Year: 2008


I am hoping to spend some time interviewing my living grandparents. Obviously, I guess, though I would love to be able to talk to my late Grandpa Zalewski again. I have tons and tons of factual data; dates, times, places, etc. What I don’t have a lot of are stories and first-hand accounts.

My grandparents are getting old. They are all in their 80s now and you can tell that they have some issues getting around. I know my Grandma (Corrigan) Zalewski asks me the same questions about my house everytime I see her (I bought her house when she moved to assisted living) but she can rattle off stories and names like there is no tomorrow and she loves to do that. I can only assume it’s the same way with my maternal grandparents.

I picked myself up an Olympus audio recorder just for this purpose. It seems to do exactly what I need and nothing more. In my tests, it recorded great audio. I’d like to sit down with them and just start asking small questions and maybe bring up some names just to spark their memory. I picture talking to my Grandma about this like chipping the glass on a large aquarium and just seeing it crack open further before you’re hit with a deluge of water. This is why I want the recorder. I won’t be able to write, or even type for that matter, as fast as she can tell stories.

I know people have done this type of thing before. Does anyone have any tips or good interview questions to ask? Obviously, I know her, so I don’t need any sort of introductory-type questions.

Emily Troka (Middle)

The only woman I know in this photo (as was noted on it) is my great-grandmother, Emily (Troka) Zalewski, in the middle. I’m not sure who the other two women are since it’s not noted on the photo. This photo, again, is in my grandmother’s collection.

I never got to meet Emily, though neither did my dad. Emily passed away in 1941. My grandfather was only 20 at the time, so I know it must’ve been really hard on him. Not only did he lose his mother, he lost his grandfather (Frank Zalewski) later in 1941 and his grandmother (Anna Lindner) in 1939. I imagine it was also very tough on my great-grandfather, Joseph. I’m not sure what the cause of death was, but it must have been unexpected since she died at only 45 years of age.

At least in the photo she looks to be ready to go out on the town (or to church, I guess.) I can only assume that this was taken in Milwaukee, Wisconsin somewhere since Emily was born there and lived there her whole life.

I have this fascination with cemeteries. It’s nothing creepy or evil. Ever since I was young, I’ve always found them as mysterious and interesting, almost like looking directly into the local history. When I was younger, we used to sled down a large hill at our local cemetery in the winter (don’t worry, we weren’t near any headstones.)

Once I started to get into genealogy, my research has taken me to many cemeteries in search of the final resting places of my ancestors. They’re all interesting in their own ways, some more than others. You get a feel of the history of the area by just looking at the surnames and types of headstones. Large headstones may mean that it was someone of importance or wealth. A group of small headstones with children’s names on them may indicate a rash of disease.

The cemeteries that I enjoy the most are the older ones, which are usually nestled within old, towering trees. For some reason, it gives it a almost quiet, spooky feel to it. It’s usually very peaceful. I enjoy the cemeteries with a little character instead of the newer, cookie-cutter types. I’m not a huge fan of the wide-open cemeteries that are next to a busy road. It always feels like people are watching me, the weird guy in the cemetery taking photos. Fortunately, there are many of these older cemeteries in the area I live in. I sometimes just visited them to capture their “beauty” with my camera and to pay a visit to those that are no longer around.

My all-time favorite cemetery, as of now, is Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee. It’s so massive and it sits within the trees that it feels peaceful even though you’re inside of the city. It’s also home to many of the area’s most-famous citizens. Other cool cemeteries in the area of St. Mary’s Cemetery in Port Washington and St. Francis-Borgia Cemetery in Cedarburg.

I put a few of my images up on Flickr (feel free to comment on them), but I do have many more. I used to have a website up called “Southeastern Wisconsin Cemeteries,” but I haven’t had time to put it back up. It listed descriptions, info, photos and links to transcriptions for the local cemeteries.

Do you enjoy visiting cemeteries for your research and are there any cemeteries you enjoy?

I assume my great-great grandmother (whom also wins the award for the longest name in my family tree) Augusta Johanna Wilhelmina LUEDTKE has seen many things in her life. She was born in Prussia in July 1863, right smack in the middle of the American Civil War. A war which would shape the country she would someday grow old in. She was also born just weeks before automobile maker Henry Ford.

She married my great-great grandfather Charles Carl LAST in 1883 in Wisconsin and had a total of 16 children. Sixteen! (as far as I know) I know it gets cold here in the winter, but they must’ve had some really cold ones in the late 1800s.

She lost her husband in 1926, yet she lived on for another 40 years and sadly passed away just shy of two weeks after her 100th birthday on July 14th.

