmother’s generation, because both of my great-grandparents and one of their children had February dates.  But the closer attention I paid to the family, the more February events turned up.

To start, we have to go way back – seven generations before my grandmother!  I will call this Generation 0, and the sole February event is the death of Elisabeth Bergmeister, wife of Jakob, on 25 Feb 1725.

In Generation 1, the son of Jakob and Elisabeth, Martin, marries Ursula Pedenpöckh on 16 Feb 1716.

In Generation 2, Martin and Ursula’s son, Johann Paul, was born on 25 Feb 1721.

In Generation 3, J. Paul’s son, Joseph, was also born on 25 Feb in the year 1763, his father’s 42nd birthday.

In Generation 4, Joseph’s son, Jakob, married Anna Maria Daniel.  Anna Maria Bergmeister died on 02 Feb 1871.

In Generation 5, Jakob and Anna Maria had two children born in February.  The first was my great-great grandfather, Joseph, who was born on 09 Feb 1843.  His brother, Castulus, was born on 25 Feb 1845, his grandfather’s birthday (except his grandfather was deceased by then).

In Generation 6, Joseph had a son, also named Joseph (my great-grandfather), who was born on 12 Feb 1873.  Joseph the younger’s wife, Maria Echerer, also had a February birthday – she was born on 27 Feb 1875.  She would also later die in February, on 05 Feb 1919. Joseph’s sister, Hilaurie Bergmeister Thuman, would also die in February on 06 Feb 1943.

In Generation 7, my grandmother’s older sister, Maria, was born on 27 Feb 1898, her mother’s 23rd birthday.

I haven’t looked more closely at the dates I’ve collected for my father’s cousins and their children to see if this trend continues.  The February dates stopped in my immediate family, but I bet I have some cousins celebrating birthdays this month…after all, it’s a family tradition!

I hope your Valentine is as cute as this!

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles that has now become a monthly roundup.  Here are February’s goodies!

Nun Maintains Polish Ties Through 100 Year Family Correspondence, an article by Susan Klemond in National Catholic Register, is a great story about two families keeping in touch across the miles – and across generations! [February 12]

Twenty-Five Ways to Come Up With Great Ideas for Your Writing by Ali on Aliventures may spark your creativity whether you are writing your family history, trying to come up with blog posts – or if you’re writing some fiction on the side. [February 1]

What’s with the SSDI and the petition? by Pat Richley-Erickson, otherwise known as DearMyrtle, sums up the recently “controversy” over the Social Security Death Index.  [February 12]

The 50 Questions in the 1940 Census – Tuesday’s Tip by Nancy at My Ancestors and Me gives us a glimpse of the types of information we’ll get when the 1940 Census is made available this April. [February 7]

More Than Meets The Eye (Again): A Tuesday’s Tip Follow Up! by Cynthia Shenette at Heritage Zen offers some great advice on reviewing the photos in our collections.  Cynthia says, “if you have a group of photos or materials that seem to be related in some way make sure you view them together and consider the group as a whole” – see her post on the discovery she made doing just that.   [January 31]

Set in Stone? by Bill West at West in New England reminds us not to believe everything we read…even if it’s written in stone! [January 29]

The Birdwatcher’s Guide to Genealogists by Randall Dickerson from Free-Range Organic Genealogy (formerly known as Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings) humorously ponders the question of what species of genealogist we all belong to.  As Randall points out, take note that “Any resemblance between these descriptions and any genealogist, alive or dead, is unintended, a coincidence, and a darn shame.” [January 29]

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

I had quite a few posts planned for February…but here it is and the month is half over and I haven’t quite gotten to my ideas yet.  I hope to post in the next month about some finds in a new collection at Ancestry.com, the preponderance of February dates in one of my ancestral families, and my preparations for the 1940 Census.

As always, thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

Each year, the (nonexistent) Academy of Genealogy and Family History (AGFH) offers genealogy bloggers the opportunity to celebrate the “best of the best” – our best blog posts for the previous year.  After reviewing all of the entries, reading the critics’ reviews, and tallying up the votes, it’s time to roll out the red carpet and present the honors.  Welcome to the 2011 iGENE Awards starring What’s Past is Prologue!

Best Picture

 “Loved this! As if the first photo wasn’t cute enough…”  ~ Cynthia Shenette of Heritage Zen

The Best Picture award goes to Christmas: Then and Now from December.  Technically that would be the Best Pictures award since the post has two photographs.  The first is my brother and I on Christmas morning in 1971…then a do-over forty years later! It was fun to recreate. Well, it was fun until we had to get up off of the floor, and then we realized that we are forty years older.

Best Screenplay

“This may be the most amazing newspaper find I know of. Less spectacular if you lived in Germany and it was a hundred years ago, but here, now? I’m blown away by your storm. Delicious title, btw.” ~ Susan of Nolichucky Roots 

“Lucky lucky you! What a find. Maybe you should try writing a thriller… you show real talent for chapter titles.” ~ Denise Levenick, the Family Curator

The story of the 1813 thunderstorm in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, wins the award for Best Screenplay. Lightning struck the church steeple and caught fire, and the fire spread to several houses and barns.  It was raining so hard, eyewitnesses report barely being able to see in front of you. The townspeople feared that the entire town would be destroyed by fire, but two men bravely fought the fire and brought it under control. The two heroes in this dramatic story were the town’s Master Carpenter and Master Mason…and the Master Carpenter was my 4th great grandfather, Karl Nigg.

Best Documentary

“Donna, I was amazed by this post and became a follower right away. It is material like this that expands genealogy and family history not only into a source for finding ancestors but also for adding fantastic color to their lives. Wonderful!” ~ Kathy from ‘Village Life in Kreis Saarburg, Germany’ 

Another amazing Google Books find was the Bayer[ische] Zentral-Polizei-Blatt, which I referred to as “Bavaria’s Most Wanted” since it lists names and other information on men and women wanted for crimes throughout Bavaria.  This would make a fascinating television series…talk about reality tv!  The papers, which date from the late 19th through the early 20th centuries, have a section for criminals called “Wanted Dead or Alive”, a “Beware” list of shifty characters, and a “Who is This?” for unidentified persons. Some photos are included, too!

Best Biography

“Great stuff, Donna!” ~ Lisa Alzo, the Accidental Genealogist

July’s post, The Fugitive Immigrant, wins for Best Biography. I found out my great-grandfather’s brother was wanted by the Bavarian authorities when he immigrated to the United States! I just wish I knew what “fraud” he committed back in 1903.

