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.

Crusader Kings II

Besides genealogy, one of my other enjoyments is video games. For people who don’t really dabble much in video games, which is probably a lot of the genealogy community based on demographics, they probably think it’s just a wastes my time and rots my brain. While, in some cases, it probably does, in other cases it makes me learn about the history of the world by letting me get involved in that history.

Two games from Paradox Interactive have sucked up almost all of my free gaming time (which, with 2 kids, is not a lot.) They are Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV and are described as “grand strategy” games.

Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings II

The first, Crusader Kings II, which my brain is stuck to at the moment, is described: “[explore] one of the defining periods in world history in an experience crafted by the masters of Grand Strategy. Medieval Europe is brought to life in this epic title rife with rich strategic and tactical depth.” You can choose any one of hundreds of noblemen anywhere from 867 to about 1453. Start with a king and rule your minions, or start with a count and work your way up to emperor, if that’s your thing. There is really no goal to the game, it’s basically a sandbox. Each time your character dies, you begin to play as their heir. Do what you want, the only important thing is to continue your dynasty by having heirs because once you run out of bloodline heirs, your game is over (or it hits 1453.)

Europa Universalis IV is similar to CKII as it’s a grand strategy game, but instead of controlling people, in EUIV, you control a country.

The empire building game Europa Universalis IV gives you control of a nation to guide through the years in order to create a dominant global empire. Rule your nation through the centuries, with unparalleled freedom, depth and historical accuracy. True exploration, trade, warfare and diplomacy will be brought to life in this epic title rife with rich strategic and tactical depth.

Though, in EUIV you can literally pick any country in the world from 11 November 1444 A.D. (the day after the crushing defeat of the Poles and Hungarians by the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Varna, and the death of King Władysław III of Poland), and ending 1 January 1821 A.D. I put less time into this one so far, but it has been out for less time. It’s a different style that CKII. You deal more in colonization or trade or warfare and expanding your country around the world. In CKII, you deal more with people and expanding your kingdom through marriage, intrigue, and clever relationships while at the same time watching your back. It’s like a world-wide soap opera.

Though, these games have a pretty steep learning curve, but once you get into them they are tons of fun. Once you hit the play button, you are creating an alternate history for the world. For example, here is one of my first play-throughs of Crusader Kings II that I talked about on our entertainment/gaming site.

I started as King Bolesław II of Poland and it went pretty smooth during his reign. He lived to be pretty old, even by today’s standards, dying at 82. That’s when everything fell apart. My new heir was the King’s first born son, Franciszek, though he did not inherit everything because the succession laws in Poland were “Gavelkind.” That law gives the first heir the major titles and then equally spreads the rest to the other heirs (male in this case.) So, Franciszek’s half-brother, Josef, decided to declare war on me for his claim to the Kingdom of Poland. He won, due to having many allies.

It didn’t last long as his brother, Roman, went to war with him for the kingdom also, imprisoning him in the process and taking over. More people started wars. In the end, or as it stands in my game right now, Roman is dead, Josef is a Polish Duke, their sister Elisabeth is now Queen of Poland, and I’m down to being a Count with one county, but still alive and scheming including secretly murdering two other Counts. Though Franciszek is no longer my character, his son the heir is now my character. Sadly, one of his main traits is “imbecile” so he’s a really bad ruler. He has no bloodline heir since he’s only 15, so my goal is to get him a son before he dies or gets assassinated.

And that was back when I wasn’t very good at it. You learn as you play and from your mistakes. I learn a lot of tips from “Let’s Play” YouTube videos. Every time you play, it is completely different. My most recent play through with Poland, King Bolesław died in his 30s with only a single daughter, but she reigned for a long time as Queen Helena the Ironside. After that, it sort of fell apart after the Holy Roman Empire went to war with me for his vassal, the Kingdom of Bohemia and I had to surrender most of Poland to Bohemia. Currently, I am ruling as the King of Denmark, which somehow came to my dynasty through clever marriages and deaths.

Not only is it enjoyable, but I’ve learned a lot more about the history of the world during these times. You can play from 867 with Crusader Kings II and when it ends in 1453, you can convert your game over to Europa Universalis IV and then play until 1821. That’s almost 1000 years. What kind of world will it be then? I bet your family history would be very different.

The next state in my Genealogy of the States list is Colorado. There are also not very many connections to Colorado, but it does show up.

The only main connection is that my wife’s great-great grandfather, George W SHANNON, passed away in Limon, Lincoln Co., Colorado in about 1930, though there isn’t a lot of evidence for it. After his wife died in 1904, we kind of lose him.

