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 fifteenth ancestor is my 52 week challenge is my maternal 3rd-great-grandfather, Jean Joseph Desire DeBROUX.

When I originally received the information on this family, it was only listed as Desire & Desiree DeBroux. That was the info I had for the longest time. They always caught my eye since it was such an interesting set of names.

Later on, I found out that Desire was born Jean Joseph Desire DeBROUX on 16 February 1830 to Jean Joseph & Anne Catherine (LANGELE) DeBROUX. He was born in the small village of Piétrebais in the Walloon Brabant Province of Belgium.

The next fact I have documented for Desire was his marriage to Desiree, also known as Marie Desiree LOOD, on 30 November 1854 in Piétrebais. They had their first child, Victorie Marie, in Piétrebais in 1855 before setting out for America in around 1857, settling in the center of the state of Wisconsin, mainly in the Outagamie County and Langlade County areas.

My great-great grandfather Joseph Wilbert DeBROUX was born in Outagamie County in May 1865.

Desire and Desiree passed away not too far apart from each other. Desire passed away on 6 April 1912 and Desiree on 19 November 1912 in the small Norwood Township in Langlade County, Wisconsin. They are both buried at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in that township.

This post is 15 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

James Collins headstoneThe fourteenth ancestor in my 52 week challenge is my wife’s great-great-grandfather, James A COLLINS. James is a bit of a mystery. He had ancestors and now he doesn’t.

The information I originally had for James Collins listed his parents as Daniel and Elizabeth Collins. This information is everywhere on other trees posted online, so it made sense. All of the information included in census records matched up pretty well. Then, when researching his wife, I tracked down her parents in an 1860 census record. His wife is Elizabeth ENYART and her parents were Nelson and Margarent ENYART. The reason it took a bit to finally track them down is that the Enyart surname is prone to being butchered in the records. In this 1860 census, it was written as Inard. I also ended up finding the marriage record for James and Elizabeth in that same county, which is what originally drove me to look there in the first place.

I found the family living in Miller, Scotland County, Missouri. In this census record, there is a James Collins living with the family as a farmhand. In November of 1860, I found the marriage record of James and Elizabeth. My original information had James living in Iowa with Daniel Collins. The James living in Missouri made a lot more sense since he was married there and his wife’s family lived there. This removes the Daniel Collins line from my wife’s tree, though the problem still exists on almost every version of James’ tree I still find online.

The family then relocated to Wisconsin as James joined the 6th Wisconsin Regiment, Company K in late 1864. In the 1870 census, James and his wife are living in Richwood Township in Richland County in southwestern Wisconsin. They would live out the rest of their lives in this area of the state.

On March 14, 1903, James passed away. He is buried with his wife at Tavera Cemetery in Richwood.

This post is 14 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

Braatz FamilyThe thirteenth ancestor in my 52 week challenge is my paternal 3rd-great-grandmother, Maria (KLEGIN) BRAATZ.

The only documented evidence that I have seen of Maria’s birth was from her death certificate which states that she was born 15 Februrary 1842 in Schoenwalde, Germany. Trouble is that there is no modern city with that name and multiple historical cities with that name. Some basic research from other experts suggests that it may be somewhere in the northern area of Germany, as Klegin is a somewhat rare surname. Though, I also don’t know how solid the evidence is that her surname is actually Klegin as that is also from her death certificate, so it was given by a third party.

A glimmer of  hope, though, is that her son, my great-great-grandfather, Frank Braatz is listed as having been born in Bavaria, Germany. I did a search for Schoenwalde and Bavaria and it turns out that there is a municipality in Bavaria named Schönwald. I may be on to something.

She married Wilhelm BRAATZ at some point, probably the mid 1860s, and gave birth to their first child (and my ancestor) Frank. Shortly after, they decided to leave Germany and head to Wisconsin. On 15 June 1868, they arrived in New York aboard the Ship Auguste traveling from Bremen, Germany. They first settled in New London in Waupaca County, Wisconsin where their next child, William, was born. Next, their third and final child, Ida, was born.

They seemed to have stayed in Waupaca County as Maria passed away there in March 1890 and is buried there at Little Wolf Cemetery. Mysteriously, I lose Wilhelm after 1880. I’m assuming he passed away and is also buried there, but I have yet to find documentation on that.

