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.

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.

 

LeRoy Arthur Thielke

16 November 1925 – 1 November 2015

Today we lost a wonderful, hard-working, funny man, my grandfather, LeRoy Thielke. Growing up, he was one of the funniest people I knew, and his wit and sense of humor was still sharp until the end. The bright side is that he wasn’t without the love of his life for very long before being reunited with her. My son is indirectly named after my grandpa, who was usually called Lee, which is my son’s middle name.

LeRoy Arthur Thielke was born on 16 November 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. His parents, Arthur & Madora (Last) Thielke, had moved to the area from Wisconsin a few years prior. They probably moved to the area to follow a job of some sort. The family including his older sister, Eleanor (who is still alive) and his two younger brothers, moved back to the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin area by 1930. Sadly, he was only 2 weeks shy of his 90th birthday. He married my grandmother on 28 August 1948 and they were married for 67 years before she passed away in February 2015.

What I remember about Grandpa from when I was younger is that he always seemed to smell like motor oil. He was constantly working on something around the house or at the cottage on Pike Lake. To this day, the smell of motor oil reminds me of him. I like to think that my quick wit and sense of humor partially came from him as he was always fast with a quip or a joke. I always liked when he said “Hi, Grandpa” on the annual Christmas home video in response to “Say ‘Hi’, Grandpa!”

Within the last few years, I learned a little bit about his time during World War II in the European Theater traveling through England, France, Belgium, and Germany. A few years ago, I did a large post about his service that I am extremely proud of. I do regret not asking him more about his service before he died, which is a lesson to everyone else out there. Ask early and ask often.

His passing is also a sad milestone in my life as I have now lost all four of my grandparents. It’s an odd, empty feeling, I guess. I do plan to post more about that aspect in a day or so.

Grandpa, thanks for making me laugh, teaching me to fish (even though it didn’t really stick), showing me all of your machines, pointing me down the right path, and just being an all-around awesome grandpa. We’ll miss you everyday, but we’re glad that you’re now taking care of Grandma and, honestly, probably giving her a hard time.

Here is the video I created for his memorial. (Video will pop-up on site.)

And as I float along this ocean
I can feel you like a notion
That won’t seem to let me go
‘Cause when I look to the sky
Something tells me you’re here with me
And you make everything alright
Train – “When I Look to the Sky”

The other day I happened to run across the Digital Collections of the Milwaukee Public Library. As any genealogist does, I got lost in it for an hour or so. I then found their WWI Military Portrait collection and searched for “Zalewski.”

I found entries for my great-grandfather, Joseph Frank Zalewski. While it did not have an actual portrait for him, it did have a war service document from the “War Mothers of America.” Most of the information on his document wasn’t new, though it did mention that he participated in no major battles during the war.

There was another Joseph Zalewski listed, which I correctly assumed was my great-grandfather’s cousin, son of Jacob Zalewski. His information was also pretty familiar. He did participate in a battle, the Château-Thierry Vesle Offensive. The part of his document that caught my eye was under the field titled Next of kin. He listed Joseph Goralski. I have been trying to figure out the connection between the Zalewski, Goralski, and Gwiazdowski families for years now.

Joseph Zalewski, Next of Kin

There are many instances of these families crossing into each other, but I just can’t confirm anything. My hope is that connecting them may finally allow me to break down this old Zalewski brick wall. Though, this is the first time that Joseph Goralski is specifically mentioned as “kin” even though that may not really mean blood relation. More mysteries, indeed.

ancestrydna-zalewskiOne of those days I was waiting for finally happened. A DNA match contacted me that is from the Jacob Zalewski line that I had always assumed was the brother of my great-great grandfather, Frank Zalewski. This proves that Jacob and Frank are definitely related. They are probably brothers (as all other evidence points to) but not proven 100%.

Unfortunately, the match comes to me from AncestryDNA. While AncestryDNA is one of the most popular, it also gives the least amount of advanced tools. I cannot see where we match on our DNA as there is no Chromosome Browser like every other site has. I have contacted my match and asked if they would upload their data to GEDMatch so we can do the more advanced matching. I’d really love to see which part of my chromosome comes from my Zalewski line. That could point me towards more Zalewski relations and possibly finally breaking down more of that monstrous Zalewski line brick wall.

The possible Jacob-Frank connection all started back in July 2009 when I noticed a Jacob Zalewski family living with and quite near Frank and his family in Milwaukee in multiple city directories. After many years and finding more and more cross-family connections, I just assumed they were brothers as the pile of evidence was getting quite large. Though, I was always waiting and hoping for a DNA connection. I was planning on trying to convince a few distant cousins from that line that I had found to do a DNA test (I would probably even have paid for it.)

