Many years ago I found an old letter, written in German, in my grandmother’s family collection. I tried to translate it myself a bit but found it very hard to read the German script. At one point, my dad knew someone who said they could translate it and copies were given to them, but they did not translate it and the copies were returned.
Many years later, I checked into the WikiTree Translators groups and asked if anyone had some spare time to translate it. Not too long after asking, someone responded with a wonderful translation of the letter.
It is dated 11 Apr 1923, not long after Germany lost World War I. It’s a fascinating view into history on how things were in the area in the early 1920s, how tough it is dealing with French occupation in certain areas, and how expensive everything was after the war.
Yesterday, the big news across the Genetic Genealogy community was the release of Ancestry DNA’s Genetic Communities. According to Ancestry, these communities are built like this:
We find Genetic Communitiesâ„¢ by looking at a network of DNA connections we build using millions of AncestryDNA members in our database. When we build a network like this using millions of AncestryDNA members with billions of DNA relationships between them, we find groups of people in the network that have more DNA matches to each other than to people in other parts of the network. We call these groups Genetic Communities. We use a popular network analysis method called community detection to discover them.
So, it’s sort of a mix of DNA matches along with information from the millions of family trees built on the site. Together they can find a community in the more recent past. Previously, we only had ethnicity estimates to work with, but those were usually more broad and much deeper in the past. For example, here are my ethnicity results.
That Scandinavia one still confuses me a bit. but who knows where my deep ancestry came from. Those Scandinavians were known to travel.
I have two active Genetic Communities, as do most people it seems. My first one is Germans in Brandenburg & Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (very likely >95%) which matches up very well with my known ancestry. The other one is Poles in Pomerania, which also matches up very well though their confidence is only at 20% for this one at the moment.
The German community points to this area, which is the original location of a lot of my German ancestry. The Pomeranian community points to a majority of northern Poland, which also has a lot of my ancestry. As always, click the images for a larger view.
You can also break down the communities into time periods to find out more information about what happened in that area during those years. If I open up the time period when most of my ancestors migrated, it talks about that exact thing and also talk about how they came to the Wisconsin area.
So far these communities have been helpful and surprisingly specific and on the right track. Based on a lot of the messy, incorrect trees I see on the site I’d expect some skew, but I imagine those are not the majority. If you’re looking for much more insight on these communities, check out the great post over at The Genetic Genealogist. Ancestry has also put together a short video introducing the feature.
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.
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?
FamilySearch has a boatload of church records scanned and available online for Germany, Prussia, and Pomerania from 1544-1945, though I would estimate that most of them are in the middle of that range. Currently they’re not available for searching, but I did see them in the indexing software, so maybe they will be available for that soon. That means you must look through them by hand, like the good ol’ days.
It seems that a lot of families from this area of Wisconsin immigrated from that area, which is now mostly in Poland, so I’m in luck. I used this collection to find a few records so far. I found my 3rd-great-grandparent’s marriage record and my 3rd-great-grandfather’s baptism record (I’m pretty sure.) Keep in mind that the towns and parishes are not named the same as they were in the 1800s, so you can’t just go to Google Maps. Don’t worry, I’ve done some of the hard work for you and will show you how to find the records you need. Though, this won’t do all of the browsing record by record and trying to determine what someone wrote in German on old, ripped paper from 1840 for you, but maybe for a few bucks I can do that for you, too.
The key in all of this is an amazing site called Kartenmeister. They describe themselves:
Welcome to the most comprehensive database of its kind in the world. It contains 93537 locations with over 38.691 name changes once, and 5,500 twice and more. Included in this database are the following provinces: Eastprussia, including Memel, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. It currently list most towns or points, points being: Mills, some bridges, battlefields, named trees, cenotaphs etc.
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 P?oty 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.
Go into your brain and pick out a surname that would be awesome to try to research. Something that would return 8 million results every time you searched for it. If you guessed the surname LAST, you win.
Searching for anything on that surname was never fun. I would get every version of “last name” or other common phrases. In order to try to help myself get my information organized on my furthest LAST ancestor, Johann LAST, I decided to set up an Everything I Know site for him. Just like the other sites I set up, when I start going over all of the information I have, sometimes I find new avenues of research. I started with the first record I have of Johann and his family, the passenger arrival manifest from when they arrived in New York in 1857.
I looked it over to see if I missed any important info. I didn’t see anything new. Then, I just checked which port they left from in Europe and I noticed it was Hamburg, Germany. I remembered that Ancestry had the passenger emigration lists from Hamburg on their site. I think I browsed through them before, but didn’t find anything. I looked closer this time using their Hamburg Passenger Index database and found their entry. It was under “J W G Last” just like their arrival record. It’s basically the same info, except one very useful piece of info, his place of origin. The record says what looks like “Nagard” so after some searching and tweaking, it is probably talking about “Naugard” which today is called Nowogard in northwestern Poland. This is exactly where I tracked Doeringshagen, the listed birthplace of Johann’s son Charles, to be located today. That’s good news.
