Today, August 31st, is Casimer Kowalski's birthday. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1915, so today would have been his 98th birthday. He was the youngest son of Wladyslawa ('Lottie') and Dominik Kowalski, who were Polish immigrants. His three older brothers had been born in Poland; he was the only member of his family born in America. He married my grandmother, Veronica Bodziony, in 1939, and they had four children together. My grandmother passed away in 1983, and Grandpa lived as a widower for almost 20 years. He passed away in 2002, about a month shy of his 87th birthday. We always used to celebrate Grandpa's birthday on Labor Day weekend. Here are a couple of photos of his birthday celebration from 1998:
A couple of days ago, a genealogy blogger from Australia, Jill Ball, who runs the site, Geniaus, posted a series of questions directed at other family history bloggers, with the intent of just learning about other blogs, resources, and methods. I've read through several other bloggers' responses to these questions and have found them to be very interesting and informative. So, I decided to submit my answers, as well. Enjoy!
1.) What are the titles and URLs of your genealogy blog(s)?
My blog is entitled The Spiraling Chains. I publish it simultaneously on my two family history sites:http://kowalski-bellan.weebly.com/the-spiraling-chains.html
2.) Do you have a wonderful "Cousin Bait" blog story?
I do not have any particularly interesting cousin bait stories, but creating my websites and the blog has put me in touch with many of my and my husband's close and distant cousins. It is wonderful to get an email from a distant cousin who tells me how he/she found the website (with all the family documents) and has learned so much about her roots just from some of the research I've done.
3.) Why did you start blogging? Is there someone who inspired you to start blogging?
I did not originally intend to create a genealogy blog. The main purpose for creating my websites was to have a platform on which I could upload all of the family history records, photos, and documents in an organized manner, and so that all of my and my husband's family members could have easy access to their family's histories. I was always aware that Weebly offered a blogging platform, and I decided to start one after thinking about it on a long car ride home to visit my parents (about five hours away.) I made an outline of potential blog post topics to start me off and it just blossomed from there. I really did not start reading other people's blogs until I started mine.
4.) How did you decide on your blog's title?
I decided to entitle my blog The Spiraling Chains after reading a quotation by magazine editor and author, Shirley Abbott:
"We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies."
We are a product both of our ancestors' teachings, choices, and memories, AND their physical DNA. (With me being a scientist, I really like the poetic description of DNA as 'spiraling chains.')
5.) Do you ever blog from mobile devices? What are they?
I've yet to post a blog post from my iPhone or iPad. I do occasionally write and post from my laptop, but the vast majority of work I do on my blog and website is from my desktop computer.
6.) How do you let others know when you have published a new post?
I post the direct link to the new blog post on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
7.) How long have you been blogging?
I started my blog in July 2012, so only a little over a year. Feels like it has been longer, though.
8.) What widgets or elements do you consider essential on a genealogy blog?
Definitely an RSS feed, and at least an email address so that readers can get in touch with the author. A comment section for each post is great for getting discussions going. My blog sidebar has sections where past posts are arranged chronologically by month AND by categories that I have created. If I want to see what I have written about a particular surname or type of record, I click that category and there they all are. (This is really helps ME find past posts as much as other readers.)
9.) What is the purpose of your blog? Who is your intended audience?
My main purpose is to just tell the stories of my and my husband's families through old photos and documents. Hence, my primary audience is our immediate and extended family members, including distant cousins. Sometimes, if I find a particular resource or database that has been helpful in my research, I will compose a post that is directed more towards the family history researcher.
10.) Which of your posts are you particularly proud of?
My favorite post that I have written is actually not about any one particular family member or tree branch. I wrote this editorial, entitled I AM a Daughter of the American Revolution, as my essay against lineage societies, which I feel can cause divisions in the genealogical community.
11.) How do you keep up with your blog reading?
I don't, and saying that saddens me to a degree, because I have discovered so many wonderful and informative genealogy blogs that I would love to read every day. I make sure their RSS feeds are in my Feedly and try to sneak peaks every now and then, usually during those rare moments when the kids are playing nicely (ha!) or when I'm waiting for my daughter to finish her gymnastics class.