Best Comedy

Okay, sistah, but most of you will be passed out before the show even airs on the left coast.” ~ Kathryn Doyle of the California Genealogical Society and Library

“This is awesome! I re-posted it everywhere. I can’t wipe the smile off my face, it gives whole new meaning to who I think I am! =) Thanks for the fun!” ~ Jennifer

The winner of the Best Comedy award goes to February’s post, The WDYTYA Drinking Game. I couldn’t help but find the humor in genealogists’ favorite Friday night show. And, based on the comments, everyone else found the humor in my humor. But, just for the record, all I ever said was favorite beverage.  I never said it had to be alcoholic!

I’d like to thank the Academy for these awards, all of the great “reviews” from the critics, my adoring fans, and our iGENE hostess with the mostess, Jasia!

[Submitted for the 114th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: The 5th Annual iGENE Awards]

Geniaus has proposed The Bucket List GeneaMeme in which we share genealogy-related things we’d like to do.  The “rules” said to put the things you want to do in bold and the others in plain type, but since my list contains mostly things I want to do I’m just leaving it plain.

The genealogy conference I would most like to attend is… FEEFHS (Federation of East European Family History Societies) because the topics would be relevant to my research.

The genealogy speaker I would most like to hear and see is… Fred Hoffman, because he rocks and I’ve never heard him speak.

The geneablogger I would most like to meet in person is… SmallestLeaf, also known as Lisa, because we’ve become good friends and have a lot in common, but we’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

The genealogy writer I would most like to have dinner with is… Lisa Alzo, because we always have a great time when we have dinner together! [We’re having dinner with Steve Danko to the left in June, 2011.]

The genealogy lecture I would most like to present is…. one that I already presented because I wouldn’t have much to prepare (either Genealogy Blogging or Finding Your Eastern European Ancestors in Russian Consular Records).

I would like to go on a genealogy cruise that visits…. I don’t do cruises because I would rather spend more time in a place.  I might not say no to a Mediterranean cruise, but as far as I know I have no ancestry from that area.

The photo I would most like to find is… my Piątkowski great-grandparents, because they are the only ones for whom I don’t have a photo.

The repository in a foreign land I would most like to visit is… Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (Poland’s National Archives) as long as I have Steve Danko along to assist.

The place of worship I would most like to visit is… the church in Dobrosołowo, Poland where my Zawodny great-grandparents married in 1902 because it’s one of my ancestral churches I have not yet visited.

The cemetery I would most like to visit is …. this is a tough one because most of my ancestors who died in Europe no longer have marked graves.

The ancestral town or village I would most like to visit is…. Dobrosołowo, Poland, because I haven’t been there yet.

The brick wall I most want to smash is…. finding Elizabeth Miller’s (Elżbieta Müller’s) birthplace, because she’s my most frustrating search!

The piece of software I most want to buy is…. Family Tree Maker 2012, because I’d like the new version and haven’t gotten around to buying it yet.

The tech toy I want to purchase next is….. a Mac, because I’m tired of Windows updates and slow response times.

The expensive book I would most like to buy is… Evidence Explained, because <whispers> I don’t actually have a copy.

The library I would most like to visit is….. the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, because I found so much the last time I was there!

The genealogy related book I would most like to write is…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, because I have a few ideas. 

The genealogy blog I would most like to start would be about…. Catholic genealogy.  Oh wait, I already did that.  Maybe one on Bavarian genealogy if I could only find other researchers that would contribute and/or be interested in the topic.

The journal article I would most like to write would be about… Polish research, because I know a few things about it.  Note to PGSCTNE, yes, I do realize I owe your society a journal article on Polish research…it’s coming! 

The ancestor I most want to meet in the afterlife is…. my great-grandfather Joseph Zawodny (1880-1944), because he had an interesting life and he seemed like a really nice guy.

As Geniaus suggested, I added a couple of my own items to the list:

The celebrity I’d most like to see on Who Do You Think You Are? is…. Johnny Galecki, so I can see if he’s related to my Galecki cousins (and it would be nice if they did some Polish research on the show).

The genealogical research skill I would most like to have is…. the sudden ability to read and comprehend Polish, Russian, and German, because it would make research so much easier.

The genealogy tech gadget I would most like to invent is…. a scanner that will automatically translate a record from a foreign language to English, because it would be not only useful but highly profitable.

The genealogical records I would most like to see become available online are…. Pennsylvania death records for the 20th Century and the entire Family History Library collection, because….well, duh, just because!

The family heirloom I would most like to own is…. my great-grandmother Zawodny’s sewing machine, because it would be cool to have it.

The living cousin I would most like to find is… any descendant of my grandfather’s brothers, Eugene Pater and Walter Miller, because I haven’t found any yet and it would be nice to connect to that branch of the family.

What’s on your genealogy bucket list?

Flying High

Flying high somewhere between Italy and Philadelphia, April 2006.

Sometimes when things become ordinary I forget how extraordinary they are – like flying on airplanes.  It is so easy to get anywhere in the world by simply buying a ticket. It’s so easy that I forget that flight is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only about a hundred years ago that commercial flight became available, and while that may seem like a very long time ago, in the grand history of the world it’s practically yesterday.

My immigrant ancestors spent two weeks on a ship to get to America in the early 1900s.  I often wonder what they would think about the fact that I can reach their homelands today in about 8 hours. While there have been many, many inventions since they lived and died, I can’t help but think that air flight might be the one that would amaze them the most.

Although flights became available in my grandparents’ youth, it was something that only the rich could afford. None of my grandparents ever flew on an airplane. My father took his first flight in his 20s – a very short hop to Birmingham, NY for training for his job.  Even though he traveled the world as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, that short flight remains his first and only.  My mother has only flown two roundtrips in her life, and the first was not until she was in her early 50s.

My brother and I got to experience the joy of flying a bit more often – and, despite the hassles of baggage, security lines and searches, screaming babies, and long periods of waiting and boredom, it is still a joy.  My brother first flew courtesy of the United States Marine Corps and has been on several trips on his own since then. My very first flight at the age of 18 was a doozy – a long, crowded, transatlantic charter – to Rome, Italy! I didn’t know any better at the time, but looking back with more wisdom that flight was horrendous with turbulence almost the entire time.  Having never flown before, I just thought it was a lot like riding a bus with the bumpiness and I was as happy as can be.

It would be seven years before my next flight, but since then I’ve had the good fortune to go on many.  My job occasionally requires me to travel by air – some years I’ve only traveled once or twice, but other years I’ve been on a dozen trips. I’ve also been very fortunate to fly for some of my vacations, so over the years I’ve become a rather experienced frequent flyer. But all that time up in the sky or waiting in airports makes me forget just how amazing it is to board an airplane, magically rise 5 or 6 miles up into the sky, and safely land far, far away from my home just hours later.

