Why? That is the most difficult question that
arises in researching family history. With some exceptions, we can usually
answer the other four Ws: Who, What, When and Where. Finding those still leaves with a big empty
space in the Why column.
“Why?” is the most
interesting part of the search.
Why did they migrate?
Why did they settle where
Why would a young man in the
south enlist in the Union Army?
Underwater is not where we
are supposed to be most of the time. I suspect that most of us know the feeling
of drowning in obligations or details or fears or ……
Being overwhelmed is really
what I mean but I needed a “U” word for today’s A to Z post. What happens to me
when I’m overwhelmed is that my brain seems to shut down – or maybe it’s the
opposite, my mind just spins out of control.
Going back to the underwater
metaphor, what’s to do to get back to the surface without getting the bends?
Step away for a bit.
Read a book, Take a walk. Go out to lunch. Watch a video. Play an engaging game. Anything that has
nothing to do with whatever is nagging at you.
Pick one thing to tackle.
one of your easier issues. Focus on that
one thing. Put everything else on a temporary back burner. This concentrated focus
helps get things back on track.
This usually works for me,
but I often need to remind myself. You’re
correct if you’re guessing that I’m a bit overwhelmed at the moment. Think I’ll go read a book.
Time Machine – a family historian’s fantasy. We read history, old newspapers, and we pore
maps. All these give us hints about our ancestors’ lives. We know what
kinds of clothes they wore, what their options were for transportation, and for
home furnishings. We can read about the important issues of the day. But we can’t know how they coped on a day to
What were their personalities? How did they entertain
themselves? What were the family dynamics?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to observe their day-to-day lives!
My most recent blog posts
have been substitutes for “real” posts. The A to Z Challenge has been an
opportunity to post to my blog at a time when I really have nothing much to
I’ve been in waiting mode – waiting
for FHL films to arrive so that I can continue my current project. I’m not good at waiting. Most people would use this time to work on
getting things organized – and that was my intent.
But instead, I focused on
coming up with a post for each letter.
Some of these substitutes have been better than others, but they keep me
occupied while I am waiting.
For certain periods,
religious records are almost all we have to trace our ancestry.
In the US, some states did
not begin keeping vital records until the early 20th century.
Counties or municipalities may have
kept vital records before that, but there was no consistency. There were census records after 1790. There were tax rolls, court records, land and
deed records but they did not necessarily yield the information we search for.
The situation was similar in
many European countries. Where my ancestors resided in Prussian Poland, civil
records of births, marriages, and deaths began only in 1874.
But houses of worship often
kept very complete records. There were
membership rolls and tithing records.
And there were (and still are) sacramental records that include specific
details. Marriage records, for example,
may include not only the names of the bride’s and groom’s parents, but the town
in which they lived. They are a
Questions are both the bane and the joy of genealogy
Pursuing a question and finally finding an answer is a
joyful experience. New information about our family is precious and wonderful.
But…. For every answer, we also find more questions. They never stop! Few answers are definitive. And even those
that seem definitive will generally lead to more questions.
Truth is, it’s the questions that fuel our family history ventures
and keep us going. Bring on the questions!
Poland is my ancestral
homeland. All 4 of my grandparents were
I’ve read multiple histories,
historical novels, and studied maps and historical atlases to try to get a comprehensive
sense of my ancestors’ lives. All of
this has given me an intense pride in my heritage.
Not that my ancestors were at
all instrumental in shaping that history.
They were peasants – the people most affected by oppressive rules. They survived.
Poland and her people have persisted
in their steadfast faith in their nation and their destiny.
Wikipedia has a good overview
of Poland and her history.
Actually, I am multi-organized. I have manila folders from the early days
when I had Broderbund’s Family Tree Maker on my computer and everything else on
paper. I have notebooks where I recorded
my findings (more or less) – in notes so cryptic that I can barely decipher
As technology improved I came up with methods to preserve
records. I have several methods devised
at different times but hardly ever retrofitted older methods to the new ones.
I have folders, binders, CDs, flash drives, hard
Problem is, synchronizing all this comes under the heading
of one of my earlier posts: Grunt Work.
Old newspapers give us a glimpse into the everyday lives of
our ancestors. Not to mention that it’s
a lot of fun to browse through them.
