Author: Brian Zalewski

I started genealogy research about mid-1999. My grandfather had passed away in April of that year. Since then I’ve done a lot of research not only for myself, but for friends and other relatives. In 2006, I married the love of my life, Darcy, and welcomed the birth of our daughter, Aerissa Jean, in 2010 and our son, Xander Lee, in 2012. I can’t wait to tell them stories about all of their ancestors.

The second ancestor in my 52 Ancestors project this year is my maternal great-great-grandfather, Carl Friedrich Herman LAST, also known as Charles. I’m related to Charles via my mother → her father (LeRoy THIELKE) → his mother (Madora LAST) → her father (Carl LAST).

Germany

From the information we have, Charles was born in the small town of Döringshagen, Naugard, Pommern, Germany on 26 September 1851. This area is now known as Wołowiec, Zachodniopomorskie, Poland. He was the second child, and first son, of Johann & Charlotte (STRASSMAN) LAST. Even though I’ve found the baptism and marriage records for both of his parents, I have yet to find his baptismal record in the Germany/Prussia/Pomerania church records available online.

When Charles was 5 years old, his family left Germany and traveled to the United States from Hamburg to New York, arriving on 14 September 1857. From there they made there way to southeastern Wisconsin, settling in the town of Grafton in Ozaukee County.

Wisconsin

Plat Map of Grafton, Wisconsin, 1892 – Charles Last land is yellow box at right.

Charles and his family lived in the Grafton area from 1860 through the 1880 census records. On February 25, 1883, Charles marries another German girl, Augusta LUEDTKE in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I have yet to figure out why they were married 25 miles south in Milwaukee. It is possible that Charles was temporarily living there. I think Augusta lived there at the time, but I have no proof of that as she immigrated in 1881, just after the census record.

I think Charles and his family ended up taking over his parent’s farm as it seems they were in the same area in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census records.

On June 5, 1926, Charles passed away at the age of 74, of what they labeled as “Apoplexy.” Today, they would probably call that a stroke. It is said to have been caused partly by senile dementia. He is buried nearby at Union Cemetery in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

DNA

I do actually have some info on the DNA I possibly received from Carl and his wife. I have a DNA match that is related to me through Carl and his wife Augusta, through one of their daughters (my great-grandmother’s sister.) I actually received a few photos of Carl and his family from them.

  • Chromosome 15: 50 – 60
  • Chromosome 23: 118 – 134 & 146 – 155

There are a few other matches that overlap this area, but I have yet to confirm anything with them.

Firmenich Family 1895

I decided to start up the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project again. I last did it in 2014, even though I didn’t make it all the way through. Even if I don’t again this year, it still allows me to dig deeper into specific ancestors. As always, you can view all of the 52 ancestors here, updated as I post.

The first ancestor of 2017 is my paternal 3rd-great-grandmother, Pauline Henrietta (THOMPSON) FIRMENICH, also known as Polly. I’m related to her via my father → his mother (Mary Jane CORRIGAN) → her father (Maurice CORRIGAN) → his mother (Emma Jane FIRMENICH) → her mother (Polly THOMPSON).

Granville

Polly Thompson was born on 5 May 1849 in the town of Granville, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. She first shows up in the 1850 Census for Granville at one year old with her parents William and Frances THOMPSON and siblings. Granville is still mentioned today, though more of as an area of Milwaukee than an incorporated location. It is on the north side of Milwaukee County near today’s Brown Deer and Menomonee Falls.

By the time the 1860 Census rolls around, Polly and her family have moved north on to the town of Morrison, Brown County, Wisconsin presumably with the Firmenich family who also lived in Granville. On February 11th, 1867, Polly marries one of the Firmenich men by the name of Mathias FIRMENICH. According to the Wisconsin Marriage Certificate, the marriage took place in the nearby town of Holland and the witnesses were Chas F Cross and Polly’s sister, Emilia Thompson.

Their first child, Albert, is born in nearby Wrightstown in March 1868. Two more followed before the birth of my great-great-grandmother, Emma Jane, in June 1873. When all was said and done, they had a total of 13 children. According to the obituary of Emma Jane in 1941, the Firmenich family moved from Wrightstown in 1882, finally settling way in the north of Wisconsin into the forests of Ashland County.