On one work trip, I sat and listened to the flight attendants go through the safety information for what felt like the thousandth time in my life.  After a long wait, I just wanted to get where I was going and the charm of being on a flight had long since worn off.  That is, until a child seated near me exclaimed, with all of the wide-eyed wonder only accessible to children, “Look, it’s a tiny table that opens up!” As he squealed with delight at the discovery of the tray table, I had to smile myself – yes, this flying thing and everything associated with it is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

While my trip to Rome was exciting because it was the first, and a vacation to California at age 25 was exciting just because it was a vacation to California, it was a flight when I was 28 years old that gave me a different kind of euphoria – it was my very first flight alone.  I was flying to Denver, Colorado to meet friends flying in from elsewhere. To this day, I remember waving good-bye to my father and walking through the security checkpoint – and at that moment, I felt a sense of exhilaration and broke out into a large smile. I was about to fly somewhere I had never been, I was all alone, and I thought it was the most wonderful feeling in the entire world!

As I said, my job has required me to take a fair amount of flights.  I’ve experienced some very long ones and the longest was a trip to Seoul, South Korea.  I think it took about fifteen hours, and I was very blessed that I was allowed to take First Class (a rarity in Government travel unless the flight exceeds fourteen hours!).  The shortest flight I’ve ever taken is a tie between either Norfolk or Boston – both are about 20 minutes in the air. However, one flight to Boston was so bumpy due to bad weather that it actually felt longer than the trip to Seoul! I also had a very short flight from somewhere in Florida to Pensacola, and an encounter with turbulence almost sent the world’s tiniest beverage cart flying down the aisle towards my center-of-the-back-row seat.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 military transport plane. Taken at Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, CO in February, 2003 as my teammates board the plane.

My friend Leona and I aboard the C-130, February 2003.

The most unique flights I’ve ever taken were on military aircraft. I had the privilege of flying on an Air Force C-130 from Colorado to Nevada. The flight was equipped with standard military seating, also known as “tactical configuration” which is what they use to jump out of airplanes.  There was no need to worry about my seatback being in an upright position, because military seating does not mean the standard rows of seats in a commercial airline.  Instead, there are four rows of seats going down the plane lengthwise, and the seats are made out of webbing.  So, it is the equivalent of sitting in a lawn chair for the entire flight. But at least we didn’t have to jump out of the plane…

Another military flight was far different, though. I was in a leadership program with about 50 other civilians from around the country, and one week we had to fly to several locations in North Dakota, Alaska, and Tennessee.  Rather than attempt to get commercial flights for all of us, we had a jet at our disposal piloted by a flight crew of National Guardsmen.  Since we had the flight all to ourselves, they were the most enjoyable flights I ever took. And I even sat in the cockpit part of the way from North Dakota to Alaska! Now I know for a fact that pilots have the best view of all.

This was way, way better than flying on a C-130!

The pilot was cool, but he wouldn't let me fly the plane.... Taken somewhere between North Dakota and Alaska, April 2003.

The view is one of my favorite things about flying. I have seen many awesome things from the air, and they are no less impressive at that height.  In fact, they were likely more impressive as seen from up above than from on the ground.  My first and only view of the Grand Canyon so far was from a plane about 30,000 feet in the sky – and even at that distance, I could not believe how big and beautiful it is.  Similarly, I had never seen the Mississippi River before – except from the air. I did not realize how big it is – and if it looked big from that high up, it is definitely wider than I ever imagined.

Other awesome sights from the sky include the Norfolk Bay Bridge Tunnel where you get an incredible view of the disappearing road as it goes underwater – and then reappears.  I’ve seen a close up view of the skyscrapers of New York City, and I’ve even flown over Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game.  The single most incredible sight was during that “private” flight to Alaska.  The pilot was granted permission to take the plane as close as possible to Mt. McKinley. It was a beautiful, clear day and the pilot announced that he was going to take us for a closer view. The friend next to me and I were leaning over in our seats to look out the window.  “Is that it?” he asked, pointing to one of the mountains. I didn’t know.  “Maybe,” I said, “it looks pretty big.”  We were looking down at some mountains trying to determine which one Mt. McKinley actually was when suddenly this massive mountain appeared next to the window at eye level.  In fact, we had to look up to see the top of it. We both said simultaneously, “Wow – that’s it!” I’ve seen many mountains from the air, but I have never seen anything quite as big as that one.

Mt. McKinley from the sky...awesome! Taken in April, 2003.

What’s my favorite view from the sky? I have two.  First, I love looking out and seeing a brilliant blue sky and a carpet of clouds. I know that everyone below those clouds is having a cloudy, dreary, and rainy day. But from my view, the sun is shining! It reminds me that life is all a matter of perspective, and sometimes from a 30,000 ft. view things don’t seem quite as bad.  Next, my favorite site is the view as the plane approaches home. It is fun to go away, and amazing to see beautiful sights from the sky. But I really feel like I’m flying high when I come home again.

My ancestors never got to experience the wonder of flight – but did they feel that same “coming home” feeling when they saw America for the first time?

The Von Trapp Family as portrayed in the 1965 film, "The Sound of Music"

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?  What’s that, you ask? Well, it is not when your family has a penchant for suddenly breaking into song about their favorite things or when saying good-night is an elaborate Broadway production. The term came to me after I recently watched Sound of Music both on stage and on film and I became interested in the real Von Trapp family.

The enormously popular musical film The Sound of Music premiered in 1965 and was based on the the 1959 musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The story, if you’ve lived in a cocoon for years and never heard it, is about a novice nun-turned nanny for a widower’s seven children who falls in love with the dad, marries him, brings the joy of music into their lives, teaches the children to sing beautifully, and escapes the evil Nazis in a late-night chase over the Alps. But the best part of the story? It’s based on a true story!

Ay, there’s the rub, as Hamlet would say. “Based on a true story” and “true story” are not the same thing.

As it turns out, both the Broadway and the movie version of the family’s story are somewhat more dramatic than the German movie and memoir of the family’s lives. Being more dramatic obviously makes the story infinitely more interesting. Escaping the Nazis by traveling on foot over the Alps to Switzerland? Wow! Except, in reality, the very real Von Trapp family “escaped” Austria a full two years before the Anschluss (and seven years after the couple got married). And they left by train. In broad daylight. To go to Italy, where they were citizens based on Georg von Trapp’s birplace. No Nazis were in pursuit.

To disappoint The Sound of Music fans even further, I should point out that the children’s names were all changed and Georg was neither as wealthy nor as strict as the movie portrayed.

Hence, what I have christened as The Sound of Music effect…when the true story is, well, just a story.  But when the story “based on a true story” is A STORY!

Sometimes we have The Sound of Music effect in our own family stories. While the majority of our family histories were not livened up for the sake of dramatic license on the silver screen, they may have been spruced up…for the sake of the story.

Face it, what’s the more exciting story?

Choice A: Grandpop couldn’t afford a ticket/was on the run from the authorities so he stowed away on the ship.  OR

Choice B: Grandpop bought a ticket, boarded the steamship, and spent two weeks with hundreds of other immigrants in steerage.