12.) What platform do you use for publishing your blog?
13.) What new features would you like to see in your blogging software?
Weebly allows me to publish my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter directly from their site, but I would like to see the same integration for Google+. I would also like more font choices for writing posts, but that's purely a cosmetic wish.
14.) Which of your posts has been the most popular with readers?
My maternal grandfather went to high school with track legend, Jesse Owens, and his yearbook has Jesse's signature in it. I wrote a post entitled, Jesse Owens and...My Grandpa. Although the post really doesn't talk a whole lot about my grandfather's life, I can understand why people think it's cool. And it is.
15.) Are you a sole blogger or do you contribute to a shared blog?
16.) How do you compose your blog posts?
I usually just write my posts directly on Weebly's blog post editor. Occasionally, I will write down some notes prior to beginning a post, so I don't forget my train of thought. I do try to include pictures, maps, and images of documents in my posts whenever I can to keep it interesting for the readers.
17.) Do you have any blogs that are not genealogy related?
18.) Have you listed your blog at Geneabloggers?
19.) Which resources have helped you with your blogging?
The Geneabloggers daily blogging prompts have given me many ideas with regards to what to write about. Because I try to make my blog posts very visual, I go to Wikimedia Commons a lot to find images under creative commons licenses that I can share, and I also use screenshots from Google Maps and Google Streetview, especially when blogging about a particular place.
20.) What advice would you give to a new Geneablogger?
There is no right or wrong way to run a genealogy blog. Let your blog be organic, meaning let it just see where it takes you on your family history journey. You may not know anything about your family beyond your grandparents, but just put what you DO know out there. There could be someone out there combing the Internet who has the missing puzzle pieces to your family's story. And you never know who YOU could possibly help with the information you know.
Final thought: I think a lot of people are scared off by blogging because it involves writing, and we all think we are poor writers. Like many people, I did not like writing assignments in school. I always attributed my hatred of writing to the fact that I enjoyed science and math more and I was just more of a left-brained individual. It turns out that I DO like writing when the subjects are those that I am interested in, AND that I'm pretty good at expressing thoughts and telling stories through words. And most people ARE when it is THEIR memories and THEIR family members who they are writing about.
My great-grandmother, Sophia Krupa, immigrated to America in 1910 and married my great-grandfather, Michael Bodziony in November 1911. According to her naturalization papers, she was born in Skrudzina, Poland, a small town that was, at the time of her birth (1888), part of Austria-Hungary. When I first learned of her birthplace a couple of years ago, I went to FamilySearch.org to see if they had a microfilm that covered this geographic area and time frame. I saw that they DID have microfilmed records for Skrudzina, but I did not order the film at the time because I had no time to go to my Family History Center and look through the reel. So instead, I ordered a copy ofSophia's application for a Social Security number. Since this form was filled out directly by Sophia herself, it's first hand knowledge of her birth date and parents' names. On it, she lists her birth date as 30 Mar 1888, which is exactly the same birth date as what is listed on her naturalization documents. Her parents are listed as Joseph Krupa and Katherine Mourdas.
Fast forward to about six weeks ago. Some of the birth records on the Skrudzina microfilm have been indexed and are now searchable on FamilySearch. I find two Krupa families in Skrudzina that are having children around the time Sophia is born:
1.) Joseph Krupa and Catharina Czyrpak, House #16: Children born 1883, 1884, 1885 (none named Sophia)
2.) Paul Krupa and Sophia Hejmej, House #51: Children born 1886, 1890, 1892 (all boys)
So, there IS a Joseph and a Catharine there; Catharine's maiden name is different than what I was looking for, but no baby in 1888. Apart from these families, there is one more 'Krupa' birth record from Skrudzina that I find in the index:
The child's first name and birth date match exactly from what I have found in other sources. Her mother's first name matches the Social Security application and her last name matches my great-grandmother's. But no father listed. I requested a copy of the record through FamilySearch's photoduplication service. Here it is, record #4:
She was illegitimate and no father is listed. Her mother was Catharina, daughter of Jacob Krupa and Mariae Kotodziej. Also, Catharina lived in House #51, which is where Paul Krupa and Sophia Hejmej also lived at the time. Paul and Sophia Krupa were likely related, but how? And were there any other Krupas living in Skrudzina (other than those of child-bearing age)? I need to order the microfilm and look through the whole thing carefully.