Cedarburg (Wisconsin) News — Wed 26 June 1963

Mrs. LAST, 100 Years Young

There will be an “open house” for immediate friends and relatives of the family at Columbia Hall, on Thursday afternoon, July 4 from 2 to 5 for Mrs. Augusta LAST who will 100 years young on the 3rd of July. Given by her children, they will later meet from 7 to 9 in the evening at the home of Mr & Mrs Arthur THIELKE, 1320 – 13th ave., Grafton, where she is now making her home.

So far, she is the only centenarian in my family tree. I have yet to interview my grandmother and even my mother about her. I imagine, due to everything that she lived through, that she was probably a tough, old woman. I can respect that. One-hundred years is a very long time. Rest in Peace, Augusta.


This has always been one of my favorite photos that I scanned from my grandmother’s collection. This is Mathias Firmenich, my great-great-great grandfather on my father’s side. From what I gathered from research and from obituaries, Mathias was born in Cologne, Germany, February 11, 1840. He came to Milwaukee in May 1847 and settled with his parents on a farm located in the wilderness 25 miles from that city. (I have yet to find this information even though I’m still in this area.) He later moved north and married his wife, Pauline, in the Green Bay area. They then moved on to the Ashland, Wisconsin area where he lived the rest of his days, which was a long time since he died at 91.

I like the photo since it’s such a great head shot and I love his big beard. He just looks like he spent a lot of time working outside in the wilderness, which Ashland was and still is in a way. I wish I could have met him, though my grandma may have some small memories since she was 5 or 6 when he passed away.

See: Wisconsin Pioneer posting

Well, I was going to write an article asking for some help, but I think I found my answer. When I was a kid, we used to visit my great grandmother (or who I thought was my great grandmother at the time.) As far as I can remember, we always called her “Tanta.” I always thought this was her name, but was told later on that this meant “Grandma” in German. My dad also used to call her this.

It turns out that Tanta was not my actual great grandmother, but my step-great grandmother. My real great grandmother had passed away in the early 1940s and my great grandfather remarried later on. Tanta was Agnes (Pulchinski) Zalewski.I was going to ask if anyone could verify that Tanta meant “Grandma.” I did a Google search a bit ago and found nothing of interest, but right before writing this post I had an idea. I did a search for “Tanta” on the German Google, The first few entries were for a city called “Tanta,” but then I found a few entries using Tanta to describe a family member. It looks like Tanta is also used for Aunt along with Grandma. I also found entries for the male version, Tante.

Now, is there anyone out there that has better verification than a few people using it on their websites? I’d like to know, since I was using it for most of my childhood. Thanks.

Tom Corrigan Family

Today’s photo comes from my Irish roots, just in time for St. Patrick’s day. The original photo is my grandmother’s collection.

This photo was taken in Ashland, Wisconsin, year unknown, but I’d guess around 1892 or so looking at the ages of the children. Based of the number of children in this photo, I assume that this is Thomas Corrigan with the children from his first marriage along with his new wife, my great-great-grandmother. Thomas J. Corrigan was my great-great-grandfather and is pictured with his wife, Emma Jane (Firmenich.)

If that is true, than the children’s names are Joseph, William, Mary Ellen, Agnes and Thomas. At first, I had thought that this was photo of my great grandfather, Maurice Corrigan, but looking at all the details, I think these are his half-siblings.

I’ve been doing a little research on my wife’s family tree. Back into her paternal line, she is connected to the Toney family through her great-great grandmother, Idona Toney. This line is traced back a few generations through Wisconsin, Ohio, and finally Virginia. Fortunately, this family seems pretty popular in the genealogy circle. It looks like the Toney family spread pretty far from this area.

While searching for some type of link from Virginia back to Europe, I found some interesting information via Google. It looks like the Toney family in America can be traced back to a Toney family in England and then back much further to the “first” Toney (at least the first one to use the surname.)

Now, obviously, there are some missing connections from my wife back to the first Toney, but it’s interesting to look over. The connection from her back to the Virginia Toney’s is pretty solid based on Census and other records, but from there it’s a bit fuzzy.

Here is some of the information I found:

The first known Toney ancestor ever was Ralph the son of Hugh De Calvacamp. Hugh’s father was Malahulic/(Malahule)who came to the Normandy area of France from Norway on a Viking ship. He came with Rollo, or Rolph the Ganger. Hugh De Calvacamp’s father Malahulic was uncle to Rollo. Rollo was the leader of the group that our ancestors came with. He and his followers( taunted/annoyed/stalked or worse) the coastlines of France until the King gave him the area that is now Normandy.

