Month: March 2012


I recently finished reading the wonderful book by Megan Smolenyak called Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing. I read another book she wrote a few years back, when DNA testing was still pretty new, called Trace Your Roots With DNA which was also very interesting.

In the book, Megan goes over cases she has worked on throughout her life that involve genealogy or searching for people that need finding. From tracing Obama’s roots to Ireland to finding the next of kin of “unclaimed person” to finding the real Annie Moore, she covers a lot of interesting paths. You definitely don’t need to be a genealogist, or even do any family research for that matter, to enjoy this book. Her writing style makes it easy to follow along and  learn about the detective work that went into everything she does.

I found the chapter named “A House Divided, A Bible Shared” that talked about a family bible that started with a soldier in the Confederate Army and ended up with a Union Soldier from Wisconsin. While the chapter itself was interesting, I perked up when I read the Union soldier was from Company K, Wisconsin 18th Infantry. My 3rd-great-grandfather, Johann LAST, was in Company K, though he was with the 50th Infantry. It seems the 18th Infantry went down to Louisiana and the 50th (from what I can tell) traveled up to the Dakota Territory. Who knows, maybe they crossed paths?

I also enjoyed the chapter, “King of America,” where Megan worked to figure out who would be the King of America today if George Washington would’ve been King instead of President. There is much more to learn about the monarchy than I had originally thought. She explains the differences very well and it’s an interesting read. Obviously, if Washington had been King, the descendants would’ve chosen their spouses differently, etc, but it’s a cool theoretical project to take on.

I recommend this book to anyone, especially genealogists, but any person interested in history or detective work would definitely enjoy it. I read the Kindle version, but the physical version is also available on Amazon.

That seems to be how it always works, doesn’t it? You finally solve a family research mystery and it just creates more mysteries. But, what fun would it be if we ran out of mysteries to solve?

The story of how I solved one mystery late last night is somewhat interesting. I spent a few hours over the last month trying to track down the birth record of my 3rd-great-grandfather, Johann LAST. I happened to run across his marriage record in 1849 in, what was then called, Plathe in Pommern, Germany (today it’s Płoty in western Poland.) The record indicated that he was from Minten, which was near Naugard (now Nowogard) which is a bit south of the area. I spent hours looking through the available church records on FamilySearch’s website in the Naugard area for any trace. I did find a few LAST entries, but nothing for my family.

Last night, on a whim, I just decided to start looking through records just to the north of the Plathe area, since I didn’t get to those on my last search. I wasn’t expecting much since it’s not that close to Naugard or Minten. I started with the parish of Batzwitz (now called Baszewice) which also included a few other smaller parishes in the area. I jumped in a few pages to skip over the cover page, etc, and the first page I came to had a baptism entry for LAST. Though it wasn’t anything familiar, I did take it as a good sign. In all of my searching, I found that the surname isn’t very common. I was only in 1823 and Johann was listed to be born in 1825. I kept working through the pages, seeing more LAST entries. Then, on the first page of the 1825 baptism records for the parish of Barkow, I spotted what looked like “Johann Wilhelm Gottlieb,” his full name from his marriage record.

This is where one mystery was (more than likely) solved and another one (or more) created. It seems that Johann is listed as uneheliche sohn which basically translates to “illegitimate son.” It does list his mother as Dorothea Sophia LAST, but no father. I know that some church records sometimes have a “legitimacy” section that has listings for when they legitimize the children, so I’m hoping it’s there.

Now, that’s not the only mystery. I spent some time looking through more pages to see if I could see Dorothea in more places and possibly connect her to parents or even a husband at some point. I read one LAST entry that listed the father as Justmann Wilhelm Last and then a sponsor listed as Karl Gottlieb Last Justmann. After some basic searching, I can only figure that Justmann means a “well-to-do man.” Adding even more intrigue, Dorothea is listed as a sponsor in another baptism as schulzen tochter which translates to “mayor’s daughter.” In the next entry is a father listed as schulzen sohn Gottlieb Last which means “mayor’s son, Gottlieb Last.” My guess is Dorothea and Gottlieb are siblings, but I want to dig deeper to find out more since it was late last night when I found this.

