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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!]

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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!

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The second edition of the Smile for the Camera carnival focuses on Belles & Beaus: Choose a photograph of an ancestor, relative, yourself, or an orphan photograph that shows a memorable wedding, courting/dating, or a photograph depicting young/old love.

I’ve shown a few photos of belles and beaus here, including my parents’ wedding photo and a “mystery” photo that may or may not show my great-grandfather as the Best Man at his cousin’s wedding in Germany. But I’ve selected this special photo to best represent the topic:

A Philadelphia Marriage, 1926

This photo depicts the wedding of Jane Zawodna and Sigmund Galecki in 1926 (make that 1925 thanks to the new Philadelphia Marriage License records that are now online). The wedding ceremony was likely at St. Adalbert’s Church in Philadelphia, and the photographer was probably in the Port Richmond neighborhood where they (and the church) resided. The “Maid of Honor” is my grandmother, Mae (or Marianna) Zawodna, Jane’s sister (if you recognize her, another photo of her from the same event was featured here). I do not know the identity of the “Best Man”, but I hope to learn more later this summer as I attempt to contact my cousins, the descendants of Jane and Sigmund (called “Ziggy”).

I Smile for the Camera

[This post was written for the 2nd edition of Smile for the Camera, a Carnival of Images.]

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Today I decided to try my luck with FamilySearch Labs latest offering, Philadelphia City Death Certificates 1803-1915.  There isn’t much available online for Philadelphia, especially post-1900 when my families were living here, so I was pleased I’d at least have a few years worth of records to search.  I entered in the usual surnames, and I quickly found death certificates for siblings of both of my grandmothers.

In the Bergmeister family, there were five children.  The first four were all born within 2-4 years of each other, but the gap between my grandmother, Margaret, and her next oldest brother, Julius, was 6 years.  I found death records for two children born in between Julius in 1907 and Margaret in 1913.  The first was a boy, Charles, who lived for 15 hours on 17 July 1909 and was listed as a premature birth.  A sister, Laura, was also born premature on 05 November 1911 and died the same day.

The Zawodny family had six children, and again there is about 2 years between each child until a 5 year gap between my grandmother’s siblings Kazimierz (known as Charley) in 1911 and Zofia (known as Dorothy) in 1916.  My grandmother used to say that she had two brothers who died as infants, and I confirmed that with the records.  Bolesław was born on 04 August 1912 and died six months later on 08 March 1913.  The cause of death is listed as acute gastroenteritis, although my grandmother seemed to remember her father slipping on an icy sidewalk while holding the baby, who then fell and died later of a head injury.  Another son,  Władysław, was born on 18 January 1914.  He died just over a year later on 27 March 1915. This time the cause of death coincided with my grandmother’s memory.  He developed infections in his mouth caused by his teeth not developing and growing properly.  My grandmother called the boys William and Walter, which roughly correspond to common English names used for those Polish names.

I’ve looked at many records in my genealogical research, and I’ve seen numerous deaths of babies in those records, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.  But these four records were different, and I was saddened to view them.  These children’s deaths were closer to me because they would have been my grandmothers’ siblings, my parents’ aunt and uncles.  How difficult it must have been for my great-grandparents to suffer these losses.  In both cases, the children died one after the other.  Also in both cases, each family then had one more child, a girl in both cases. The next generations would occasionally have miscarriages, stillborns, and infant deaths, so living in “modern” times is no guarantee of a healthy baby.  But I’m glad I found these records so their very short lives are not forgotten.

FamilySearch Labs appears to be a wonderful site.  It is easy to use, and the records were mostly transcribed correctly (my one great-grandmother’s maiden name was incorrect both times).  Another benefit is that it is FREE for all to use.  For folks that can’t afford Ancestry, this is a good alternative for a small group of records.  My only complaint is that there aren’t enough records available yet!  If enough genealogists volunteer to transcribe records, this could truly be the future of online genealogy.  I’m very excited to see that another project in the works is Philadelphia Marriage Records from 1916-1951 – I’m sure this will help me fill in even more gaps on my tree.  If you’ve tried this site and had success filling in your family’s gaps, be sure to leave a comment.