Hugh De Calvacamp also had a son Hugh De Calvacamp Jr. He was given the Archbishopship of Rouen by the Duke of Normandy, he being cousin to the Duke. There were certain lands that came with this title. Hugh gave his brother Ralph a piece of land called Tosni/Toeni, it was situated just across the River Seine from Les Andelys. The “s” in Tosni is silent therefore sounding like Toney. Ralph then became known as Raph de Toney. Our first ancestor was Standard Bearer to the Duke of Normandy, and became a hereditary position to Ralph’s descendants.

From The Toney Family (be warned there is music…for some reason. Ugh.) 

I looked through my Family Forest CD (an older one) and even found Ralph de Tonei and also Rolph the Ganger. One of the Ralphs even has a Wikipedia page. Even though this line isn’t officially connected, it still brings a little excitement to the research. Any type of excitement only helps to do more research.

Has there been a find that has brought much needed excitement to your research?

I’d thought I would try a weekly photo post since I have a good collection of photos and it may help spur a research idea. I got the idea from Miriam over at AnceStories.


Zalewski and Others


This week’s photo is from my Zalewski collection. The original photo is my grandmother’s collection. I’m not 100% sure who everyone in the photo is exactly, though I do know a few. The tall man on the right side is my great-grandfather, Joseph Zalewski and  I think that is his wife Emelia (Troka) Zalewski next to him. The man on the left with the cigar is my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Troka and his wife Clara (Szulta) behind him. I don’t know the others, but some of them look familiar. I assume this photo was taken before of after church, which means it was probably at St. Casimir’s church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


I saw a post over at The Genetic Genealogist about this and I thought it’d be interesting to check my information.Though, it’s kind of a downer since I don’t really know exactly where my Y-DNA or my mtDNA was in 1808. I can only trace my Zalewski line back to about 1858 with Frank J. Zalewski, in what I think is Prussia (which could be many things.) I’d guess it was in the same general area, so it turns out to be about 4487 miles away traveling at about 22.5 miles per year.

My mtDNA line only goes back to about 1852 with the birth of Ida Schwinte, also in Prussia. I’m guessing the German part of Prussia on this one compared to the Russian/Polish part for my Y-DNA. I can really only assume it’s about the same distance, give or take a few hundred miles.

Well, this didn’t turn out to be as exciting as I though, but it’s still interesting to think about. I have many other lines traced back much further, but just not these two. Maybe it will help spark me to work more on these lines (though I’ve always had an urge to research my Zalewski line more.)

So, how about you? Where was your Y-DNA and mtDNA in 1808?

Technology is important to me. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved technology. When I got into the genealogy game, computers and the Internet were already cemented in our lives, but genealogy was just starting to use it. I was lucky to start my genealogy research when the Internet was around. I am in awe of all of you who needed to do most of your research using things such as the Family History Libraries and postal mail. Like most things on the Internet, people sometimes jump to conclusions and believe everything they read, which can cause some research to be done incorrectly. I’ve always had technology in my research, and in my life, so this Carnival of Genealogy post was right up my alley. We were told to just pick one of each of the items below and to try not to talk about other things. So here mine goes.

The piece of hardware I rely on the most, besides my computer, is my digital camera. I use it mainly to take photos of headstones and other cemetery-related items. Sometimes I will also take photos of historic locations related to my research. Since it’s a digital camera, I don’t need to worry about how many photos I take (except I need to make sure not to fill my memory card.) Currently, I have a Sony and it’s all I really need for what I use it for. Seven megapixels is way more quality than I need. Though, I gotta say it’s nice for when you need to have a lot more detail, which works especially well on those hard-to-read, old headstones.

The software that I rely on most now is RootsMagic. I began using it about a year ago when I read some reviews and it looked worthwhile to try. I was previously using Family Tree Maker, but it seemed like it was getting bloated and more expensive. I don’t need a lot of fluff, just the basics done well. FTM had a lot of online add-ons and other things that usually just got in my way. RootsMagic, while different at first, became easier for me to use due to its basic design and functionality.

The website I rely on the most, in genealogy and everything else, is Google. From Google Search to Google Maps to Google Docs, it’s all extremely helpful. And now with Google’s Street View on their maps, I can even see the house that my ancestors possibly lived in. Milwaukee was recently completed and today sometimes checking out this houses in person in some of these neighborhoods isn’t the smartest idea. While the results aren’t all genealogy-related, sometimes I run across something I wasn’t expecting. This happened to me while searching for my Muhm ancestors a few months ago. I’m not sure what I’d do without it sometimes.