52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Unusual Sources

My grandfather Franciszek Slabik on the right…member of the Prussian Army

Being a speaker of fluent English was not a skill set he possessed. Often he spoke half English-half Polish. Conversations were short with often answers of yes or no. He studied my little girl face with a twinkle in his eye as if he were amused with me, his little Marysia (Polish for “little Mary”). He was my dziadzu, my grandfather. He was widowed, and I had never met my grandmother Anna. He lived with my aunt and her family in Philadelphia. He said that long ago he had been drafted into the Prussian army…he had a picture in his uniform. He claimed to have been a good soldier. He told me that he was from Warsaw. He never spoken about siblings. He only had his three children and their families. Basically, those facts were all I knew about him…language separated us as well as distance. I possessed only a handful of pictures of him.

Fifty years later, I began the quest to find my grandfather’s family. My grandfather and his children had all passed away along with his friends. I turned to my cousins with whom he had lived. They offered few clues. Where could I start…I had one small goal…to find the name of his parents. If I could find their names, that would be a great treasure to me.

I started with dziadzu’s death certificate. The informant, my aunt, did not know their names. (It is odd to me that many of the death certificates I have researched where the child of the deceased was the informant, he/she did not know their own grandparents’ names.) No obituary was found. Where to next?

I found him in the Ellis Island records as coming to America in August, 1912. His father was listed as his departure contact and a brother Jan as his arrival contact. The information was hard to read. His information on the Hamburg Passengers’ List was written in German in thick ink…the letters ran together. I did find a transcription and a translation. (Since the time of that research, researchers can visit http://www.familysearch.org and view the Ellis Island records…much easier to do now…more information is listed.)

Research took me next to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s archives of marriage applications. In making the request, I had to state as many of the facts about the bride and groom that I knew. I was not even sure of the marriage year. This process was done by mail and took several weeks. When the records arrived…BINGO…the names of his parents were listed. The document was written in Latin, the language of the Church. The kindly archivist had transcribed the application for me. His father was Jakob Slabik, born in 1837. His mother was Agata Kendra, born in 1849. They were farmers in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. Their names leapt off the page and engraved themselves on my heart. I could call them by name now.

In continuing research, I obtained copies of my grandfather’s naturalization papers and his passport application when he returned for a visit in 1956. To this day, I have found just a few crumbs, just a few morsels of information about my grandfather and his people.

Unusual sources…maybe, not to most. The most work was the thinking process of where information could be gleaned, finding addresses of where to write for records, obtaining record numbers to attach to inquiries. My “computer brain” keeps scanning for other ideas and other searches. With so little with which to work, it seems almost impossible to solve the puzzles. Perhaps, one day the paternal side of my family tree will blossom with the names of my Polish family.

Postscript: Actually, my grandfather was not from Warsaw. I discovered that often immigrants claimed to come from the closest large city from which they came. It has been quite a task to pinpoint exactly where my grandfather was born and raised. Wonder what small goal I should make now…







52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Closest To My Birthday

Once upon a lifetime on 5 December 1949, an overcast day greeted the residents of Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. A young couple was awaiting the birth of their first child. The couple was not living near relatives as these parts of the family lived 150 miles to 1,300 miles away so there was no one to help with the newborn. When would the child be born? Soon, they would be entrusted with a new life arriving in this world.

On that same day, a chill in the air greeted the residents of Alton, Kansas. A farm couple was awaiting the birth of their first grandchild in faraway Virginia. The couple vacillated between joy and grief. The wife had much on her mind because she was caring for her elderly father, who suffered from chronic kidney failure. He was in a coma. The couple was entrusted with a loved one departing from this life.

phone 2News from both couples would come by telephone…asking an operator for long distance and reciting a phone number…waiting for the rings and answers…sharing the news. The first call would be placed on the morning of 6 December from the new father to the new grandparents. Baby girl Mary Anne (named after her grandmothers) had been born at 2:17 a.m. The new mother would call her parents when she arrived home with the infant a week later…telephones were not available for patient use in the maternity ward. Some of the questions would have to wait. Maybe the new mom would be able to write her parents a letter as she recuperated in the hospital. Meanwhile, the child rested in the arms of her mother and father.

phoneThe next day 7 December, the grandparents called the new father with the news that the baby’s great grandfather had passed from this life. Some of the details of the funeral would come by letter. Meanwhile, the great grandfather was resting in the arms of his Father.