I think the photo at the right is a photo of Wilhelm, Maria, and Frank as the photo was in a frame that my grandmother had. It was also labeled something like “Grandma and Grandpa Braatz” assuming it was originally in the possession of my great-grandmother as they look nothing like my grandmother’s Braatz grandparents. It’s also labeled as being taken in a studio in the New London/Oshkosh area of Wisconsin, where the Braatz family lived for quite awhile.

This post is 13 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

The twelfth ancestor on my 52 week challenge is my wife’s great-great-grandfather on her maternal side, Alexander Felix BANACH (or sometimes BANNACH.)

He was born on 26 August 1869 in, what is today, Śliwice, Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship in north-central Poland. His baptism is listed on the wonderful Pomeranian Genealogical Association’s PomGenBase website. In April 1891, he left his home in Poland and set out on a ship from Hamburg, Germany as mentioned in the Hamburger Passagierlisten database. We’re not exactly sure when or where he arrived, but in 1894, he married Mary WOYAK (or sometimes WOJAK) in Polonia, Portage County, Wisconsin. Portage County, along with Milwaukee, was a major hub for Polish immigrants in Wisconsin.

According to census and other documentation, Felix, as he was usually called, and Mary had 12 children altogether from 1895 to 1921. The second child born was my wife’s great-grandfather, Julius, in 1897. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, the family moved to Waukegan, Lake County, Illinois, possibly due to Felix’s jobs, as he was a papermaker. Paper companies were a big industry in central Wisconsin along the Wisconsin River.

On Halloween 1943, Felix passed away. He is buried with his family at Ascension Cemetery in Libertyville, Illinois.

This post is 12 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

The eleventh person in my 52 week challenge is actually not an ancestor this week. During research on my THIELKE line, I decided to do some research on my great-great-grandfather Johann’s siblings. I had a lot of luck with his sister, Minnie THIELKE.

I originally ran across her name in the 1860 Census for Grafton, Ozaukee, Wisconsin as a sister to Johann. She is again listed with the family in 1870. In 1880, she is living in downtown Milwaukee as a servant for the Jos A Cochrane family. Using some clever searches with her parent’s names on FamilySearch, I ran across her Wisconsin marriage record in 1882.

She married Thomas R Evans on 1 May 1882. Using their names as search entries, I found that they had two children, Florence and Walter. It seems the marriage ended sometime before 1894, as Minnie is married again on 13 Oct 1894 to a Ernest H Reif in Milwaukee. She had two more children from this marriage, Ernest and Violet.

I can mostly trace her through the census records during this time, also. She is living in Milwaukee in the 1900 Census. I can’t find the family in the 1910 Census, even though I tried many different searches. In the 1920 Census, she is living in Chicago at 2638 W Adams St. She passed away on 30 Jan 1920 and is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in that city. Thanks to a helpful Find-A-Grave member, her headstone has also been located.

The Adams St location is also helpful since based on my great aunt’s Cook County, Illinois birth record, her parents (my great-grandparents) were living at that same address in 1921. That was another piece of information that helped me solidify the connection from Minnie to my Thielke family. Also in Minnie’s household in 1920 is her brother Fred (aka Fritz) Thielke, whom I assume was still living there in 1921. My great-grandfather may have moved down to Chicago to find work and ended up living with his aunt’s family and uncle. They were there during most of the 1920s, but back to Grafton in the 1930 Census.

I did a bit of digging down the tree from Minnie to hopefully find living cousins and it was tough. Though, I think I did find a living relative, though if he is still alive he would be 96. I went out on a limb and sent a letter through the mail based on an address I found. Here’s to hoping he has info (or even a photo) of his grandmother, Minnie.

This post is 11 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

Now that FamilySearch Family Tree is live and they also allow other programs to access that data on your behalf, we’re able to do cool things with it. RootsMagic allows you to connect members of your local family tree database to FamilySearch Family Tree where you can copy data and sources back and forth.

But, there are also other cool things that some websites are doing with your data. Puzzilla.org is one of those sites. They allow you to view a descendant or ancestor tree visually using the data on FamilySearch. Here is my ancestor tree out to 14-generations.

Brian Zalewski Ancestor Tree
Click for larger

I am the small blue, circled square at the bottom. As you can tell, my maternal side is much more filled out inside of FamilySearch. I have cleaned up back about 4-5 generations, but beyond that, it’s all based on what other people have added. Remember, this is just what info FamilySearch has in their Family Tree. For example, the little orange squares mean that the individual died before the age of 16, which seems odd to have for ancestors that had children.