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“You look just like your mother.” I heard this frequently growing up, and it wasn’t too hard to believe given that we both wore glasses and had similar hair color. And we’re both attractive (hey, I didn’t inherit modesty…) But then someone else would comment, “Oh, you look so much like your father.” Hmm… which is it? Because last I looked, Mom and Dad don’t look anything alike!

I’ve become fascinated with family resemblances, especially since my brother started having children of his own. While I’m extremely flattered by all of my co-workers who insist my eldest niece looks just like me, I’m starting to see her mother’s face every time I look at her. My younger niece also looks like her mother, except she has beautiful blue eyes (as opposed to her mother’s beautiful hazel-green eyes). The only person with blue eyes on either side of the family is my father, and we’re all amazed that the recessive gene finally broke through. My little nephew, however, is a clone of my brother, who in turn looked like our father – except my nephew also got his Pop-Pop’s blue eyes over his father’s brown ones.

As children grow up, and even as we age as adults, our looks change, so it is possible that one day we look more like one parent and the next day the other. But some traits are constant. My brown eyes? They’re from Mom, courtesy of the Zawodny brown trumping the Pater gray, but the shape comes from the Pater’s. My curly hair? Thanks, Dad, courtesy of the Bergmeister’s. I won’t assign any blame for the nearsightedness or other health issues. But what about those other traits – the non-physical elements that make us who we are? Is it possible to draw a personality family tree?

My parents each had many talents that I inherited, and many I did not. I owe my sense of humor to my father – to this day I can’t mention him to a school friend without the person commenting, “Your dad is so funny!” Well, I’m not quite that hysterical, but my odd, dry sense of humor – and the desire to make others laugh – definitely comes from Dad (but my laugh itself comes from my maternal grandmother’s one big, loud HA!). Mom has some wonderful talents including cooking, sewing, and dancing. Sadly, I inherited none of them! But, I did inherit her creativity. I apply it in different ways than she did, but it’s all Mom. And even though I am still learning to cook and not nearly as wonderful as she is or my grandmother was, at least I have their fine taste for good, home-cooked meals made with love. I may not be able to dance like either of my parents, but I sure do love movie musicals thanks to them!

When my eldest niece was about 3 years old, her grandfather – not my father, but her other grandfather, who had known me since I was a child – declared that she gave him “the Donna look”. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a slightly-condescending-what-are-you-kidding-me? look. Ten years later, she’s still giving The Look, and every time she tries it on me, I burst out laughing. I invented that look, so it doesn’t have its desired effect. Or did I invent it? It isn’t too difficult to imagine my grandmother getting punished for using “the look”! Maybe that is where I first learned it! Let’s just say that stubbornness runs in the family.

My youngest niece is now almost 3 years old, and she has a rather devious look that I also recognize quite well. Something interesting and creative will always be happening wherever she goes… Isn’t that the same smirk I see in the photo of my great-great-aunt? I can just imagine her beating up on her younger brother, my great-grandfather, the way little Ava pounces on hers. If deviousness is a trait, we have it and wear it proudly.

Many other interests and personality traits of mine lead me to believe I was adopted… I was recently pleasantly surprised to learn that my maternal grandfather was a voracious reader – so am I! But did he like Shakespeare or science fiction? I sure hope so, because no one else in the family does. Am I the only traveler? Well, maybe I inherited that gene from my immigrant ancestors, for wasn’t their immigration really an extreme form of travel? It’s ironic I now visit their homelands for pleasure. But there is one interest or trait that I definitely did not inherit…my love for genealogy. You see, no one else in the family is interested in that!

[Photo Collage of Pointkouski Babies from Donna's personal collection. Top row - Natalie in 1995, Donna in 1967, and Ava in 2006. Also known as two sisters with their aunt in the middle. Bottom row - James in 1935, Nicholas James in 2007, and James Drew in 1959. Also known as Nicky in between his grandfather and father. The boys actually look much more alike than these photos show, but I'm pressed for time to meet the carnival deadline. Trust me - no DNA test needed to prove the physical traits in these three handsome men!]

[This post was written for the 46th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Family Traits!]

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Hats Off

I decided to throw my hat in the ring with a semi-wordless Wednesday post…  While this doesn’t quite qualify for the Ministry of Silly Hats, it’s yet another example of changing fashion trends over the years.  It is also a nice contrast to my previous post that also had a wedding photo taken approximately thirty years after this one.

