Month: July 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.