I’ve searched through records and can’t seem to track him, though I did find a 1905 Wisconsin Census record that is more than likely him, but he is still in Wisconsin and it is only one year after his wife’s death. The Colorado connection may just be a red herring.

 

Achievement unlocked! With a small collection of photos that my mom gave me to look through and scan from her side of the family, I now have photos of every one of my ancestors five generations back to my great-great grandparents. That’s pretty impressive, at least I think so, compared to my wife’s tree where she has very sporadic photos beyond her grandparents.

A few months back, I was three photos short of having all 30 ancestor’s photos. I recently received a scanned copy of a photo of my great-great grandfather, Carl “Charles” LAST, which filled in one of those three. Then, this weekend, I scanned photos of my great-great grandparents, Johann & Wilomene (RATHKE) THIELKE. One of the photos is labeled “John Thielke” and one is labeled “Grand Pa Thielke. Art’s dad”, with Art being my great-grandfather. He is shown with another older woman in one photo and I can really only assume it’s his wife, Minnie. She has that stereotypical “old, German woman” look to her as do a lot of my German ancestors. I have now added his photo to the Everything I Know About Johann Thielke site, which does feel good.

Click for larger
Click for larger

This doesn’t mean I don’t have any photos beyond the fifth generation, as I definitely do. Sadly, I think getting photos of all 32 of my great-great-great grandparents is an almost impossible feat as I don’t even have names for some of them. The oldest ancestor that I do have a photo for is that of my 4th-great-grandmother, Frances (QUINET) THOMPSON, who was born almost 200 years ago in France in 1817. Who is your oldest ancestor that you have a photo for?

Over the last few months I’ve put together a lot more information about what my grandfather did in World War II. As previous posts mention, he never really talked about the war, not even to my mom. Though, he has kept a lot of items from the war and I guess he was starting to put together a map before he started to have health issues. Sadly, my grandfather passed away on November 1, 2015. I did not get any more time to talk to him about his time in the war, but I’ll never stop researching his service to my country.

Outside of that, I’ve put together a rough history based on letters, notes, photos, and maps that he kept along with some tricky Google searches and Wikipedia. I am posting this for both posterity and to maybe get some searches coming this way to open up more history from other researchers.

This will be an ongoing post as I find and update the information, but I want to get it posted. There is an updates section at the end of the post where I will note what I updated or edited.

I have also recently put this information into a Google Map since they have released the custom map engine for their new map system.

(more…)

So, using the speed and power of the Internet, I come bearing updates. While I didn’t completely solve the original issue, I still don’t know who is in that photo, I did confirm that is it not the Charles & Augusta Last family. But, I also now have a copy of a family photo of the real Last family that I had originally hoped for.

As I said in the original post, I sent the photo off to a Facebook friend that I connected to via a 23andMe Relative Finder connection. She sent it to her mother and family and they also ruled out the photo due to the ages of the children, etc, but then they sent a scanned version of the Last family’s photo. See it here.

Last Family

It’s the best quality scan, mainly because they did it quickly for me. It also turns out that the original photo is in possession of someone in a town in the same county that I live, which I assumed since the family lived there. It also turns out that it’s at the same Senior Apartments that my grandparents are currently living. So, soon I hope to make a visit, bring my FlipPal over there, and get a nice scan for myself.

This family lines up much, much better with the kids.  I definitely see Augusta in this mother’s face. My great-grandmother, Madora, is obviously the one in the back with the big, white bow in her hair. Also, the twins are there on both sides of the front row. I do have to say that I think Charles looks much cooler in this one than the other one, I mean look at that massive mustache. Doing a bit of guessing based on ages, my guess is this photo was taken around 1912-1913.

As for the original photo, I still think it looks strikingly similar to Augusta. It is possible that it is her sister’s family. Or maybe it’s a completely different family. This is the life of a genealogist.

UPDATE: There is an update posted on this mystery photo.

We’ve been doing a bit of cleaning at my grandparent’s  house recently, which has caused us to come across a lot of new family photos from my maternal side. This comes as a double-edged sword as there are some amazing old photos, including a very old photo album filled with late 19th-century, early 20th-century photos, but most of them are not labeled. I hope to spend some time with my grandfather and run a few of them by him, but he may not remember anymore.

There was one neat, large family photo that we found. I had no idea who it was. Then, I noticed a few things on the mother in the photo. She looked strikingly similar to my great-great-grandmother, August (Luedtke) LAST. Though, I only have more recent photos of Augusta and she lived to be 100, so her age changed her appearance quite a lot (as it does to us all.) But, there were certain things about her face in both photos that matched up quite well. Here is a quick comparison image I put together.