I did a quick search of Jacob Krupa and Mariae Kotodziej, and found six indexed baptism records for their children, ranging from 1843 to 1865. However, none indicated the name of Catharina or Paul. The family lived in Obidza, Poland, which today is just a 20 minute drive from Skrudzina. These records are on a different microfilm, so I have a feeling I'll be ordering that one, too.
Did Sophia live her life believing that her parents' true names were those she listed on the Social Security application? Perhaps she was raised by the Joseph and Catharine Krupa in House #16 and she genuinely thought that they were her biological parents. Or maybe she knew the complete truth. That's probably something I'll never find out, but hopefully ordering these microfilms will help me learn more about her mother and the other families in Skrudzina and Obidza.
Those of you who know me or who are regular readers of my blog know that, in my pre-kid life, I worked as a meteorologist. I did a little forecasting, a little teaching, and a little catastrophe reporting and analysis (no, I was never on TV). Recently, I've been thinking about why I like doing genealogy so much, and I've figured out that weather forecasting is similar to genealogy research in several ways:
1.) Facts are limited and/or flawed. In meteorology, we call these facts 'observations' and we collect them through various instruments like thermometers, barometers, and anemometers. All instruments like these have built-in uncertainty limits even when they are working properly, and then you have some instruments that break, are "off-line" for awhile, and need to be replaced, which leads to gaps in observation data. Also, the atmosphere is completely fluid, but, even for ground-level observations, it's impossible to have weather sensors at every single point in the forecast area. Upper-air observations, which are collected via weather balloons, are even more spread out (hundreds of miles apart), so much more interpolation has to happen in the vertical plane. (Let's not even talk about the lack of observations across the oceans.)
Fellow genealogists, can you see the similarities here? We work with limited facts. In a BEST case scenario, we get a census schedule every ten years, a birth record, marriage record, birth records of children, death record, and maybe an obituary. Yep, we do a LOT of interpolation to try to fill in the other years of a person's life. And, of course, the 'facts' written on those documents could be completely wrong, leaving you with even more gaps in your data and/or leading you down the wrong path.
2.) Working with imperfect models. Meteorologists use computer models to forecast the weather. The models, which consist of LOTS of complex physical equations, use the observations to solve the equations, and the results tell us what the atmosphere is going to do in the future. Since the observations are only for a few points along the map, models do a lot of interpolation between observation points, and, even when the observation data is good, those interpolations are not perfect. (And when the observations themselves are bad, the solution is just going to be bad: Garbage In, Garbage Out, right?) Not only that, but there are many atmospheric processes and features that are 'parameterized,' meaning that they are represented in the models using over-simplified equations and assumptions. Assumptions: Any genealogist knows that assumptions can lead you down the wrong family tree branch quickly.
What kind of models do genealogists use? How about the models of the nuclear family (parents, their children) and the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)? Not all of our ancestors lived in and maintained traditional nuclear families: some were adopted or spent entire childhoods in orphanages, some had extra-marital affairs, some divorced and lived as single parents or remarried again. The same goes for the extended family model - was that 'Uncle John' listed in the census form really a blood-relative, or just a close family friend? I don't necessarily like calling non-nuclear family units 'imperfect' - a better term I think would be 'unexpected' as we are more or less conditioned to search for ancestors in these neat and tidy family units. However, those assumptions can ultimately prevent us from making major discoveries about our relatives.
And whether you realize it or not, if you are a family historian, you've probably also employed human behavior models whenever you've tried to figure out WHY an ancestor did something or acting in a certain way. "Oh great-great-grandma once worked as a prostitute? She must have been extremely poor to have had to resort to that." In most cases, that would be a good assumption, but not always. "Grandpa moved across the country during the Depression? Must have been looking for a job." Again, not a bad assumption, but not necessarily true, unless you have documentation.