Outbreak

Tragedy struck in early September 1885 when an outbreak of Diphtheria plagued the family. Within only a few days, the disease took the lives of at least three of their children, though probably four, including Hattie (6), Edmond (4), Sarah (2), and possibly Anna (8). Adding to the chaos was the fact that Polly was pregnant during this time as their daughter Rose was born there on September 20th, 1885.

Polly shows up again in the 1900 Census and 1905 Wisconsin State Census in Ashland. In 1910, Polly passes away. I have no exact date, just the date from her headstone at Saint Agnes Cemetery in Ashland where she is buried near the children she lost in 1885. She is not listed in the 1910 Census, Mathias being listed a “Widowed.” The Census for their home was taken on April 30th, 1910, so we can assume she passed away sometime before then.

I have only one photo of Polly, which is the from the family photo on this post. I estimate the photo was taken sometime around 1895 based on the ages of the children and (not joking) Mathias’ beard length.

Something new I’d like to add to these posts this year is determining if and how DNA may play a role in my relationship. I have yet to find any proven DNA that I share directly with Polly. I do have matches from that side of the tree that share Polly as an ancestor with me, but we don’t yet know where those chromosomes or positions may be.

I recently got back into doing some genealogical research on my family. For awhile I’ve felt stuck on most lines since I’ve gone as far as the most common records go. A lot of my research now requires even more research into finding the records themselves. I need to make a lot of Family History Center stops and browse through microfilm, or hopefully do it from my home when FamilySearch digitizes it.

Imagine my surprise when doing some basic record updating on some of my great-great-grandmother, Anna (Lindner) Zalewski’s siblings. I know her younger brother John was also found in Milwaukee and I had sources from the census records. I also found his naturalization record, which not only included his date of arrival and port (29 Mar 1908, New York), but also included the witnesses. They were my great-grandfather, Joseph Zalewski, and his brother-in-law, John Strelka (husband of Martha Zalewski.)  So, I knew I had the right John Lindner.

No one on Ancestry had a passenger list attached to their John Lindner entries. I mean, he came into New York in 1908, the record had to be there. That was when Ellis Island was being used. So, I plugged in different combinations of options into the search through the “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” database. I went through each one and almost gave up when I spotted the name “Yohann Lendner” at the bottom of the results. The arrival date was a month off from the naturalization record (29 Feb 1908), but the birth was very close. I clicked on it to confirm it was wrong when I spotted his immediate family that matched, two siblings that matched, and then the jackpot, his mother (my 3rd-great-grandmother) that matched.

lindner

I had no idea that my 3rd-great-grandmother, Eva (Sońefeld) Lindner, ever came to the United States. It seems her husband, Johann, had passed away as she was listed as “Widowed.” Fortunately for me, this passenger list also had more details like where they last resided and a relative of their’s in the “old world.” The weird thing is that for everyone in the Lindner family, including the relative, they listed Gelsenkirchen, Rheinland as their last residence. This place still exists, now located in the North Rhine-Westphalia area of western Germany. This is a pretty good distance from the place I found them last, which was then called Schwenten in today’s north-central Poland. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it adds so many more questions.

One other big question is where did Eva go? She’s not listed in the 1910 Census with any of the Lindner children or by herself (as far as I’ve found so far.) I also have yet to find any death record for her. All I know now is that she made it to New York in 1908, but I don’t know if she ever made it to Milwaukee. I mean, she was 68 years old and at that time that was pretty old. I also find it funny that I found her record of arrival in 1908 on that same day the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.

As always, more questions than answers, but that’s what we love, isn’t it?

MJSUnfortunately, due to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel removing their archives from Google News and “moving to a new vendor”, my Milwaukee Death Index will probably no longer be updated. Unless I can find another, preferably free, source of data, it will be difficult to do this in my spare time. The information that is already transcribed will always stay online and active.