Wedding fashion, circa 1926

This is a photo of my grandmother, Mae Pater (nee Marianna Zawodna), around age 18.  She is serving as “Maid of Honor” for her sister, Jane Zawodna, for her marriage to Sigmund Galecki in Philadelphia in 1926.

For more hat photos from other bloggers, see the roundup by footnoteMaven.  Thanks to Laura at The Virtual Dime Museum for some hat inspiration!  Check out this page for the Fashion History of The Wearing of Hats.

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Ever since my first transatlantic trip in 1985, I’ve been stricken with the travel bug. There is no cure. Symptoms include a desire to wander to far-away places, hopeless daydreaming, and a joy brought on by traipsing on planes and trains. I did not think my condition was genetic as no one else in my immediate family seems to have this disease. But then I realized that about a hundred years ago, my ancestors had the ultimate travel experience. It was no Grand Tour though… It certainly wasn’t a vacation to travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a brand new life. In most cases, they never returned to their homeland again or saw the family that stayed behind.

836571. New York Public Library

While the immigrant experience in itself is quite inspiring no matter who made the journey, I am especially fascinated by my female ancestors and relatives that made this trip-of-a-lifetime. In every instance they either traveled alone or with small children to meet their husbands or other family members who were already in the United States. I can only imagine what this experience was like.

First, the hard decision was made to pack up, leave their homes behind, and travel to a foreign land – not just temporarily, but most likely forever. I stressed over moving ten miles away from my childhood home! What were the conditions like in Germany or Poland/Russia that inspired these women to leave? Was the economy bad? Little or no chance of employment? What did they hear about America that made it seem better? How long did it take to afford the move across the pond?

The next difficult part of the journey was the separation that couples endured. If you were married, usually the husband made the journey first. Presumably it was necessary for the man to find housing and employment, and then save money to send for the rest of the family’s trip.

When it came time for the women to travel, the first part of the journey involved getting to the port. In my family, several ports were used including Hamburg and Bremen in Germany, Southampton and Liverpool in England, and Antwerp in Belgium. I don’t have any first-hand accounts of their lives or of their journeys to America, but I know that travel back then was not as quick and easy as it is today (TSA rules and flight delays notwithstanding, travel really is “easy” today by comparison). So it’s my guess that even this land-based part of the trip may have been complicated. Fortunately, the railways in Europe were probably as good as they are today. But, life was different. No one had cell phones to keep in touch up to the minute. There were no baby carriages, so toddlers walked and babies were carried. My guess is that the majority of immigrants came with one suitcase at most – travelers today probably take more for an overnight trip then our ancestors carried for the trip of their lives.

The time at sea wasn’t exactly a cruise ship experience! The vast majority of immigrants, including every one of my ancestors, came over in third class steerage on steamships. If the weather was good, folks could go up on deck to pass the time. The journey, at least during the years that my ancestors traveled, took about two weeks. After arriving through Ellis Island, not everyone was reunited with their families immediately. Today we complain about security or passport lines and slow baggage retrieval. Back then, the immigrants stood in line for processing. During the peak years that my ancestors came to the US, a busy port like New York at Ellis Island processed up to 5,000 immigrants a day! In addition to the processing time, occasionally immigrants were detained. If someone looked ill, they were kept for further examination. In some cases, the unlucky person or family was deported. Can you imagine finally arriving and you still can’t see your family? Or worse still, being told you can not enter the country?

Although these ladies weren’t travelers in the “pleasure travel” or vacation sense of the word, I find their stories to be amazing…even if they settled down in the US and never traveled more than ten miles for the rest of their lives. Here are some brief portraits of the courageous women travelers in my family:

1888 – Hilaire Bergmeister
Hilaire, my great-great-aunt, is my “premiere” female traveler both in terms of being the first as well as the gutsiest! She traveled to the US on the SS Friesland alone at the age of 23. She had no family here. That alone makes her journey truly impressive to me. I’ll write more about Hilaire and her life later this week for the next Carnival of Genealogy.

Marie Bergmeister

Marie Bergmeister, Munich, Germany, circa 1890-1900

1901 – Marie Bergmeister (nee Echerer)

My great-grandmother Marie is Hillaire’s sister-in-law, but they probably had never met until both were here in the US. Marie traveled from 13-27 June on the SS Kensington via Antwerp, which is 460 miles from her home in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Germany. Marie was 26 when she made the journey with her 3-year-old daughter, Marie. They had not seen their husband and father, Joseph, for just over one year.