History and documentation has always hinted that my great-granduncle, Frank Zalewski, Jr, the brother of my great-grandfather, Joseph, never married, never had children. There was never any mention of a wife, anywhere, and he was buried with his parents, Frank & Anna, when he died in 1976.  I, surprisingly, can’t find his obituary in the Milwaukee Sentinel archives from November 1976. The Milwaukee Journal does not have any editions during that time available online.

One day, while browsing through the Milwaukee Journal archives at Google News, I ran across an interesting news story.

The title of the article didn’t surprise me much. I picked up, through the years of research, that Frank, Jr seemed to never really “amount to much” in his life. There seemed to never be a lot of mention of him or photos of him. He seemed to be the black sheep of this Zalewski family. A far cry from his older brother, Joseph, who was a WWI veteran and a 33-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department. Though, according to the article, it seemed his wife wasn’t much better. That was the key to all of this. It says, “his wife Louise.” I’m almost certain this is Frank, Jr since his age matches up exactly, and this is the same address he lived at when his father died in 1941. I also found him in the 1940 Milwaukee City Directory at the same address, listed as “Frank E jr (Louise K).”

The funny thing is, I can’t find any mention of this marriage (though, by the looks of it, it probably didn’t last much longer) in any records. I’m pretty sure Frank, Jr is always listed as “Single.” Though, come April 2nd, when the 1940 Census comes out, it looks like he was married according to the City Directory. Maybe that will shed some light on the subject.

The Zalewski Project is officially under way. During the last week, I started collecting data. I plan on collecting data from families with the ZALEWSKI surname, or something very similar. I decided against ZALESKI or variations during this first collection since that multiplies the amount of data by a lot. If it’s pronounced like ZALEWSKI, than I probably added it this time. During this collection, I’ve grabbed names like ZELEWSKI, ZALUSKY, and even some like ZIELEWSKI. I also plan on adding SALEWSKI and variations since I’ve seen my ancestors name spelled that way in church records, but I’m going to start small first instead of trying to do too much at once.

I used Ancestry.com’s search to go through the census records. I didn’t find any ZALEWSKI families of note in the 1860 US Census or earlier and only one family in the 1870 US Census. I collected a few families from the 1880 US Census and a whole bunch from the 1900 US Census. I can only imagine it will grow with every new census.

After collecting and sorting the 1900 US Census data, it seems there are three big locations for ZALEWSKI families in 1900. They are, in order: Chicago, Milwaukee, and then Detroit with a few other areas thrown in. They don’t surprise me as those three cities are known for their large Polish populations.

I put the 1900 US Census data online, though only in a quick and dirty HTML table. The next step is to get this info into a database so you can sort and export and view the data in other cool ways. Next on my list, the 1910 US Census. I imagine this one will be much larger. Those ZALEWSKI’s seemed to like to have big families.

In 27 days, on April 2nd, the sixteenth census of the United States, the 1940 US Census, will be released to the public. Due to privacy laws, the census reports are released to the public 72 years after they’ve been taken. The last one, the 1930 US Census, was released back in 2002. 1940 is not that long ago in terms of generations. Do you know anyone who is in it?

Unlike previous census years, images of the the 1940 US Census will be made available as free digital images on Day 1. While this is awesome, only the images are being released. The job of indexing these census records so they can be easily searched relies on us. Wonder how you can help or have more questions about the census? Visit the 1940 US Census Community Project website.

I’m not expecting to find any amazing, new information in this census since all 4 of my grandparents were in the 1930 Census. Though, there will be a few things that may be interesting. It’s the first census after my great-great grandmother passed away in 1939. There is also supposed to be some new questions for random individuals that may give us more info than normal. Hopefully, I have a few family members that answered those.