Full disclosure, I currently work for the company that owns the MJS, which is why I’m a bit torn on how I feel, though I have no control over this aspect. A bit of a back story, which follows the story of many old newspapers, may help. When I started working for this company, it was called Journal Communications and the only daily newspaper it owned, basically from the beginning, was the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, along with a few dozen radio and TV stations. In 2015, the company shed it’s broadcast properties and picked up 13 more newspapers during a split/merge with another large media company. After that, it became Journal Media Group. At the end of 2015, Gannett Co., Inc purchased JMG. MJS is now under Gannett, which owns a lot of other newspapers. It seems they use another contractor for their newspaper archives, so they removed them from Google News. I know nothing more about that process and I found out like everyone else, when I tried to access it. Let’s hope it comes back, it was an immense collection of historical data for this whole area going back to about 1889.

RedditThere is a site out there that a lot of you may not be using for genealogy and/or history, reddit.com. Reddit usually does lean a bit toward the younger audience and I think it may sometimes get a bad rap in the mainstream media due to some of it’s more shady users, but it has a lot of helpful potential if you know what to look for.

This post isn’t for explaining the basics of Reddit or as a beginner’s guide, other people do a better job of that. Reddit is sometimes described as the “front page of the Internet.” Down to its core, Reddit is “a message board wherein users submit links. What differentiates it from a real-time information network like Twitter is that the stream of content is curated by the community” according to the article I linked previously.

Reddit itself is nothing without what they call subreddits. These are basically forums split up by category, but they are much more than that. More than likely, if you’re looking mostly for genealogy and history, the “main” subreddits you see by default won’t interest you as much. The power of Reddit comes in when you find that one subreddit for that one specific topic that you’re passionate about. Here you will find many other passionate users who you can interact with and share knowledge. And believe me, they probably have a subreddit for every niche you can think of.

Here are some of the most interesting subreddits (in no particular order) that I subscribe to for genealogy and/or history.
FYI: You do not need an account on Reddit to view content (in most cases) but you need one to subscribe to subreddits, comment, upvote, or save things.

  • /r/genealogy – this one is self-explanatory. A lot of helpful people here sometimes doing lookups, doing transcriptions, asking interesting questions, sharing brick wall stories, etc. A good place to start.
  • /r/100yearsago – a subreddit for interesting things that happened 100 years ago to the day, every day.
  • /r/VictorianEra – Images, video, and articles from the Victorian Era.
  • /r/earlyphotography – A place to post images from the early days of photography.
  • /r/1920s – Images, video, and articles from and about the 1920s.
  • /r/1950s – Images, video, and articles from and about the 1950s.
  • /r/CemeteryPorn – I know that it has that word in the title, but don’t worry. They use it to mean exciting images from that specific topic. In this case, cemeteries. I’ve always loved photos from old, beautiful cemeteries.
  • /r/ColorizedHistory – Old, historic photos that have been manually colorized by very talented people. Changes the way you see certain historical events and people.
  • /r/23andme – Posts about testing at 23andme.com. Questions, comments, finding matches, etc.
  • /r/AncientMigrations – If you’re interested in your deep, deep ancestry, this subreddit involves ancient human migration, genetic genealogy and DNA ancestry.
  • /r/history – Everything and anything about historical events or people. It has some really interesting posts and conversation.
  • /r/AskHistorians – A place where users ask questions about history and historical events and get answers from experts in that area. Sometimes fascinating.
  • /r/historynetwork – This subreddit is sort of a aggregation of many different history related subreddits.
  • /r/TheWayWeWere – Described as “What was normal everyday life like for people living 50, 100, or more years ago?” Neat pictures of normal things in the past.
  • /r/TheWayWeWereOnVideo – A sister subreddit to the one above, but specializing in videos rather than photos.

I hope you find something interesting and amazing in those subreddits. Be aware, you may get lost in one and never return due to all of the neat things in it.

This little pedigree looks like it has been sweeping Facebook recently, so I thought I’d put one together on my family. I first saw it on my feed from Miriam at AnceStories.

Click for larger
Click for larger

If it’s hard for you to view that whole image, you can also view it via Google Sheets here.