Footnote: My great grandfather, Lafayette Edward Boultinghouse, died the day after I was born. I have learned about him from family stories, pictures, and newspaper articles. Sadly, he never held me in his arms.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Work

Wonder if your dad could not tell you what his job was and where he worked? Wonder if you never discovered the truth until you yourself were 42 years old? Wonder if that job were connected to a secret underground city? Wonder…

Growing up in Virginia within an hour from the nation’s capital, the girl with the father with the secret job was I. My dad said that he could not tell me where he worked or what he did. He further stated that my mom did not know this information either. If anyone asked, I was just to tell that the job was termed classified. I did know that every few years he had to be fingerprinted by the FBI…so did he work for them? As time went by, I discovered that most of the fathers in our neighborhood had these same classified jobs and worked on the mountain. Which mountain…we lived in the Shenandoah Valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Mountains. After awhile, my pretty little head did not think a thing about it.

Growing up in the 1960s, screen hero James Bond was cutting quite the figure with his swagger and Agent 007 identity. As a teenager when people asked me what my dad did, I started to reply that he worked with Bond, James Bond. They gave me rolled eyeball looks as teenagers often will and walked on…no more questions.

About thirty years later, I was riding in the car with my parents to my uncle’s funeral that was four hours away. My dad handed me a copy of Time magazine. “Here read this, and find out what my job was,” he declared. As I looked through the copy, I saw black and white pictures of President Eisenhower standing in a room with many men. I swear one of the men was my dad. (It was not.) My dad was part of a secret/classified government agency that would scoop up the president in the case of a nuclear attack. The president and his men would be taken to a mountaintop called Mount Weather. This facility was a 600,000 square foot underground “city” that housed a hospital, communications center, and a war room along with other services. At planned intervals, there would be practice drills as if that red button had been pushed or we were being attacked. The reason all the dads lived in the same neighborhood was that they could all be rounded up and taken by bus to the secret site if an attack were real. During the Eastern Seaboard blackout in the fall of 1965, the government thought that we were under attack…the fathers were all gathered up. The code name for this plan was “Operation Doomsday”.

In the early 1990s, this information became de-classified. At last, all the dads could explain to their wives and children what their jobs were. No, my dad did not work with James Bond, but he did see Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Thank you to all those lived under the cloak of secrecy to protect us.

Xfiles-Weather copy_thumb[1]
Mount Weather Complex Entrance

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Back To School

September 1957…a new school year…a new school…a new group of friends…new books, pencils, and crayons. I loved school! I would be going to school for 60 years, and each school year planted a new seed of lifelong learning and reading.

That year, I was in second grade at a new parish school, Sacred Heart Academy, in Winchester, Virginia. The Sisters of the Holy Names would be my beloved teachers. Looking out the classroom windows, we could see the Blue Ridge Mountains in one view and the Appalachians in another. We were surrounded by apple orchards: Winchester is known as “The Apple Capital of Virginia”. Our school was out in the country, and we had an enormous playground with plenty of space for ball games and Red Rover.

There was much to learn in second grade: Baltimore Catechism questions and answers in Religion, carrying and borrowing in math, Think and Do workbooks in reading, animal studies in science, all enhanced with music and art. I prided myself on being a hard-working student who always had reading material close at hand. Why, even homework was a delight to me! I was totally, hopelessly in love with school.

Most of the kids in the class and school were new to me. They came from varying backgrounds; many of them had many siblings. It was an adventure to be invited to their homes on a Saturday to explore different neighborhoods in which to sidewalk roller skate and bike ride. I quickly connected with those who lived in my neighborhood of Forest Hills. We built forts, walked through orchards, and played in the park…kids having fun and enjoying the outside.

It is now more than 60 years since I entered that sacred classroom. Because of my Catholic education, I devoted 38 years of my life as an elementary teacher in another Catholic school as a type of pay back for all I enjoyed and learned.

Here is to another school year…bless our teachers and students…Lord, keep them safe and secure. Let our children learn love, kindness, generosity, and compassion from one another. Amen.

Footnote:  Of the 26 children in my class, I could remember the names of 22. I used Ancestry (Search/Births, Marriages & Deaths) to look for some of them. For many I found Virginia marriage certificates; information such as parents’ names, birth dates, levels of education was available. Many of my classmates have been married two-three times so there were also divorce decrees. The location of the marriages did suggest where people had relocated within the state. I did find the death certificate for one boy; in reading it, I discovered that his death was ruled a homicide in January, 1981. Then, I searched http://www.newspaperarchive.com to research the story. My heart goes out to his family. Sometimes, the ending of a story is just a keystroke away.