Yup, Choice A wins every time.

Many other family history myths may be the result of The Sound of Music effect. Was your ancestor descended from a Cherokee princess? Was the family’s name changed at Ellis Island? Are you related to someone really famous in history? These are all great stories.  But are they true, or merely based on a true story? These stories may be true – but only solid genealogical research will answer the question. Chances are there is a kernel of truth in the exciting story – but just a kernel. The true stories are often…well, ordinary, everyday, and somewhat boring. But not to a genealogist or a family historian! Being chased by the Nazis is certainly a dramatic story, but the ordinary tale can be just as much fun.

Does your family history suffer from The Sound of Music effect?

Happy New Year! Did you resolve to clean out your clutter?

Donna’s Picks

“Donna’s Picks” was once my occasional weekly feature of noteworthy articles – now it feels more comfortable to roundup my “picks” once a month.  Here are January’s goodies including a couple of genealogy blogs that are new finds!

I recently discovered a relatively new blog, Alabama Genealogy and Ramblings by Randall Dickerson (1-19-2012: Note – Randall changed his blog name! It’s now Alabama Free-Ranging Organic Genealogy at the same address). Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even looked at a blog with that title because I have no Southern roots whatsoever. But I’m sure glad I stopped by, for not only does Randall have great posts, but he has one of the funniest and most entertaining About Me pages I’ve ever read!  (Yes, Randall, I had to look up “Vexillology”.) Check out The “Do List”; My New Year’s Resolution Concepts in which he proposes concepts that will allow all of us to be more productive. One of his good posts from December is Trying to like Ancestry.Com – Disaster in Grafting My Family Tree in which he shares his frustration over what happens when you splice another’s tree into your own.

Dawn Westfall has been blogging since September at Wisteria where she writes about her maternal Dutch roots and paternal Southern roots. I naturally gravitate towards humorous posts, and I got a chuckle out of Famous Relatives. Well, that’s one way to finally get kids interested in genealogy. There are at least three other genealogy bloggers that share my interest in science fiction and will find her famous relative as cool as I did!

In what happens to be yet another humorous post, Jenny Lanctot in Are My Roots Showing? (which is a fabulous blog title!) gets an unexpected chuckle from a Family Search indexer in Wisdom Wednesday – Search Terms and Spelling. With my surname, I’ve had my share of misspellings so it made me chuckle, too.

Just to prove I also enjoy serious posts, I was fascinated by More Than Meets the Eye – Tuesday’s Tip in Heritage Zen by Cynthia Shenette. I have always loved looking at what else is in the photo besides the “main” subject. Cynthia presents to great photographs with tons of details in the background.  But – for the record – Cynthia writes some wickedly humorous posts – see the evidence with her last COG entry, What the Dickens 2, Or More Tales from Hell’s Kitchen – Advent Calendar, Grab Bag.  I’m still laughing!

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

ShtetlSeeker: It’s Not Just for Shtetls Anymore – one of the best town databases you may not know about

Two Years Ago:

Cousins, Countries, and War – the start of my 5-part series on the Bavarian Military Rosters available on Ancestry.com

Three Years Ago:

Fun with Maps in Philadelphia – a look at some nifty mapping tools to see what my hometown looked like back when my great-grandparents came to town

Four Years Ago:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – In my very first COG entry ever, I imagine inviting four very different ancestors to dinner to solve a few mysteries.

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

A post coming soon will ask you if your family history is like a famous musical from the 1960s…and if your family history has something in common with that story, well…let’s just say it’s not a compliment and you have your research cut out for you. I also hope to resurrect the “Memory Monday” personal reflection posts this year – starting in January!  If you also read my collaborative blog, The Catholic Gene, join us the week of 29 January as we remember/celebrate Catholic Schools Week.

Thanks for reading, following, and subscribing!

Ryan, Beckett, and Castle in front of the murder board (Seamus Dever, Stana Katic, and Nathan Fillion in Castle's Season 3 episode "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind"). Accessed via Castle-Fans.Org on January 9, 2012.

A few months ago I watched all the past episodes of the television crime drama Castle (ABC, Monday nights at 10:00 PM Eastern). I’ve always had a thing for romantic comedy shows about crime-solving duos. Castle didn’t disappoint and it’s now one of my favorite shows. It has good plots, interesting and well developed characters, subtle humor, and a hint of romance. While I enjoy the show more for the character relationships, I have to admit the characters’ crime-solving skills are impressive. I had a sudden realization of why that might appeal to me…those skills would work equally well in genealogy! After all, we may not be solving crimes, but we genealogists are solving mysteries all the time!  So I offer my favorite detectives as our new research role models…

On Castle, the NYPD homicide unit, led by Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), sets up a “murder board” for each new case.  They take a white board and start with a photo of the victim and some pertinent facts. Next they add information on potential suspects, witnesses, and a timeline of events leading up to the murder.  The character of Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a best-selling mystery author who “assists” the detectives on their cases.  Castle usually adds the “outside the box” thinking on how all of the pieces of the mystery fit together with how he, as a writer, would have written the story.

The “murder board” concept is perfect for solving genealogical mysteries. In fact, I realized I’ve had a murder board for years without calling it that.  The victim is the research problem – in my case, the birthplace of my great-grandmother Elizabeth (Elżbieta) Miller Pater. The suspects are the potential places based on clues I’ve found in my research of documents such as passenger list records and other documents that contain information about an immigrant’s birthplace.

On the show Castle, sometimes the detectives really think a particular suspect is the killer – the suspect was in the right place at the right time, had means and motive to commit the crime, and all of the facts seems to support the person as the one who did it.  But sometimes there’s a problem…the suspect “alibis out”.  That’s the term the show uses when a suspect has an alibi that checks out upon further review, so he or she could not have committed the crime because there is some evidence that places the person in another place at the same time.  In genealogical research, we often think we have the right answer based on sources that seem to indicate it’s correct.  But then the answer alibis out.  All records – including some in my great-grandmother’s handwriting – point to the town of Żyrardów as her birthplace.  But Żyrardów  is the wrong suspect – the town alibis out!  When the records were checked, the record for her birth was not found.

What’s next? In solving the murder mystery on Castle, the team turns to other sources such as witnesses or financial records that might lead to more clues or more suspects.  Sometimes they take a closer look at the timeline to see if they missed something in their initial research.  All of these actions have a lot to teach genealogists looking to solve their mysteries when the Number One Suspect alibis out.  In short, look for more clues!  Are there any witnesses?  Maybe older family members recall information that was passed down about the mystery.  Who else was connected to the mystery/victim?  Turn to records for siblings, collateral relatives, or even neighbors of the person you are trying to find. When did things happen? Sometimes just creating a timeline for an individual can help cross some suspected places, times, or events off of the list of suspects.