1903 – Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska)
My great-grandmother Wacława is my only ancestor to travel through the port of Philadelphia instead of Ellis Island. She sailed from Liverpool on the SS Westernland for two weeks in July. Just getting from Dobrosołowo, Poland to Liverpool was an amazing 1,100-mile trip! She was only 18 years old and traveled to meet her husband, Jozef Zawodny. He had been in the US for over a year, but the young couple had only just married weeks before he left Poland. One can imagine how anxious she was to see her new husband after such a long separation. Wacława would never see her parents again – parents who were quite unhappy with her marriage and apparently refused to communicate with her even by mail. She was the oldest daughter, and she would not see her four younger sisters for many years. In fact, when she left Poland, her youngest sister was only 2 years old!

1906 – Rosalia Piontkowska (nee Kizoweter)
Great-grandmother Rosalia gets extra credit in the “gutsy” category for traveling with her 3-year-old son, Jozef, and her 1-year-old daughter, Janina, on the SS Armenia from Hamburg to New York, arriving on 10 November. She wasn’t a young mother either at age 41, and she hadn’t seen her husband Jan for over six months. I have no photos of Rosalia, but her passenger list record describes her as 5’3″ with brown hair and blue eyes. I try to picture her juggling Janina and a suitcase while trying to hold on to her toddler at the same time! If that weren’t brave enough, the journey from Warsaw, Poland to Hamburg, Germany was about 540 miles!

1906 – Antonina Pater (nee Pluta)
The Pater family arrived in the US in stages. My 2nd great-grandmother Antonina, age 42, and two of her daughters, 18-year-old Regina and 2-year-old Victoria, arrived second, which was nearly 18 months after their husband and father Jozef settled here. She would have to wait nearly a year to see another daughter and three young sons, and it would be nearly three years before she would see her mother again. Antonina and her daughters traveled on the SS Blücher from Hamburg, about 520 miles from her home in Żyrardów. I have no photos of her or these daughters, but the passenger list offers descriptions. Antonina was 5’2 3/8″, she had a sallow complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and a wrinkled forehead (as any mother separated from her children would have!). Regina was 5’3 1/2″, fair, with blond hair, gray eyes, and a round face, and little Victoria had her big sister’s coloring.

Frances Pater and Paul Nieginski

Frances and Paul Nieginski, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1940s

1907 – Franciszka Nieginski (nee Pater)

My great-great-aunt Franciszka (Frances) and her husband Pawel (Paul) were responsible for bringing my great-grandfather and his brothers to the US since their parents were already here. They traveled on the SS Grosser Kurfurst in August. Franciszka was only 20 herself, and she brought 17-year-old Wacław, 14-year-old Ludwik, and 12-year-old Stefan with her since they would not be allowed entry alone. Because Wacław suffered from some sort of illness (short left leg and a deformed chest according to the passenger list), the entire group was detained for two days for further examination, which must have been quite stressful to all.

1909 – Elizabeth Miller
My great-grandmother, known in her native language as Elżbieta Müller, was 18 when she made the long journey from Żyrardów, Poland, to New York on the SS President Grant. Not yet married, she traveled alone and met her brother, Emil. My only photo of her much older, but I’ve heard she was quite attractive in her youth. The list describes her as 4’11″ with a fair complexion, light brown hair, and gray eyes. She would marry a slightly younger man, Ludwik (Louis) Pater, a little more than a year later. Both were from Zyrardow, but he came to the US almost two years before her trip.

1909 – Franciszka Pluta (nee Wojciechowska)
How I wish I had a photo of Franciszka! She is my 3rd great-grandmother, and the oldest ancestor to have made the journey to America at age 69. And she traveled alone! She is the mother of Antonina Pater, and she joins her daughter’s family after a 2-day wait in detention for a medical exam. They determined she was an “LPC” or Likely Public Charge, probably because of her age and/or health. The list describes her as 4’10″, limping, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a dark complexion. What an amazing journey for a woman her age! She lived with her daughter’s family until her death in April 1914.