The cool feature that I love to use with this site is choosing a distant ancestor and viewing their descendant tree. It allows you to see distant cousins you never knew you had. Plus, it looks really neat when you do it for a “super” ancestor like Zacharie Cloutier who “had 10,850 French-Canadian descendants, the most of any Quebec colonist” and is my 11th-great-grandfather. Here is his descendant view only down 4 generations.

Zacharie Cloutier Descendant Tree
Click for larger

How cool looking is that? If you look hard enough, you can see the yellow lines that lead to my family lines. Again, lots and lots of “died before 16” marks, which may be due to bad/wrong data inside the Family Tree. This is also a good way to see bad/wrong data and go in and fix it.

I love being able to use data for non-standard purposes like this and I hope a lot of other creative people plug into the FamilySearch API and make more of these.

Richard & Mary Jane Zalewski

I am slowly entering the realm of using video for genealogy. I literally just started my genealogy YouTube channel yesterday. I have two videos up there now, but they are just an old home movie and a slideshow I made awhile back. In most browsers, the following links to my videos should pop open a video player right on the site without requiring you to leave.

The old home movie is a collection of clips from the 1940s of my Corrigan family. It’s probably not super exciting to non-family members, but it is a neat look into that time period in video format. Though, there is no audio except for some music. I did try to do some stabilization to the original video as it gets hard to watch sometimes. Those 1940s video cameras didn’t really have stabilization technology.

The slideshow video is the same one I have posted of this site before that I made for my grandmother’s funeral in 2011. Though, since some of the music I used is copyright, it had some issues on YouTube. I had to remove the flagged songs from that version, so it just wasn’t the same. I have since re-uploaded the video with some royalty-free music. You can still view the un-edited original here on this site using my local video player.

My long-term plan is to do some more videos about my family, how-tos, etc. I have some ideas, but I need to figure out the logistics of getting them done, especially with two small children at home and not a very good recording setup. I get inspiration from channels like Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems channel.

I do feel that YouTube and video are going to be the next leap in terms of genealogy. There is a lot that can be done with video that is tough to do with text or pictures only. Wish me luck.

The tenth ancestor in my 52 week challenge is my wife’s great-great-grandfather, George Washington SHANNON.

George was born on September 11th, 1859 in the small town of Stockton in Portage County, Wisconsin. His parents were Nathaniel SHANNON & Rosina Winslow ARNOLD. He was the eighth child of ten and according to the data I have, the first born in Wisconsin.

On October 3rd, 1899, he married Mary DAKINS, the daughter of William DAKINS and Helen WARNER in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. About a year later, the couple’s one, and only, daughter was born, Marie SHANNON. Tragedy struck in 1904, when Mary died of peritonitis, which can be caused by things such as abdominal trauma or even appendicitis.

Not much is known about George after Mary’s death. His daughter, Marie, is found in the 1910 Census living with Mary’s parents. There is no matching George Shannon in the 1910 Census. Though, in the 1920 Census, there is a widowed “G W Shanon”, born in Wisconsin in 1860, living in Winan, Rice, Kansas, though that lists his parents as having both been born in Ireland, which is very false.

There is also an inmate at the Albany County Penitentiary in New York in 1905, born in the United States in 1858. Though, not sure why he would be in Albany, New York only a year after his wife’s death, but it’s not an impossibility. More than likely, though, he is the widowed Geo Shanon living in Plover, Portage, Wisconsin working for the Geo D Warner family (his mother-in-law’s maiden name was Warner) in the 1905 Wisconsin Census.

He is listed, in my database, as having died in February 1930 in Limon, Lincoln, Colorado. There is no source on the information and I really don’t know where it came from, but I leave it in there just in case there is something to it. Maybe one day we’ll track him down.

This post is 10 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

Richard & Mary Jane ZalewskiToday marks 15 years since my paternal grandfather, Richard Zalewski, passed away. His death was the first major death in my immediate family, so I remember taking it pretty hard even though he had been sick for awhile.

I actually remember, pretty well, the last time I saw him and talked to him. My girlfriend, at the time, and I were going to Milwaukee for some reason and we stopped by to see how he was doing. Even though the pancreatic cancer was taking its toll on him, he was cheerful and in good spirits, like I usually remembered him (unless we were misbehaving, naturally.) I’m glad that I still have that vivid memory of him 15 years later.