No matter what avenue your research takes, using the murder board concept can be very helpful – write it all down and plot it all out.  Even the negative searches – the suspects with alibis – need to be listed so you remember what resources you’ve already checked. Often in the show, the characters literally stare at the board trying to see if they missed something that will lead to a new search for a new suspect – or a new search for a former suspect who’s alibi was questionable or unproven. Often Castle will find a new direction based on his unique writer’s view of the “story”. Likewise, it benefits genealogists to re-view information, and to re-search, in order to find that missing piece to the puzzle.  It also helps to get help from someone like Castle – someone not so closely related to the case who might have a different view of those same facts.

I don’t have an actual physical board of information for the case of my great-grandmother’s birthplace, but after watching a few seasons of Castle I’m beginning to think it might be a good idea to throw all the pertinent facts up on the wall, or at least down on paper. This will enable me to review the facts and review the suspects and perhaps finally solve this mystery.  Where is Mr. Castle when I need him? I could use his help!

~ ~ ~

While we’re at it, let’s use a murder board to solve the mystery of how the actor who plays Castle, Nathan Fillion, who has French-Canadian and Irish ancestry, can look like the long-lost twin of genealogist Matthew Bielawa, who has Ukrainian and Galician Polish ancestry.  Hmm, have we ever seen Nathan and Matthew in the same room together?  I think a DNA test is in order…

Welcome to the very first “Surname Saturday” of 2012.  Somehow I managed to go through all of 2011 without a single surname post! But I have many more family names to get to, so I am hoping to post a different Surname Saturday at least once a month.  Let’s see what happens this year…

Surname - ZAKRZEWSKI

Meaning/Origin – The name ZAKRZEWSKI is derived from the Polish town names of Zakrzew or Zakrzewo or from the Polish word krzew meaning “shrub”.  (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman)

Country of Origin – The surname ZAKRZEWSKI is Polish.  According to the World Names Profiler, Poland has the highest frequency per million residents with this name at  374.78 per million.  Germany is second with  a distant 13.8 per million.  The United States comes in next at 9.19.

Spelling Variations - Other names derived from the same root include ZAKRZEWICKI and ZAKRZEWICZ. (Source: Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman) The feminine version of the surname is ZAKRZEWSKA.

Surname Map – The following map illustrates the frequency of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland. The name is far more popular than many of my other Polish surnames with over 13,000 individuals listed with the surname. As you can see by all the colors on the map, people with this surname live just about everywhere in Poland in most of the counties and cities.

Distribution of the ZAKRZEWSKI surname in Poland.

SOURCE: Mojkrewni.pl “Mapa nazwisk” database, http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/kompletny/zakrzewski.html, accessed January 6, 2012.

Famous Individuals with the Surname – Given the popularity of the name as shown on the map, it’s no surprise that a fair amount of famous Poles have the surname. From politicians to athletes, there’s a whole list on Wikipedia.  I wonder if any are my cousins?  The most famous Pole with this surname is Ignacy Wyssogota Zakrzewski (1745-1802), who was a nobleman during the final years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was involved with the creation of the Constitution.  Look at his photo on Wikipedia – doesn’t this guy look like a twin of George Washington? Although the name does have noble roots, my family were farmers so it is likely they adopted the surname by choice instead of birth.

My Family – My Zakrzewski family comes from the vicinity of the town of Żyrardów in the Masovian Voivodeship (województwo mazowieckie). My earliest known ancestor is Karol Zakrzewski who was born around 1800 (based on his daughter’s birth record) and died before 1859 (based on his daughter’s marriage record). Karol married Rozalia Kowalewska. Their daughter Teofilia is my third great-grandmother. Teofila Zakrzewska was born on 27 Dec 1840 in Maryampol, Masovian Gubernia, Kingdom of Poland.  On 10 October 1859 in Wiskitki Teofilia married Jan Pater (born c.1833, Kamienskie – died 04 September 1908 in Żyrardów, Błoński Powiat, Warsaw Gubernia, Vistula Land, Russian Empire.  I have ten children documented for Jan and Teofilia born between 1860 and 1884.  Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater died on 16 November 1907 in Żyrardów.  At the time her her death, her son Józef Pater had already been in America for two years.  Her teenaged grandson Ludwik (my great-grandfather), had left to join his parents just three months prior to her death.  She had many other grandchildren still living in Żyrardów at the time of her death and the death of her husband almost one year later.

My Research Challenges - I recently found the death records for Teofilia Zakrzewska Pater from 1907 on the Geneteka site, and I had her birth and marriage from previous research on microfilm.  The key is to find the marriage of her parents, Karol and Rozalia ZAKRZEWSKI from 1840 or earlier.

Surname Message Boards – Ancestry has a Zakrzewski message board.  There are some Zakrzewski graves listed at Find A Grave here.

Links to all posts about my Zakrzewski family can be found here.

This post is #11 of an ongoing series about surnames.  To see all posts in the series, click here.

Tomorrow will mark the 4th blogiversary of What’s Past is Prologue.  I don’t know what surprises me more – that I’ve been blogging for four years or that I still have some ideas left!

I didn’t post as often as I would have liked to this past year, but I still managed to garner 39,000 visitors! I’m very grateful to everyone that stopped by to read, look around, comment, and/or write to me with kind words.

Some of my top posts this year in terms of visits were ones written a while ago. This past year I had 9,700 hits on Philadelphia Marriage Records Online (June, 2008), 1,500 on Bavarian Main Street (June, 2009), and almost 1,400 on Fotomat…What’s That? (November, 2010). Some posts written this year that had the highest number of hits were Finding Polish Records Online from January with 1,060 hits and The WDYTYA Drinking Game from February with almost 800 and also was the most commented post with 30 comments. I have to say, that post was the most fun I had (on this blog) all year!

Besides the drinking game post, my favorites from the last year were:

Research Resources:

My Family Research:

Personal Reflection:

Once again, thanks to all of my faithful readers and friends.  When I started this endeavor, I had no idea where it would lead. But so far, I’ve really enjoyed the ride. I’ve made some great friends, learned how to write better, organized my research, and found many cousins.  As my one of my favorite actors once sung, “Who could ask for anything more?”

2011: A Look Back

In the nearly four years I’ve been blogging, I have written a retrospective on New Year’s Eve looking back at my personal year. What fun stuff did I do? What genealogical finds did I discover? What worked? What didn’t? I may be the only one that reads this particular post every year, but it has become a rather meaningful tradition in my life. Last year, I called 2010 a “year of transition”…I guess I have arrived at wherever I was going, because I end 2011 a lot happier, healthier, and content.