Slesinski Sisters

Clockwise from top left: Jozefa/Josephine, Wacława/Laura, Marianna/Mary, Zofia/Sophie, and Janina/Jane, McKeesport, PA, circa late 1920s

1920 – The Slesinski Sisters

As mentioned above, Wacława Zawodna (nee Slesinska) had four sisters that came to the US. I haven’t yet located the arrival of Jozefa, but Marianna, Janina, and Zofia all arrived together on the SS Adriatic from Southampton in October 1920. The sisters were 24, 22, and 19 years old, and their parents had died the year before – within two days of each other on 30 December 1918 and 01 January 1919. They are coming to join their sister Jozefa and her husband in McKeesport, PA. Although they pass by big sister Wacława, who had been here for 17 years by then, the five later reconnected since I have photos of the group together.


So there you have it…some courageous travels of some amazing women. I remember the first thrill of traveling alone, the fear at being in a place where no one spoke my language, and the joyful excitement of setting off on a journey to a new place. The trip that these women made wasn’t for vacation, but was it thrilling, fearful, and joyous all at the same time? I’d like to think so, and I’d like to thank them for their inspiring courage to make that trip and begin a new life here in America.

For more information on the immigrant experience, see the following sites:

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When I first got started in genealogy, I thought the Soundex was an amazing thing. It helped me find many incorrectly written names, often simply mis-pronounced by the foreign speaker or mis-understood by the American census taker. But, the Soundex only gets you so far…some errors are just too much to overcome. For example, the Soundex assumes that the first letter of the surname is correct, but what if it’s not? Thanks to computers and indexing, finding someone on the census is a lot easier than it used to be.

Zawodny Census Names

An example of a family that was hard to locate in the census is my Zawodny ancestors. As Polish surnames go, the name of Zawodny isn’t all that hard or unreasonable! But if you try to find them in census records, good luck. You’ll find three different names! The family first arrived in 1902, so the first census year is 1910. This is how the family’s entry compares for 1910, 1920, and 1930:

1910 – Savonia, Joseph, age 28. Wife Mary, age 20.

1920 – Cawodny, Joseph, age 39. Wife Laura, age 36.

1930 – Zavodny, Joseph, age 50. “Sister” Laura, age 44.

As you can see, only the 1930 surname would have been found using a Soundex search. The wife’s name changes, most likely because her Polish first name Wacława doesn’t really translate into an English name, at least not the same way that Jozef becomes Joseph.

Another favorite family in census records is my Piontkowski ancestors. While the 1920 entry of “Pontdowke” and 1930′s “Peontkowski” show up in the Soundex, the family’s whereabouts in 1910 had me stumped. Finally, I found them – listed under “Kilkuskie”.  Not really an intuitive search, but the first names, ages, neighborhood, and other information all matched. The best part about their entries are the ages – while the husband’s age is or at least close to what it actually was for those census years, or ages 39-49-59, the wife seems to grow younger each decade. Perhaps it was unfashionable back then for a wife to be five years older than her husband, but her ages show up as 37-52-54 while her actual age was 44-54-64!

So, how do you find someone when the surname isn’t right and Soundex searches fail you? The old standby prior to computers was to search for the known address. In the case of these two families, they each had a different address for each census year. If a family moved frequently, even though they stayed in the same neighborhood, they’ll be difficult to find unless you know through some other means, such as a city directory, what their actual address was during the census year.

One method that I used to find these records when “last name” searches failed was to search with a combination of the first name, approximate age, and country of birth. It helps if you know at least the county or city where the family lived, because you may get over a hundred men named “Joseph” born in “Poland” or “Russia” around 1879. But, by carefully checking the other family members, you will find the family if they are there. You can also combine a search using these elements with a spouse’s first name, or a parent’s first name if you are searching for a child. Try using Steve Morse’s searches if other search sites have you stumped.

This post is an excerpt from a future article on Searching US Census Records.