I’m excited. We’ll see where we go from here.

geoguessrI ran across a website the other day called GeoGuessr that is basically a game that drops you somewhere randomly in the world using Google Street View. You then have to try to guess where you are by only using the street view controls and clues in the world. It’s a lot harder than you think.

I think this is a neat site not only for the fun factor, but as a genealogist I find it neat to see parts of the world. I actually was able to use some previous knowledge of the areas my ancestors lived to give me a better idea where I was.

By default, the game uses the map of the whole world (but they have other, more-specific maps available like the US.) This one is pretty challenging as you may end up in a remote part of Russia or one of the many Spanish-speaking countries. In those cases, it’s usually just a random guessing game. Though, if you get lucky, sometimes you can make a very close guess. On my second game, one of my guesses was only 1500 yards from the correct spot. This place was in the US, so I was able to find a highway sign. Then, in the same game, I guessed Brazil when it was actually in Spain, so just like 4700 miles off.

Outside of the game part, it is a good way to put your investigating skills to the test. What things can you find to help you pinpoint the spot? Don’t cheat and use Google to find it. I’ve used things like road signs, signs on buildings, which way the traffic is driving, license plates, and even a website URL printed on the side of a truck.

Give it a try and let me know how you did.

tzpMy Milwaukee Death Index site is still proceeding nicely. Many more entries have been added, we now have over 1300 entries and all of 1884 and 1885 have been completed. The site itself has also been getting some updates. To make it more helpful when selecting a year to filter by, the site now shows how many entries that year has next to its selection. A lot of other work has been done under the hood to try to make the site cleaner and quicker.

Also, big thanks to Lisa Louise Cooke over at the Genealogy Gems for putting up a blog post talking about the index. I’ve been a longtime listener to her podcast and I know how she likes to help the genealogy community get their info out. Hopefully the site will help other people find some useful information.

I continue to add data to my Milwaukee Deaths Database, though I have also spent some time adding a few helpful features. I don’t want it to just be a list of deaths, though that is helpful in itself, I also want people to be able to use that information. Personally, I find the entries much more compelling when they’re tied to a real person, not just an entry.

Now, within the details of a death entry, you can search for the individual in a few burial index sites. Currently, this includes the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries burial index, Find-A-Grave, and BillionGraves. The search, while helpful, is not perfect. I can only search using the information included in the entry. Sometimes this does not work if they spelled the name differently in one of the places, though you can always tweak the search variables once you’re at the indexing site. If I happened to find a matching entry from one of those sites, that entry is now linked directly from the entry. The entry will be flagged with the little headstone icon you’re used to seeing on Find-A-Grave.

I’m hoping to add a few more features that I think would be helpful down the road. Features like the ability for any users to submit corrections or links to burial entries from the sites listed above, more indexing sites, and better ways to search and filter the data. I plan to add a “changelog” page on the site to let people know which features/bugs were added/fixed.

There are a few things I learned while looking for deaths in hundreds of old newspapers from the late 1800s, besides that it’s very hard to just scan the page for information. A lot of these things I was already well aware of, but it’s still good to know when going into it.

One, these papers are just chock full of information. The Milwaukee Journal papers from the mid-1880s are only 4 pages long, but they have so much information. Once you find sections like “Wisconsin News” and “Jottings About Town” where they have dozens of small bits of information in a list, you see all kinds of neat things.

Two, they knew all kinds of information about the least important people. Unlike today where most of the information in the paper is from big stories, in these you can find stories about a toddler that broke her arm or where your neighbors were visiting this week.

Three, they didn’t sugarcoat anything. I’ve read through enough articles about men being pulled through machinery or crushed by trains to last me a lifetime. One article noted (not quoting, but going off of memory here) that “he was pulled into the machine, his limbs torn off and his body ripped in half.”

18840425-insaneMan-PortWashington

Four, a lot of people were labeled as insane or committed suicide. It was a different time back then. A lot of stories talk about how someone just instantly went insane and was committed to the asylum, or how someone committed suicide by drowning themselves in a fit of insanity. I have a feeling the percentage of suicides today may not be that much less, but they reported on them more back then (see #2.)

Five, you will probably find something about someone related to your family if they lived in the area. Again, going off of #1 and #2, there are so many tidbits of info, the odds are pretty good. I have not yet come to the years when my family lived in Milwaukee, but I’m definitely going to look closer once we get to 1891-92.

I hope the little bit of transcribing helps someone out there. It’s fun for me to look at the history of Milwaukee through the eyes of the papers and its citizens. If you haven’t visited the Milwaukee Deaths database, we’re up over 920 entries now.