Genealogically speaking, I’ve connected with so many cousins over the last few years that I didn’t think there were any left to find.  But there were!  This year I made several new connections. On my mother’s maternal side, I was “found” by my second cousin Tricia and her mother Mary Jane. On my mother’s paternal side, I had fun talking to my first cousin twice removed – yes, my grandfather’s cousin! Although my grandfather would be 100 next year (if he hadn’t died at age 60), his cousin Ed is a robust 83 and even uses Facebook!  His granddaughter, my third cousin Catie, scanned some photos for me that I had never seen before including my grandfather’s brothers and my grandparents. Finally, I connected with a cousin on my father’s paternal side. While I know tons of cousins from his maternal side, I didn’t think I could find any from the Pointkouski side. Fortunately, my dad’s first cousin, Marilyn, found me!

While I didn’t write as many posts about my genealogy research as I would have liked, I did make quite a few discoveries. I found my Piątkowski 2nd great-grandparents’ marriage record from 1863 online and now I’m in hot pursuit of their birth records. Through my newly found cousin Marilyn, I discovered the married name of my grandfather’s missing sister! More to come on her soon…  I also found an obituary that filled in missing information on a branch of the family and discovered a reference to my 4th great-grandfather in a German newspaper from 1813!

One of my big projects this year was launching another blog! The Catholic Gene was born from the many friendships I had formed with other genealogists.  Though many of us had different ethnic backgrounds, we all shared the same Catholic faith.  I thought a blog would be a great way to collaborate and write about how our faith has intertwined with our family histories. Ten authors, four months, and sixty posts later, I’m proud of the result and I hope next year is even better.

Some of The Pointer Sisters at Jamboree!

I had fun at two genealogy conferences this year.  The first, the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree, was tons of fun.  It was great to hang out with many of my online friends – and we didn’t miss an opportunity for fun, that’s for sure. I think the hotel staff is still talking about the piñata incident…  In October, I met more friends and attended the conference for the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast in which I gave a presentation for the very first time. My second speaking opportunity came just two weeks later at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Speaking about genealogy was something I wanted to try for a while, and both presentations went well.

The highlight of my year was my trip to California with Lisa Alzo. In addition to going to Hollywood (okay, just to Burbank, but we did drive to Hollywood thanks to Denise Levenick) for Jamboree, we spent time in the San Francisco area with Kathryn Doyle and Steve Danko. Despite a chilly Golden Gate Bridge, a freezing Stinson Beach, and a rainy Napa Valley, we had the BEST TIME EVER! All that laughter was good medicine!

In some ways, my theme for the year was improvement. For example, my cooking improved considerably and I’ve added chili, roasted cauliflower, and pork chops to my repertoire. In the world of home improvement, I started off the year with a mostly new kitchen – including a much needed heated floor – and ended the year with a completely renovated bathroom – including a much needed expansion.  Work improved – I’m in the same job as last year with the same tasks and same people, but I enjoyed it more.  Some relationships improved, too, as I learned about forgiveness, trust, and having fun.

I spent time enjoying my parents’ company, and I also enjoyed watching my niece Natalie dance and my niece Ava read to me.  Nephew Nick likes to sing out loud, and nephew Luke gives the best hugs I’ve ever received.  2011 was the year of an earthquake and a hurricane two weeks apart, neither of which “did” anything but stir up the local news media.  The Philadelphia Phillies stirred up the entire city…only to fall short in the end.  Get ‘em next year, guys, I’ll be watching!

I kept myself entertained this year by catching up on older television shows: Mad Men, The Tudors, Big Bang Theory, and Castle. Train provided the soundtrack to my California trip with Save Me, San Francisco and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger matched my mood.  The world lost a great singer I had always hoped to see live, Cesaria Evora.  I read a ton of books, but once again I failed to keep track of what I read.  I do remember Anne Fortier’s Juliet, Karen Harper’s Mistress Shakespeare, and Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours. Donald Miller reminded me to live a good story in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

All in all, 2011 had its moments once I stopped to think about it. What does 2012 hold in store for me? I’m not sure, but I am certain about one thing – I’m back to enjoying the ride.  Here’s wishing all of my family, friends, and readers much happiness in the new year!

Last December I made 11 genealogy goals to accomplish in 2011.  How did I do?

  1. Attend the 2011 Southern California Genealogy JamboreeDONE – I had a blast attending the lectures and hanging out with friends.
  2. Obtain a public speaking “gig” on a genealogical topicDONE – Done times two.  Both talks were in October.  The first, Finding Your Eastern European Ancestors in Russian Consular Records, was presented at the fall conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast.  The second, Blogging Your Genealogy, was presented at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I enjoyed giving both presentations very much.
  3. FIND the Polish birth record of Elizabeth Miller Pater (Elżbieta Müller)FAIL – Still no luck in tracking down her birth record although I did research where some of the Czech communities were in Poland.
  4. Put my 2-year-old research plan into action to find the death dates of my 2nd great-grandparents in Bavaria – FAIL – It’s nice to have a plan, but it’s better to put it in action. I just never got around to it.
  5. Post more frequently here (my goal from the blog’s beginning was always 3/week or 12/month) – FAIL – I’ll finish the year with 40 posts here plus 8 at The Catholic Gene, the new collaborative blog I started this year.  But that’s far less than last year’s total of 71, which I thought was low. I did start off well in January, though!
  6. View the box of photos that my one cousin has in his possession (or get a restraining order put in against me while trying…LOL) – HALF DONE – The “box” may or may not be a box. But by year’s end the cousin did send me two photos to scan and allowed me to keep one, so that’s a plus!
  7. Get back to writing for some genealogy magazines, even if it’s only a few articles – HALF DONE – I had two articles published this year.
  8. Either get back to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or at least rent a few films from my local one – FAIL – I visited my local FHC, but when a trip to SLC popped up on my radar I decided to wait since it’s actually more cost effective to view the films on site!
  9. Find the marriage record for Stanisław Piątkowski & Apolonia KonopkaDONE – This was accomplished early in the year, and was much easier than I had anticipated! Read all about it in Finding Polish Records Online.
  10. Get organized by starting my database over from scratch to include all source information – FAIL – I thought about it, does that count?
  11. Re-visit Poland and explore some of my ancestral towns – FAIL – The possible trip was postponed, but may happen in 2012.  Stay tuned!

While 11 goals may have been too many to accomplish, my overachieving, overly optimistic self will now present my list of 12 goals for 2012!  This time I tried to make them more attainable.