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The 41st Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why? Since I have four grandparents, it’s only fair to invite one ancestor from each “side”. It would be nice to see all of my grandparents again, but since I had the opportunity to know them all to some degree, I wanted to choose other ancestors. The setting will be at my house, and my boyfriend will be in the kitchen making the meal. He’s a fantastic cook and he’d probably rather hide in the kitchen than meet any more of my relatives. He always makes a wonderful menu, and for this occasion we’d have foods from various nationalities to make everyone feel at home, including a pork dish for the Germans and pierogi for the Poles. But, he’ll also throw in some Italian food to liven things up. There will definitely be wine…several bottles of it! And most importantly, a camera! Although I can only invite four deceased ancestors, the carnival rules didn’t say anything about other living relatives allowed to attend, so I’m sure that my parents, aunt, brother, and other relatives might want to meet these particular guests of honor.

At the head of the table will be my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny (1879-1944). He was the first person I thought of without question simply because there are so many mysteries surrounding this family. Even though we all love a good mystery, it’s about time we learned the truth! As we pass the food around the table, the first question posed to Joe is: Are you really Joseph Zawodny? The short version of this particular legend is that after my great-grandfather’s death a man came to the house claiming to be the “real” Joseph Zawodny. The stranger said, “He used my name to get into the country – he’s really Joseph Mueller.” I’d dismiss the story outright if my mother wasn’t there. Though still a child, she was old enough to remember the event. I’ve found records that appear to prove he was exactly who he said he was, but…what if he was someone else? There are some other interesting questions for Joe while we have the time. Did your wife’s parents really disown her for marrying you? Why? What exactly happened that caused her to be committed to a hospital as a schizophrenic? And what happened to your brother Stefan who seems to disappear shortly after his arrival in the US?

I could pester Joe with questions all night about his family and where he came from in Poland. But let’s not ignore our other guests around the table! From my Piontkowski side, I chose the “Mrs”, Rose Piontkowski (1866-1937). Rose is my great-grandmother, but I have no photos of her and I know practically nothing about her. Because of his, she seemed like an interesting candidate to attend our dinner party. I’m intrigued by her for several reasons. Her maiden name, which I’ve yet to verify through a birth or marriage record, appears to be some variation of Kiesewetter or Kisoweter. She was born in Warsaw, but the surname sounds German, not Polish. So, tell me about yourself, Rose! Was Grandpop a “surprise” to you and John back in 1910 when you were both in your 40s? Where did your daughter disappear to and whom did she marry?

Next around the table is one of my other great-grandmothers, Elizabeth Pater (1891-1972), who was born Elżbieta Müller (or Miller). I actually met her! But, she died when I was five so I have no memory of her. I want to meet her because my mother says I have her eyes…and because I can’t figure out what town she was actually born in even though some records say she was born in Żyrardów. So, Liz, was your family really from Bohemia originally? Why did they go to Poland? You were in the US for less than a year when you married Louis, who had been here for three years…what’s up with that, Liz? You were both from the same town – did you promise to marry as young teenagers? Did you have any other siblings here besides your brother Emil? When he went back to Poland in 1910 with your nieces, what became of them? Tell me about your mother-in-law since you’re my only great-grandmother who didn’t have an ocean between the two of you!

My Bergmeister-Echerer ancestors from Bavaria are the only ones not yet represented. As much as I’d love to meet one of my great-grandparents, I decided to reach farther back. Way back…I’ve researched back to the 1600s with the Echerer family and they are still located in the town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm as shoemakers. But for this event I’ve chosen my 4th great-grandfather, Karl Nigg (also Karl Nick, 1767-1844), whose daughter married one of those Echerer shoemakers in 1844 just months before his own death. Karl was the stadtzimmermeister (Town Master Carpenter) of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm around 1800, roughly two hundred years ago. He was also the son of the stadtmaurermeister, or Town Master Mason, Phillip Nigg (or Phillip Nick). I’m fascinated by what life was like in the town back then. So, Karl, how’s work as a carpenter? Tell me what happened when Napoleon’s troops came around near Pfaffenhofen. When Napoleon declared that all monasteries had to be “secularized”, you went to Scheyern Abbey to literally measure the church to determine its worth for the state – was that problematic for you, or was it simply part of your job? Why did you decide to become a carpenter like your father-in-law instead of a mason like your father and grandfather? What was it like having eleven children? I think Karl would be fascinated by the 21st century, even more so than the other guests who were born in the late 1800s. There would be a language barrier since he probably spoke only German, but we have a translator already present – Joe Zawodny spoke German!