It was neat to see all of the birth locations of my ancestors back to my 3rd great-grandparents all in once place. Only 2 “Unknown” entries, which is pretty good (on my surname line, of all places.) I also always assumed my maternal line has been in Wisconsin the longest since they arrived in the early 1850s. It actually looks like one of my paternal ancestors, Pauline (THOMPSON) Firmenich was born in Wisconsin in 1849, only one year after it became an official state.

Back to my great-grandparents, all of my ancestors were born in Wisconsin, with the exception of my grandfather. He was born in Chicago when my great-grandparents lived there for a few years in the 1920s. My earliest US ancestor is my 3rd great-grandfather, William CORRIGAN, who was born somewhere in the US in 1823. It is assumed probably New York, but we’re not sure. They stopped in that area before continuing on to Canada.

One of the things I received from my grandparent’s house within the last few years is an album full of very old, but unlabeled photos. While on one hand, it’s awesome. The photos are in great condition and there are dozens of them. On the other hand, I have no idea who these people are. Most people I could talk to about it are no longer with us. Fortunately, my grandfather’s older sister, my great aunt Eleanore, is still alive at 94. UPDATE (10/26/16): I did get to visit with my great aunt, though she has no idea who is in any of the photos. So, no luck there.

old-photo-album
Front cover of the album

The album is in pretty good shape overall for being very old. Most of the photos are of the Cabinet Card variety, but there are a few Tintypes included. The Cabinet Cards are from photography studios mainly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but also from Connecticut and Port Washington in Wisconsin and as far away as Chemnitz and Rostock in Germany.

I’ve been able to scan all of the photos, back and front, so I shouldn’t need to keep moving them around. A lot of the pages are pretty fragile and some of the photo holders are ripping and breaking. There are both large and small photos.

An example of one of the pages.
An example of one of the pages.

I”m going to try my best to determine what I can about the photos. I hope to take you on the journey with me as I post my findings here. It may be as simple as visiting my great aunt and her telling me who everyone is (wouldn’t that be nice?) At the very least, I will get each of the photos posted online with as much info as I can. Maybe someone, somewhere will know more about it.

AJ Jacobs made some headlines inside and outside of the genealogy community back in 2014-15 by setting out to have a Global Family Reunion. His mission is to connect everyone in the world to each other in one human family tree. He wrote a bit about it in a NY Times article.

On WikiTree, you can see how you connect to AJ (and many others) using their site since they built it to be one large tree. I recently finally connected my tree to his and no surprise that it was via my French-Canadian line. Once I connected my CLOUTIER ancestors to their father, my connection was complete. Now, this is not a direct “cousin” as we genealogists know it, but just a “degree of relationship” connection. It’s more like six-degrees of Kevin Bacon (whom you can also see if you connect to, I do, too.)

I am 29 degrees from AJ Jacobs, so “I am a cousin!” and I am unfortunately more than six-degrees from Kevin Bacon (27). If you want to know how you connect to them, or even me, start filling in your WikiTree lines. The site is very easy to use.

I haven’t spend a lot of time on my personal family tree in awhile. I always seem to work on the same people over and over, which is fine, but if you keep hitting that same brick wall sometimes you get discouraged and take a break.

Instead, I have decided to do more work on my French-Canadian line. When I originally entered a lot of this information many years ago, I didn’t exactly source everything like I do now. This line connects me to some big French-Canadian family lines including CLOUTIER, ST LOUIS, and MANSEAU. This is a line that I know I have a lot of cousins on, and I know a lot of them show up consistently in my DNA matches lists. I’d like to confirm a lot of this information before using it elsewhere.

The gateway ancestors I always start with are my maternal 4th-great-grandparents, Ephraim ST LOUIS and his wife Marie DesAnges MANSEAU. So far, I’ve confirmed a bunch of births and deaths using FamilySearch’s family tree and I am finding a lot more solid sources (thanks to the old Quebec parishes for keeping records.)

Hopefully, this turns out to bring in more information I never had.

I’ve begun to start transcribing a lot of the documents that I have collected over the years. I’m starting on the letters that my grandfather, LeRoy Thielke, wrote home during World War II. The first letter I grabbed was the one he wrote to his mother when he was being shipped off to Europe. It’s heartbreaking and courageous to see him write that. I can’t imagine what he was feeling at the time.