  1. Find the birth record for my great-great-grandfather, Stanisław Piątkowski, in what is now Mogilev, Belarus.
  2. Find the marriage record for the parents of my great-grandmother, Rozalia Kizoweter/Kiziewieter.
  3. Find all my relatives in the 1940 Census which will finally be released on April 2, 2012!
  4. Track down a half-cousin, the grandson of my great-grandfather’s half brother Julius Goetz.
  5. See Pennsylvania death records go online for the first time! When Pennsylvania Vital Records Bill SB-361 (Act 110 of 2011) becomes law on February 13th, 2012, death certificates over 50 years old and birth certificates over 105 years old will be “open” records.  Hopefully it won’t take long for one of the online sites to provide them.
  6. Convert the place names in my database to accurate names. Rather than tackle the goal of re-doing my entire database like I said last year, I hope to at least ensure that all of the place names reflect the accurate boundaries of the time of the person’s life event. As many of my ancestors are Polish and the boundaries changed frequently, this is bigger than it sounds.
  7. Attend the United Polish Genealogical Societies conference in Salt Lake City in April despite the fact that no agenda has been announced yet.
  8. Visit the Family History Library while I’m in Salt Lake City and continue filling in the details on my Polish and Bavarian families.
  9. Write three posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while. So I can prove I did it last year, I will list the topics: Józef Pater, an update on the missing sister, and Grace Goetz.
  10. Connect with the “other” Bergmeister cousins that may not be aware of our side of the family. These cousins are the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother, Ignaz.
  11. Once again, put my now-3-year-old research plan into action to find the death dates of my 2nd great-grandparents in Bavaria.
  12. And finally, once again….FIND the Polish birth record of Elizabeth Miller Pater (Elżbieta Müller). I know where she came from, I just can’t seem to find the record.  Yet.  This will be my year!

Following the lead of my friends Denise (The Family Curator) and Amy (The We Tree Genealogy Blog), I’ve asked a genealogy buddy to help me meet three specific goals in the areas of Organization, Research, and Writing.  For Organization, I choose Goal #6 above.  For Research, many of the above 12 deal with researching, but I choose Goals #1 and 2 for the buddy project.  And for Writing, I choose Goal #9.  My Genealogy Buddy that will kick my butt encourage me to accomplish these tasks?  None other than the organizing, researching, writing wizard herself, Lisa Alzo, The Accidental Genealogist.  If Lisa can’t whip me into shape, no one can!

Best of luck on meeting all of your genealogical goals in 2012!

The theme for the 113th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: A Charles Dickens Christmas. In the spirit of Dickens, I was visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future…

Christmas, 1971

Here’s a photo of my big brother and me on Christmas Day in 1971.  I have a unique ability to talk people into doing crazy things for the sake of photography, so in the spirit of brotherly love (just like our hometown, Philadelphia), we re-created the scene forty years later.

Christmas, 2011

The audience for the recreation shot included our parents, my brother’s wife (the photographer), and his three youngest children…who could not stop laughing.

Christmas Future

For the image of Christmas Future, we first considered using my niece and one of the nephews.  However, the one time I would not want all three kids in a picture is the one time they’d protest about not being in it, so we avoided any sibling rivalry on Christmas Day.  We thought about using our parents, which is likely what we will look like in another 30 years. But, given the fact that my brother and I are a bit younger and had difficulty not only recreating the pose, but also getting up off the floor, we decided against it or we’d still be trying to help them stand up.  I try not to envision the future too often since it rarely turns out as I plan, but I hope that in another forty years I’ll still be celebrating Christmas with my brother and his family – and some grandnieces and grandnephews and other loved ones!

[Written for the 113th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: A Charles Dickens Christmas]

Happy Advent! My niece waiting for her first Christmas, 2005

Meanwhile, back at the laptop…

November was a rather quiet month here at WPiP – I can’t believe I only posted once! But I wasn’t as lazy at it first appears – I managed to write four articles for The Catholic Gene instead.  During November, I posted the following:

09 Nov – The Mother of All Churches was more of a “filler” post and a photographic tribute to the Churches mother church.

11 Nov – Serving Those Who Serve: Military Chaplains is one of my favorite articles so far.

13 Nov – The Immigrant Saint: St. Frances Cabrini is an expansion of a post I first wrote here about America’s first naturalized citizen saint.

27 Nov – Changing the Way We Pray is a personal reflection about the introduction of the “new” translation to the Catholic Mass.

Donna’s Picks

I’ve been tardy in my “Donna’s Picks” occasional feature of noteworthy articles, so here are a few recent goodies:

Beware of family traditions when it comes to genealogical research! Michael John Neill dispels the myth of “what’s supposed to be” and several other beliefs and assumptions that may be stalling our research in Is Your Brick Wall in Your Head? [Nov 28 by Michael John Neill on RootDig.com – reprint from 2004’s Ancestry Daily News]

I really enjoyed Death Certificates: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in which Valerie discusses the value – and dangers – of one of the common genealogical resources, death records.  She says, “Just like any other record, you need to obtain it, evaluate it, and decide how trustworthy the information is.”  Great minds think alike – I used the same title in reference to the SSDI back in September, 2009 – only in that case the SSDI actually just got way uglier. [Nov 21 by Valerie on Begin with ‘Craft’]

I value creativity, so it was interesting to learn about the 7 Deadly Sinds of Creativity.  Bless me, Father, for I have sinned… [Nov 28 by Marc on Marc and Angel Hack Life]

Then again, creativity doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t act on your ideas.  Get inspired and learn how to use your super power with Creativity Alone is Not Enough! [Nov 30 by Sharon Hurley Hall at Get Paid to Write Online]

Finally, Amy Coffin proposes The Hypothetical Ancestor Trade-off in which we trade our research- challenged ancestors in the hopes that some other researcher will have more luck than we have.  I love this idea, Amy, and I’ll trade you your great-great-grandmother Mollie for my great-grandmother Elizabeth! [Nov 30 by Amy on We Tree]

What’s Past at What’s Past is Prologue ~ What You May Have Missed

One Year Ago:

  • Ho! Ho! Horror! – Was your annual photo with Santa ever quite like these?

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

What’s Prologue at What’s Past is Prologue ~ Coming Up

I’ve had some ideas in the works for months but I never seem to “get around” to writing the posts, so I’m not going to jinx those ideas by mentioning them again (some for the third or fourth time!). But I do plan on writing about how my new favorite television mystery-writer/crimefighter can help us with our genealogical research. I’ll also look back on how I fared with my 11 research goals for 2011 and come up with some new ones as well as my annual year-end reflection.

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In the spirit of gratitude as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ve found Even More Things I’m thankful for on my genealogical quest:

1. Portable Scanners – My portable scanner of choice is the Flip-Pal, and I’m thankful there are devices such as these that make it easy to copy photographs and documents.  Now if I could only get one of my second cousins to let me see that box of photographs with my Flip-Pal in hand…

2. Passenger Lists – After all these years of researching, I still consider passenger arrival records to be one of the most amazing resources we have when it comes to researching immigrant ancestors.  They have it all:

drama – What happened to the passenger whose name is crossed out?

comedy – Some of the spelling errors are quite humorous!

suspense – Oh, no, they’re being held for special inquiry!

mystery – Did the guy writing this speak English? Because it looks like Greek to me.

adventure – The simple facts recorded so long ago help us envision the lives of our ancestors; they were more than just dates and names but people who dared to make a life-changing journey.