All in all, I think there would be some VERY interesting conversation around the table! But, you know how family gatherings go…Isn’t it always the same with these family dinners? After a couple of hours I’d have a hard time keeping Joe away from the wine, keeping Rose out of the kitchen where she’d show the cook how gołąbki should really be made, keeping Liz away from my boyfriend, and keeping Karl from demolishing and re-building my poorly-constructed house. Okay, folks, it’s time for you to go home!

[Submitted for the 41st Carnival of Genealogy: Dinner with 4 Ancestors]

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Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

Joseph Zawodny, c.1914

This photo of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zawodny, is one of two that I am fortunate enough to own. It’s a nice portrait, though slightly damaged – the top of his head missing was not the fault of my talent (or lack thereof) at cropping photos. But what intrigues me the most is what I don’t know – what’s the lapel pin or medal he’s wearing? I’ve tried to enlarge it, but the original photo is not high quality and attempts at enlarging just the pin haven’t made that area any clearer as you can see below. So now I’m calling on all armchair photograph detectives for help – can you solve the mystery?

Here are some facts for background information:

Subject: Joseph (Józef) Zawodny

Date: approximately 1914, based on a notation on the back of the photograph, “age 35″.

Place of Photograph: taken at “J. Peel” studios in Philadelphia. The photographer had two locations listed, but based on where the Zawodny family lived it was probably taken at the studio at 3060 Richmond Street.

Joseph was born in 1879 in Poland in a small town near Dobrosołowo, Konin. He married Waclawa Ślesinska on 28 January 1902 and left Poland two months later, arriving in New York in April, 1902. His wife would follow in 1903, and they settled in Philadelphia to raise a family. Although he was rumored to have served in the military (whether it be the German, Prussian, Russian, or Polish army), I have not found evidence of this in the marriage record. He was only 23 years old when he left Poland. However, could this be a military insignia from one of those armies? He did not serve in the US military, at least not that I have found so far. Another legend puts him in the Merchant Marines, but my grandmother was a good story-teller and enjoyed flash over fact so I’ve put little faith in that one.What is this?

Could the medal be related to some sort of Polish fraternal society?

Joseph was active in his parish, St. Adalbert’s in Philadelphia. He also had an insurance policy with the PRCUA, the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1927 and died in 1944.

If anyone has any ideas on the mystery insignia, please leave a comment!

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Name days, which are the church’s feast day of the saint that bears one’s name, have long been considered important in many Catholic cultures. Even today in Poland, a person’s name day, called imieniny, is celebrated in lieu of or in addition to a birthday. But in the past, the name day and the birthday were the same day, because Catholic Polish tradition held that you actually named the child after the saint who held the feast on the day the child was born or baptized! Sometimes the saint’s name was used if the feast was within a few days of the child’s birth and not the same day.

My family isn’t one for tradition, but I was quite surprised when I noticed this naming trend with some of my Polish families. Józef PATER ( 1864-1945 ) and Antonina PLUTA ( 1863-1938 ) had seven children. I don’t have birth dates for the two oldest, but the others proved the “name day” theory.

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day

Ewa

24 Dec

22 Dec

Wacław

28 Sep

28 Sep

Ludwik

24 Aug

25 Aug

Stefan

02 Sep

02 Sep

Wiktoria

16 Dec

23 Dec

Since the family obviously took this tradition to heart, I probably could easily find the birth records for the two oldest girls without much effort – I’d simply check the dates near the feast days of Sts. Regina and Franciszka. What’s interesting to note is that all of the family members were born in Poland, and the tradition did not continue with their own children as far as I can tell. Of the children, I only have detailed descendant information on my great-grandfather, Ludwik. Despite the fact that his wife, Elżbieta MILLER (1891-1972) has a birthday on St. Elżbieta’s feast in the same way that he owes his name to his birthday, they did not carry this tradition on with their own five children.

I was curious if this was simply a quirk of this one family or not, so I checked a different side of my family tree, the ZAWODNY family. Interestingly, I found the same thing with few exceptions. Józef ZAWODNY (1880-1944) birthday was on St. Józef’s feast. His wife, Wacława ŚLESINSKI (1885-1956), does not share the feast of her patron saint, but four of her seven siblings do. Of the couple’s own six children, all born in the US from 1904 through 1916, four out of six match. I may not have the most up-to-date version of the Church’s liturgical calendar as it existed during that time period either. From what I can tell, these children didn’t follow the Polish tradition with their offspring either.