3.) Reasons #1 and #2 can lead to what meteorologists call 'busts,' which are simply bad forecasts. If you've ever done any sort of extensive family history research, you've probably experienced a genealogy bust yourself. So, you thought Great-Grandpa John Miller's birthday was xx Mar 18xx, because that is what is listed on his death certificate. You find a birth record with the same name and date and then start tracing back his family tree based on the parents listed. Except that this is the birth record of a different John Miller, not your ancestor. Doh!
4.) Some questions/events are unsolvable (at least for the time being). Meteorologists do a lot of case studies, looking back at notable weather events to try to learn why the computer models and forecasters either succeeded in predicting the event accurately or did not. Many times, after a long and careful analysis, they do figure out why the atmosphere behaved the way that it did during the event, but sometimes they don't. For genealogists, we know that if a courthouse or archive site has burned down (taking all its records with it), we may never be able to get grandma's birth record. If a father is not listed on an Old World baptism record, we may never be able to find out who that person was. In cases like these, meteorologists work toward developing a better understanding of the physics of the atmosphere, and genealogists keep up the hope that perhaps a new record set will come to light that will solve their mysteries in their trees.
My great-grandparents, Louis and Adele Licciardi, with my grandmother, Dina in the middle. Photo was most likely taken by my great aunt, Yola.
This photo shows the gravestone of Louis Grillot, my husband's 4x great-grandfather. As stated on the stone, he was born in Pareid, France, which is located in Northeast France's Lorraine region. In 1838, when he was 51 years old, Louis and his wife, Marie (Borin) Grillot packed up a few belongings and their seven (living) children, and sailed for America. They entered through the Port of New Orleans and made their way north to Darke County, Ohio, in the western part of the state. Ship manifest records indicate that Louis worked as a mason in France, but turned to farming in America. Louis passed away in 1861. He is buried in Holy Family Cemetery, Frenchtown, Ohio, along with many other French pioneers who settled in this part of Ohio.
Although Louis was born and lived by the name 'Grillot,' his sons adopted the name 'Grilliot' (or sometimes 'Grillio'). The story goes that Louis' name was misspelled on legal documents, and his sons continued to use that spelling instead of the original family name. Louis' birth/baptism record from Pareid, France is shown below. He is the son of Jean Charles Grillot and Jeanne Barbe Curély. His father's brother, Louis Grillot, and his mother's sister, Anne Curély, served as his baptism sponsors. (And because of those relations, we also know the names of Baby Louis' grand-parents, also listed. Aren't these French records wonderful?) These documents can be viewed online at this website. (Images 218-219)
My great-grandfather, Dominik Kowalski immigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1912 and settled in one of Cleveland's Polish neighborhoods on the east side of the city. According to occupation listings in the Cleveland city directories, by the mid-1920s he had opened his own neighborhood hardware shop. It was located at 3110 E. 65th Street; the shop took up the main floor of the home and Dominik and his family lived above it. He operated the shop until about 1947, when he and his wife Lucy moved to Arizona to retire.
About a month ago, I was back in Cleveland for my brother's wedding. I had a little free time, so I went down to the Cuyahoga County Archives to see what types of records they had and if there was anything I could add to my collection of family history knowledge. One of the really unique record sets that they have are appraisal/tax duplicates for county properties. Since I knew the address of the Kowalski home/store, I asked the research associate (who was incredibly helpful) if she would look for any duplicates pertaining to this address. She came back with these copies:
So, these forms are basically telling me about the structure's "vital statistics:" how big, when it was built/remodeled, what it is made of, how much it is worth, etc. This appraisal was done a couple of years before Dominik and Lucy retired, and it's neat to see their names listed under 'owners.' But she also found something else in the property's file that was even better:
Many properties do have actual photos of the structures in their tax duplicate files. Now, this photo was taken in the 1950s when the property was appraised again, but this is probably very much what the Kowalski hardware store looked like from the 1920s through the 1940s. (The house IS still there today, but it's no longer a shop and there no longer any evidence of a storefront.) These are the types of finds that I live for when doing all this family research. Census schedules and death records are necessary and list great information, but stuff like this really helps to tell my family's story.
Emily Kowalski Schroeder