24 April 1944 – Monday – 9:00 A.M.

Dearest Mom,

Well I arrived here last night about 2:15 A.M. I slept almost all the way home. I had a seat all the way home or should I say back to camp. There were only a few fellows that had to stand and they usually sat on the arms of the seats. The train was a military special (G.S.)

It was a lot better that way because we didn’t have to transfer at North Chicago Junction. We had a mixed crew aboard. Waves, Wacs, Sailors, Marines, and of course Soldiers.

Well Mom, I got my wish. I’m pulling out in a few hours, 11:45 A.M. to be exact. According to the things we have to carry in our personal duffle bags, I think we’re going for a long ride.

We’re going on a troop train so I don’t suppose I’ll be able to write again until I arrive at the place we get off. There’s only one other kid leaving with me from our barracks, that is we’re leaving on the same car together, so we should end up at the same place. I’ve been talking to him and he’s a high school graduate too, so we both think we will get into something better than the infantry, we hope. I’d like to get into something that I can make a profession or career out of.

Mom, I’ll write as soon as I can and let you know where I am and also if I want my car jack up. Don would probably do it for me. Well Mom, Good Bye Now. You can write to me at the address on the envelope. I’ll get it.

Loving Son, LeRoy

On a side note. I updated, what I’m going to call, my Notes site. This is basically a wiki where I will post a lot of transcribed stuff since it’s a better spot to hold that kind of information. There are a few interesting things already on there.

With the death of my maternal grandfather this week, I hit one of those sad life milestones. I now have no more living grandparents, and it’s an odd feeling. I was fortunate to have all four of my grandparents throughout most of my life. I got to spend time with all of them. My children also got to meet most of their great-grandparents on my side, which can be a rare thing.

Richard
Richard Zalewski (1921-1999)

I lost my first grandparent in April 1999 at 19 with the death of my paternal grandfather. That death did actually have a lot to do with my journey into genealogy. After that there was a long gap until August 2011 when I was 31 when my paternal grandmother passed away. This year has been particularly rough, especially for my mom, who lost her mom in February 2015 and now her father in November 2015. I am in awe of her perseverance and strength these last 12 months.

For some reason, I was hit hardest by the deaths of my grandfathers. If you would have asked me, I honestly would’ve thought it would have been the other way around. I think it was mainly due to timing. My first grandfather’s death wasn’t completely sudden, but it was quick (pancreatic cancer), so that fact along with it being the loss of my first grandparent hit me hard. I’ve wrote a few times about his funeral and when I broke down while waiting in the car after hearing a favorite song of mine come on the radio.

News of my maternal grandfather’s passing came to me during my morning drive to work while I was in traffic. It wasn’t completely unexpected as he was not doing so well for the last few months. At first, I had a feeling I knew what the call was about so I handled it well, but after I hung up and, specifically, when I thought about how my mom was feeling, I teared up a bit (thanks, empathy.) Let me tell you that driving in morning rush hour traffic with teary eyes is no fun. Coincidentally, the same song that set me off when my paternal grandfather died 16 years ago was on my car radio this morning. Eerie. After I parked, it took me a few minutes to text my wife the news, since after every other word I would get choked up and have to pause.

19820000-Grandpa-GrandmaThielke-Eric-Brian
LeRoy & Marge Thielke

Comparatively, the deaths of my grandmothers didn’t feel as sad. They both had issues prior, so I wasn’t caught off-guard. I got to say goodbye to both (actually all four) of them on my own terms that helped me better accept their deaths. Though, I do regret, with all of them, not talking to them more about their lives and their ancestors. I kept putting off taking some time with my grandfather and having him look at some old photos and asking him questions. To anyone else, do it now, don’t put it off.

So, now everything just feels a bit different. That phase of my life is over. What I can do now is to teach my children about how amazing they were and keep the legacy going. I love you, Grandpa Z, Grandma Z, Grandma T, and Grandpa T. I’ll see you when I get there.