With the change in the way I built my “Everything I Know” sites, I added a new one.
This one is about my maternal great-great grandfather, Johann THIELKE. This is the first one I’ve done on my maternal line. It’s also actually the first one I’ve done with not a lot of information. The first two I did, for Frank ZALEWSKI and Mathias FIRMENICH actually had a good deal of information. After doing this one for Johann, I started to notice how much info I didn’t have. I’m hoping the site will help me find more information or more avenues to research.
This one has been on my blogroll for awhile, since Al posts useful Polish information and interesting tidbits on his blog. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also researching mainly in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. I visit it frequently. I actually just went there to copy the URL and got lost in some other posts. Keep up the good work, Al.
This one has also been on my blogroll for awhile. Steve mostly posts original family documents, but a lot (or maybe all of them) are Polish and he usually also posts translations and other useful information. It’s interesting to browse the documents and learn about the different areas and records.
Kartenmeister is a must bookmark for anyone with German/Polish/Prussian roots. According to its front page it’s “the most comprehensive database of its kind in the world. It contains 88,334 locations with over 38,691 name changes once, and 5,500 twice and more.” Using the site, you are able to search place names by German version or Polish version, get much information about the location and even other researchers looking for ancestors in these places. This is how I found the (hopefully) current location of my ZALEWSKI ancestors using the German name of “Gottschalk.” There is no equal.
There are more than just Polish research classes here, but I really enjoyed the “Intro to Polish Research” course I watched the other day. It was very informative, easy to follow, and it helped me try some new things. I am currently watching the next video, “Advanced Polish Research.” The presenter of the class, Ceil Wendt Jensen, was very well-versed in the subject matter and easy to listen to.
While this search tool is helpful by itself, it’s much more powerful if you have access to Ancestry’s passenger lists. You can search by name, origin, destination and then use those results to find the corresponding passenger list image. I found my great-great-grandfather Frank Zalewski’s brother’s passenger list this way. There are also many other useful search tools on his main site, stevemorse.org.
I have found what I think is the passenger list for my 4th-great-grandparents (found via my 3rd-great-grandfather, Mathias FIRMENICH.) They had it transcribed as Fermainz, which is does look like, but I can see FIRMENICH in it also. Now, a lot of things match up. The list is from April 22, 1847, which is when this family supposedly immigrated according to multiple obituaries, etc.
The father is listed as Pet. Firmenich, male, 54 – My Peter is listed as being born in about 1792, which matches up.
Son, Mathias, is listed as Mathias Firmenich, male, 4 – I have records of Mathias being born in 1843, so this matches, too.
Daughter, Elizabeth, is a listed as Elizabeth Firmenich, female, 2 – According to some newly found information, this also matches up as I have an Elizabeth born about 1845.
Now, I’m lost on a few of the other entries. The wife is listed as what looks like either “Marie” or “Vorpal.” Peter and his wife both have another word before their names, which I can’t make out. I’m only assuming it means either “Husband” or “Father” or something similar since I seem to see it on other families in the list, which would make his wife listed as “Vorpal.” According to Mathias’ marriage record, his mother is listed as Anne Marie TURSELL. I have yet to find her in the census records since I can only find the family in 1860+ and she is not listed. Though, I’m pretty sure she made the trip since they have another son in Wisconsin in 1849.
I also don’t have records of their first two children, daughters Anna and another name I can’t read. Though, their ages would allow them to have been married and gone by the time I found them in the 1860 census, so those are completely possible.
I also can’t make out what I think is the home location. It looks like it says either “Glehy” or “Glihy.” It is also listed for another individual lower in the list. One thing that stuck out is that the “G” on that word doesn’t look much like the other G’s they’ve written, so I don’t know if it’s a G or not.
Is there anyone out there that has some talent at transcribing old German handwriting? Though, this may possibly be in Belgian/French since the port was Antwerp, Belgium. Maybe even another set of fresh eyes will help. The full image is linked below. Thanks.
I’m not sure who is in this photo. It was located in the BRAATZ area of my grandmother’s photo album, but it is no labeled. I have yet to ask her personally if she knows. The girl in the middle does somewhat resemble a photo of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Margaret (SCHUMACHER) STEARNS, so maybe it’s her and some relation to her.
According to the note for this photo, this is a picture of my grandfather, Richard Zalewski (middle), with his sister Irene to his left and Eugene Nowiski to his right. I don’t know off-hand who Eugene Nowiski is, but it does look like he’s ready to change someone’s oil. Multiple people have said that my grandfather looks a bit like me in this photo when I was a kid. I can see it. I assume the photo was taken in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as Richard lived there most of his life.