3. Geneteka – I honestly never thought I’d be able to access any foreign records online – for free!  This year I discovered Geneteka, one of several Polish sites that have birth, marriage, and death records online.  Earlier this year I found the marriage record of my great-great grandparents that took place in 1863 in the city of Warsaw. What used to take months of letter writing and payments was accomplished in minutes for free.

4. Napoleon – Why is a dictator listed among the genealogical things I’m thankful for?  Well, I may not be a fan of Napoleon’s tactics or his politics – or how they affected my ancestors’ countries – but when it comes to genealogical records in many countries, genealogists have to thank Napoleon.  He instituted what came to be called the Napoleonic Code that required vital records to be kept.  Specifically, the records were in the country’s local language in a paragraph format.  The details these paragraphs provide are amazing and offer so much more than some names and dates entered in a registry.

5. Google – Google is still the go-to search engine when it comes to basic searching for information on people, places, or things.  But Google is so much more than “just” a search engine because of all their other products.  I use Gmail to communicate with cousins (and everyone else!), Reader to read all the genealogy blogs, Documents to collaborate with other researchers, Earth and Maps to see where my ancestors lived, and Books to find obscure records.  With the exception of Blogger (I’m a WordPress fan, obviously), I’m hooked on Google’s tools.

6. SS-5 Forms (While They Lasted) – One of the best genealogical resources I’ve used has been my ancestors’ applications for Social Security, otherwise known as the SS-5 Form.  Sadly, the SSA no longer wants to provide full access to the form unless the person was born over 100 years ago.  Before this recent restriction, what an amazing treasure this form has been – how many other documents give you something in the person’s own hand that lists their parents’ names – and possibly the town of birth?

 7. Autographs – I love finding genealogical records that contain the signatures of my ancestors – their autographs! What is more personal than writing your own name? Seeing theirs gives me a very small personal sense of who they were.  I have my grandparents’ and almost all of my great-grandparents’ signatures from items such as marriage records, social security applications, and naturalization papers.  For most of my “older” records, most of my ancestors were recorded as illiterate and unable to sign for themselves, but I was pleased to find that my great-great grandfather Stanisław Piątkowski signed his own name to his marriage record in 1863 and his children’s birth records.

8. Meeting cousins through this blog – I’ve gotten to meet, both virtually and in person, several cousins.  Amazingly, I’ve found cousins from each of my grandparents’ lines. In some cases, I found them; in others, they found me all because I blogged about our common ancestor.  Now we’re email pals and Facebook friends and I’m so happy to know them all.  Not all of my cousins are on Facebook, but among my FB friends I have 1 first cousin, 6 second cousins, 2 third cousins, 3 fourth cousins, 2 of my parents’ first cousins, 3 of my parents’ second cousins, my grandfather’s first cousin, and 3 spouses of my cousins!

9. Photos from Cousins – As I said above, I’ve come in contact with many cousins since I’ve started this blog.  I’ve tried to get photographs from every one of them.  One or two have actually sent me some! One, the 82-year-old first cousin of my maternal grandfather, sent me some never-before-seen photos of my grandparents (on the left – thanks, Ed!) and my grandfather’s brothers.

10. Catholic Family History – I’m very thankful for the faith that has been passed down through my family because it has enriched my life.  This year I am also very thankful that I found several other genealogy bloggers that share my Roman Catholic faith, and together we began a new blog devoted to celebrating our Catholic family history – The Catholic Gene.

~ Happy Thanksgiving! ~

My past Thanksgiving lists (shown in brief, click on the link to read the entire post):

Things I’m Thankful for on My Genealogical Quest – 11/23/2008

  1. The Library
  2. National Archives and Records Administration
  3. The LDS
  4. Catholic Priests
  5. Rootsweb mailing lists
  6. Steve Morse
  7. Helpful strangers
  8. The genea-blogging community
  9. My ancestors
  10.  My nieces and nephews

Ten More Things I’m Thankful for on my Genealogical Quest – 11/24/2010

  1. Ancestry.com
  2. Digital cameras
  3. Genealogical Societies
  4. Genealogy Conferences
  5. Genealogy Blogs
  6. The COG
  7. Genea-friends who help me research
  8. Genea-friends
  9. The Immigrants Came Here
  10. My parents

Sometimes my genealogical research takes an organized and methodical approach akin to the scientific method – or at least obsessive compulsive disorder.  And then other times my research resembles the dog in the animated movie Up who gets distracted every time a squirrel runs past him.  While the former research approach may be more useful when it comes to documenting sources or following the genealogical proof standard, the latter can be much more serendipitous and fun.  You never really know what you’ll find when you don’t start off searching for anything in particular or you go down roads you didn’t intend to follow!

Such was the case one day in my web surfing when I took my own advice (see #9 of my Top Ten More Ways to Celebrate Pol-Am Heritage Month) and searched for a town website.  My maternal grandmother’s mother’s side (surnames Ślesiński, Drogowski, Michałowski, Kubicki) comes from the town of Wilczyn in Poland (powiat Koniń, Wielkopolskie).  The town’s borders have shifted as Poland’s have.  According to the site:

During the pre-Partition period Wilczyn belonged to Trzemeszno county (small town about 30 km from Wilczyn), and to Powidz county (small town near Strzelno) during the Napoleon Campaign 1793 – 1812. From 1812 to 1815 it belonged to Pyzdry county and after the Vienna Treaty got included in Konin county. From 1867 to 1934 Wilczyn belonged to Slupca county and from 1934 again to Konin, where it lies to present day.

The town’s website, http://www.gminawilczyn.pl, has some English translations but is mostly in Polish.  Some words are easy to translate, such as historia, and using an online translator can usually give you the essential meaning of the text.  I clicked on the link for dokumenty and wondered what sorts of documents were on the site.  Clicking on the first document, I found a birth certificate:

SOURCE: http://www.gminawilczyn.pl/ under "Dokumenty"

I know enough genealogical Polish to read the record for the birth of Józefa Drogowska, born 23 November 1865 to Jan Drogowski and Konstancja Kubicka. Wait a minute! Those names sound familiar…the parents are my 3rd great-grandparents! Józefa is the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother, Stanisława Drogowska (born 04 Jun 1860 in Wilczyn – died 30 Dec 1918 in Dobrosołowo).  There are only four documents on the site, and this is one.  There is no explanation as to why this particular document is shown on the site.  It is also shown with the images under Wirtualne muzeum or virtual museum.  I would love to know why it is posted on the site and if a descendent of Józefa was responsible for posting it. Now I have real research to do!

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