Augusta Last Comparison

One of the few things I noticed was her mouth, how both of them are very straight across. Then, I noticed the nose. Both have a bit of a ball on the tip. The last thing I noticed were the ears. Augusta seemed to have ears that landed in the “larger” category and both women also have these. It’s tough to match the eyes as her age has caused some problems around that area, but they do look similar. Her forehead and hairline match up quite well. The only lingering issue is when I look through the list of children I have and try to match them up with the children in the photo. They don’t line up quite right.

Here is the complete family photo with the children listed below. I’ve tagged the children from oldest to youngest based only on how old they look in the photo. Click for larger version.

Possible Last Family - Edited

Family Group Sheet for reference.

  • The couple’s first child was John, born in 1885, whom is probably child #2.
  • Their second child was Emma, born in 1886/1887 whom is probably child #1.
  • Their third child was William, born in 1888, probably child #4.
  • This is where it goes off the rails. Their next children were Ida and Helena, twins born in 1889. I don’t see any twins in the photo and their both recorded as having lived until at least 1969. The next child of that age range would be child #3.
  • The next child would be August, born in 1891, whom may be child #5.
  • The next 3 children either died not long after birth or at a date unknown, Bertha, Charles, and Freida (1893, 1894, 1897) so I assume they’re not in the photo based on this info.
  • That would make child #6, Madora, my great-grandmother, born in 1898. Though, she always had dark hair, but I know hair can change as kids grow, so who knows.
  • #7 and #8 don’t really even line up unless we can work out the previous issues.

I guess the moral of the story is to label your photos. I’ll keep you updated on anything more I figure out. I’ve already sent the photo to some descendants of Helena that I connected to via 23andMe to see if they notice any similarities.

The first state I plan to do in my Genealogy of the States theme is California. There are not a lot of California connections, but they do make an appearance a few times.

Palm Springs
Who can resist a view like this in California?

My wife’s great-grandparents, Henry & Luella (CLEVELAND) GYRION passed away in Sacramento, California in 1952 and 1969, respectively. One of her aunts and one of her uncles were also born in Sacramento around the same time period. Her mother’s family spent some time in that area before moving back to Wisconsin.

My great-granduncle, Henry “Hank” CORRIGAN and his wife Mercedes moved to California from Wisconsin. They both passed away in Sonoma County in 1954 and 1986, respectively.

My great-great-grandaunt, Leocadia “Lily” SZULTA and her husband, Ignatz URMANSKI, moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles County, California and lived out their lives there. Lily died in 1969 and Ignatz in 1965.

There are no other major connections to California. View the full list of states here.

Here is a handy list of California records located to view for free on FamilySearch.

 

us_mapI’m planning to do a collection of posts I’ve seen other people do recently involving all 50 states. You do each post about a specific state and the family connections you may have to that state. I’ll give credit to Julie over at Julie’s Genealogy & History Hub since I read her’s first. Obviously, I probably won’t have posts for every single state as my family doesn’t have connections to every state.

Here are the states I do have connections to that I will be posting about. Hopefully, these posts also dig up some new info or research paths as these things sometimes do. I will update this post with links to all of the state posts, so bookmark it.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

That’s not a bad list. It’s more than I originally thought. Stay tuned for the first state!

I mentioned in a recent post that I was able to get 23andMe tests for my father and my father-in-law that would hopefully help narrow down DNA matches and also find out more about ourselves. Those tests have been taken, sent in, and now finally analyzed. There were no surprising results, but it does help make a clearer picture of certain things.

With my father’s tests, I was also able to get his mtDNA (or Maternal) Line passed down from his mother’s line. The surnames that it follows would be CORRIGAN > BRAATZ > STEARNS > SCHUMACHER > HEINZ > HETTLER and that’s as far as I have right now. It’s basically a deep German line (minus the obvious Irish one in the beginning.) His mtDNA haplogroup is U4, but the subgroup is U4a3. 23andMe says:

Haplogroup U4 is found in western Eurasia, from Mongolia to central Europe. It arose about 25,000 years ago and subsequently spread with the migrations that followed the end of the Ice Age about 14,000 years ago.

[U4a] diverged from its U4 sister lineages about 21,000 years ago in the region surrounding the Baltic Sea. Today it is most common among the people of the Volga River and Ural Mountains of Russia, such as the Chuvash, Kets and Mari. It is also common among the Baltic and Finnish people of northern Europe who speak languages related to the Finno-Ugric tongues of the Volga-Ural region in western Russia.