Another moment I vividly remember from that time was when I was attending his funeral. I was sitting in my dad’s truck waiting to follow the procession to the cemetery and one of my favorite songs came on the radio, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” The timing of the heartfelt song and what was happening around me caused me to break down into tears which, at the time, I had not done in many years. To this day, that song reminds me of my grandfather and that moment in the car and truthfully makes me feel happy.

Though, his death, and a subsequent newspaper article related to FamilySearch, sent me on a deep dive into the ocean we all know as genealogy. I have yet to come to the surface of that ocean and probably never will. Like most of us, I plan to grow gills and live in that ocean like a genealogical merman.

I know that he would be proud of the information I’ve gathered on his family tree and, unfortunately, he would’ve probably been a great help in tracking down some of the information I am still looking for. If anything, kids, this is a notice to visit your grandparents and allow them to tell you their stories. Even if you think the stories are boring and never plan to go into genealogy, it will definitely make you feel like you know them better and that will bring you comfort for many, many years.

The ninth ancestor in my 52 week challenge is my 4th-great-grandfather, William Henry THOMPSON.  With a name like William Thompson, how hard can it be to pinpoint him?

This has been my trouble with William. I have records of him starting in 1850 once his family settled in Wisconsin, but before that is a mystery. If I do a search based on his information, I get thousands of results.

William ThompsonAccording to the sources I do have, William was born sometime between 1810 and 1816 in either England, Ireland, or Scotland. His headstone says he was 77 years of age when he died in 1890, so I usually use 1813 as his birth year. There is a Wisconsin death record over at FamilySearch that I’m pretty sure is this William Thompson that lists his parents as William THOMPSON and Fasmie RUINNET. Though, a lot of other user’s information lists his parents as Edward & Isabella THOMPSON, but no solid sources so far.

According to my records, in 1839, he married Claude-Françoise “Francis” QUINET in Syracuse, New York. I have yet to find solid evidence of this marriage, but the Quinet family was recorded to have been in that area during that time. They must have left not long after the marriage, as their first child was born in Wisconsin in 1841. They settled in in Granville, Milwaukee Co., Wisconsin, which is now no longer around, but part of multiple towns in the area. Sometime between 1854 and 1857, they relocated north to the Morrison and Wrightstown area in Brown County, Wisconsin.

On 4 February 1890, William passed away and is buried next to his wife at St. Paul’s Cemetery in Wrightstown. I wrote a post about our trip to that area and the finding of William’s resting place.

This post is 9 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.

The eight ancestor is my 52 week challenge is my wife’s paternal great-grandmother, Anna (HUIZEL) COLLINS. I’m not completely sure of the pronunciation of that surname, but I’ve heard both Oot-zuhl and Ooh-zuhl.

Anna (Huizel) Collins - unknown year
Anna (Huizel) Collins – unknown year

Anna was born around July 1881 in what is today, Netolice in the Prachatice District, South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. In 1881, I think this was just considered Bohemia. Her parents are John HUIZEL and Barbara REINDL. There is no birth record that we have found, yet, but I did find records of her parent’s marriage and the births of some of her other siblings in the area.

I basically tripped into the Czech records one day while browsing FamilySearch. I found a lot of info on her family at the online records available at the State Regional Archives Trebon. I got a lot of help from a very well-done blog about Czech Genealogy. You can read more about what I found on a post I wrote about it.

Anna immigrated from Bohemia around 1885-1888 with her parents. On Valentine’s Day 1899, she married Albert COLLINS in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, where her parents resided. Albert and Anna had four children, including my wife’s grandmother, Barbara.

One of Anna’s siblings, a brother named Jacob, gave us one of the first humorous family mysteries. We had some photos from her grandmother and one of them was a photo of a gentleman and all it said on the back was “Uncle. One arm.” We ended up finding out that this was Anna’s brother, Jacob, whom we all refer to now as “Uncle One-Arm.”

Albert passed away around 1945 and Anna lived on in Madison, Wisconsin until she passed away in 1945. She is buried with her husband in Boscobel, Grant County, Wisconsin, where they lived for many years.

This post is 8 of 52 in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge” begun by Amy Johnson Crow.