Does this hold true for every Catholic Polish family? No, of course not. But, if you see it with one or more children, then chances are it isn’t just “chance” and it can provide a clue as to other birth dates in the family. For a listing of names and a chronological listing of feasts, see the Poland Gen Web’s list of common Polish first names. Also, if you really want to know everything there is to know about Polish first names, I highly recommend First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William “Fred” Hoffman and George W. Helon.

Why did Poles follow this tradition? Was it an expression of their Catholic faith, or just a cultural tradition? I can’t answer that for my own family, but I’d like to think it was a little of both. But just imagine if that tradition were revived in the US today! Consider the possibilities – wouldn’t this save expecting parents from one more thing to worry about? There’s no use arguing over baby names, whether or not to use a name from his side or her side, the name of a deceased relative, or the latest celebrity fad-name. Just wait until the child arrives, look at a church calendar, and there you go – the decision is made for you! There is some risk, of course. Just two days separate your chances of being either Adam or Zenon. Or Zofia and Wacława. But I think it’s a charming glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Today, feast days and name days are still celebrated of course. My nephew’s name day is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, even though his birthday is in June. But if we lived one hundred years ago in Poland (or had Polish parents here in the US), his name would be Paul!

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The idea for a second post came easily enough after reading Lisa’s recent post at 100 Years in America. Inspired after reading a Smithsonian magazine article on the year 1908, she writes about what her ancestors were doing in that year and challenges others to do the same. What a great idea, and a nice way to get my feet wet with this blog. Plus, in order to write about it I’m actually forced to organize my research (or rather, a mess of paper) to answer the question! [Photo of St. Peter's RC Church, Philadelphia, where my Bergmeister family worshiped.] St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia

For my Bergmeister family, 1908 was probably a very busy year since the household consisted of four children under the age of ten. My grandmother was not among them though – she would not be born for another five years! Thirty-five year-old Joseph had been in the US for ten years by this time, and wife Maria and daughter Maria for eight. By 1908, he was working as a baker in Philadelphia. How different that was from working as a baker in his native Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm is anyone’s guess. Although his father was deceased and his mother was far away in Germany, Joseph wasn’t far from his immediate family because his sister Hillarie emigrated to Philadelphia first. Besides Hillarie, brother Ignatz was living in New Jersey, and half-brother Julius Goetz had just arrived in Philadelphia.

With the Piontkowski’s, my grandfather was a couple of years away from birth, and since his parents John and Rose were in their late 30s he probably wasn’t even a thought for the future. They had their hands full with a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, both of whom were born in Poland. John and Rose were probably still getting used to America because they had only arrived 2-3 years earlier. It was probably quite a challenge to learn a new language, but I’m sure that Philadelphia was as bustling as their old home town, Warsaw, Poland.

The Zawodny family had been in the US for about six years. Their family was growing and would eventually include six children. But in 1908, my great-grandparents Joseph and Wacława had three young girls at home – all under the age of four. This includes my grandmother Marianna, who was only born the previous August. Even though she was an infant, I’d like to think she was already bossing her big sisters around. Marianna Zawodna is my only grandparent that was alive in the year 1908.

The Pater family was just getting settled in the US. Joseph and Antonina arrived with their six children in various stages from 1905 through 1907. Their son Ludwig, or Louis, is one of my youngest great-grandparents and was only 15 years old that year. He was already hard at work in one of the textile mills in Philadelphia, not far removed from the family’s recent past in the textile town of Żyrardów, Poland. He may have even been awaiting the arrival of his future wife, Elżbieta Miller, since she came from the same town. Since the facts show that he arrived as a young teenager in 1907, she arrived in 1909, and they were married in 1910, it’s plausible that they already knew each other. But in 1908, 17-year-old Elżbieta was still living in Żyrardów with her parents. Her brother Emil, however, was already in Philadelphia for three years, and one can only wonder if they exchanged letters across the Atlantic.

One hundred years…a lot can happen in a century. The world has certainly changed a great deal in that time. And in just that short amount of time, four immigrant families came to a new world, had children of their own, worked, laughed, cried, lived, and died. Their legacies include hundreds of descendants, and I count myself lucky to be among them.

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