That didn’t really surprise me. As for the YDNA line, which I also share, what is interesting is that my haplogroup is R1a1a* which usually means they know you’re R1a1a, but more than likely part of a subgroup. My father’s YDNA haplogroup is found to be just R1a1a, technically putting us in separate groups on the site. More than likely their tests are now more accurate and figured out that we’re directly from the R1a1a haplogroup.

My father-in-law’s tests were doubly useful as both the YDNA and mtDNA info was new to us as my wife doesn’t get either of those passed down from him. His mtDNA line, which follows the surnames: COLLINS > HUIZEL > REINDL > BOHM. The research on this line ends in the South Bohemian section the Czech Republic, which I assume was Czechoslovakia at the time. His mtDNA haplogroup is found to be H5.

H5 appears to have originated during the Ice Age, as the human population of Europe retreated to the few relatively mild pockets of the otherwise frozen continent. The haplogroup appears to have sprung up somewhere near the Caucasus Mountains, or in forests near the Black Sea. H5 is particularly common today in Georgia and in other populations from the Caucasus region. Not long after it originated, a few migrants carried H5 along the southern fringes of Europe into the Balkans and as far west as France, where the haplogroup can still be found today.

It seems to line up with the little amount of data we have on that line. His YDNA line, which we assumed was pretty deep Irish as the surname is MORAN, was pretty close to our assumptions. The YDNA haplogroup was found to be (besides the longest one ever) R1b1b2a1a2f*. There is that little asterisk again.

R1b1b2a1a2f2 reaches its peak in Ireland, where the vast majority of men carry Y-chromosomes belonging to the haplogroup. Researchers have recently discovered that a large subset of men assigned to the haplogroup may be direct male descendants of an Irish king who ruled during the 4th and early 5th centuries. According to Irish history, a king named Niall of the Nine Hostages established the Ui Neill dynasty that ruled the island country for the next millennium.

Northwestern Ireland is said to have been the core of Niall’s kingdom; and that is exactly where men bearing the genetic signature associated with him are most common. Genetic analysis suggests that all these men share a common ancestor who lived about 1,700 years ago. Among men living in northwestern Ireland today that date is closer to 1,000 years ago. Those dates neatly bracket the era when Niall is supposed to have reigned.

Image copyright The New York Times.
Image copyright The New York Times.

Besides matching our assumptions, that is a cool fact about men from that haplogroup. It’s the first haplogroup I’ve dealt with that names an actual (possible) ancestor. It also gives a highly-probable area of where to look for the origin of his MORAN ancestors.

Outside of the haplogroup testing, we’re still using this new info to break down DNA matches. Having at least one parent allows you to know which side a match comes from, narrowing down the research. I’m still working on that. The tests also gave us some interesting data on our Ancestry Composition which I will post about soon.

Anyone test their parents or other close relations and get some useful information?

Now that my daughter is getting older and she now really enjoys reading and stories, I’ve been trying to think about a neat way to tell her about her ancestry. The things I may find interesting about my ancestry, besides the stories, like dates and history, are usually pretty boring for kids. I don’t want to bore her right off the bat and start off with an uphill battle. 

I’ve been thinking about ways to take the stories, and even the dates and history, and turn them into simple, short, interesting stories that my daughter can easily enjoy.

A soul is made of stories, not atoms. Everything that ever happened to us, people we love, people we lost, people we found again, against all the odds.

– The Doctor (Doctor Who)

I wouldn’t use full name information, probably just a first name, like Frank. In terms of Frank Zalewski, maybe I’d talk about how Frank and his family had trouble where they lived, so they decided one day to go on an adventure (probably not what they thought at the time) and travel to a new land to try to start a new life. Once she hears the story a few times, I’d tell her that the story is actually about her ancestors, her great-great-great grandfather.

There are also already some pre-made stories on her maternal side since she is (according to current research) descended from both Royal blood and William Bradford of Mayflower fame. Those she may be more excited about once she learns about them in school. I know I would’ve paid more attention in history class if I knew I had some sort of connection to it.

Have you introduced young children to their ancestry? Do you know of any useful resources?

Frank Zalewski

TimelineI’ve been playing with an open source tool called Timeline JS that builds a visually-rich, interactive timeline based on whatever data I tell it to use.

One of the options it has is to use data from a Google Docs spreadsheet. Add that ability along with their option to embed one right from their site and almost anyone can set one up. I personally like to host the scripts on my own site and do more advanced things, so I did it differently, but I am still using a Google Docs  spreadsheet.

It’s very cool. Take a look at how I transformed my Everything I Know About Frank Zalewski information using it. Feel free to contact me if you want to use it and need help with it.