In years past, newspapers printed the same kinds of news that we find
in today’s papers. The volume of information was, as today, dependent on the
location and size of the paper’s circulation base. They covered local, national and
international politics, business, events, and sports. There were legal notices
and accounts of court proceedings.
Social events were described in flowery language.
There were commercial ads and classified ads.
There were human interest articles and stories.
What were the local issues of the day? What was happening that affected your
ancestors? Were streets being paved? Street car tracks being laid? Land being
annexed to the city? What kinds of
entertainment were available?
History books tell of significant events, but newspapers
tell us about everyday life.
Here are some online sources for historic newspapers
My genealogy adventure would never have gotten off the
ground without microfilm – first through the National Archives, and then
through the LDS Family History Library.
Microfilm and its cousin, microfiche, have been used since
the late 19th century as a method of preserving documents. John Benjamin Dancer was one of the first to
produce microphotographs in 1839  By
the 1920’s microphotography was coming into wider commercial use to preserve
books, documents, cancelled checks, etc.
For decades, microfilm has been a primary document
preservation method for libraries and institutions, archives and commercial
businesses around the world. The
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm collections
include census records, immigration and naturalization records, military records
among many others. This NARA link takes
you to more information about their film collections.
Reading films was once a tedious process. The readers were huge devices. Once the film
was loaded, it required hand cranking to go through the film frame by frame. Before
the age of computers and printers, information had to be transcribed by
hand. Later, there were readers that
would send the desired image to a printer.
Today some of us are lucky enough to have access to electronic readers
controlled by computers. No more hand cranking.
I can use these at the Indian River County main library here in Vero
Beach, Florida. I simply plug a flash
drive into the computer and this reader scans the image to the drive for
me. It's great!
Using microfilm, I’ve found birth, marriage and death
records from churches in Poland. I’ve
found family in census records at NARA before the advent of online
databases. I’ve found obituaries in old
Microfilm may not be one of the seven wonders of the world,
but it is definitely a wonder in my world.
One of the challenges to understanding the documents left by
our ancestors is understanding the law at that particular time and place.
I was privileged to hear Judy G Russell The Legal Genealogist, speak at an all-day seminar in February of
this year. To most of us, law seems like a pretty dry and dull subject but Judy
makes it lively as she reminds us how pertinent and valuable it is to our
In some places and times, women were not permitted to
In some places and times, a widow’s children were given to
her husband’s family to raise.
Why wasn’t the eldest son mentioned in the will? Perhaps the law of primogeniture guaranteed
the he automatically inherited the land; and the will merely distributed other
property. Don’t assume that he was dead.
Why wasn’t the wife mentioned in the will? If the law of dower was in place, it may mean
only that he intended to leave her only what the law of dower allowed. Again, don’t assume that she was deceased or
Did you know? I
certainly didn’t. Here are a few
This is a recurring theme for me with my Family History
projects. As I look back at my families over the past 200+ years. I often
wonder what if things had been different at any given place and time.
Early on in my research, I was in touch with a man in
Germany who has my same last name: Dachtera. He, too was doing research. We exchanged emails and he sent photos of his
mother, and of his father in his WW II German army uniform. I sent photos to him including one of my
father in his US WW II army uniform.
That got me thinking.
With so many immigrants in the US what were the odds on the
front lines in WW II that cousins were unknowingly shooting at one another?? Could have happened in Russia, Germany and
Italy. That’s the basis of at least a few novels.
History can get the mind spinning with “what if’?” That’s
what makes us keep on reading Harry Turtledove and other alternate history authors.
As curious as I am, it is probably best not to know “what
if?”. I’ll stick with my kismet.
Grunt work is the stuff that needs doing but isn’t fun or
interesting to do. It’s what I’m doing
now; and for me it takes much more discipline than I usually have. I’m more a big picture person than a detail person.
I’ll take care of the details, but first…..
I have a couple of genealogy projects on hold waiting for
FHL films to arrive. This is the perfect time to fill in the holes in my
citations. And, boy, do I have holes!
Yes, I know that I should include citations immediately when
I add new information. I do that when I have just a few new data points. Good.
But when I’ve come across a lot of new information, I’m just anxious to get it
all in and see how the pieces fit in with the old information. Hence:
If you were to look up the definition of “Pay me now, or pay
me later” you’d find my picture.
We all know what a fact is: Something than can be proven to
In recent months, the phrase “alternative fact” has come
into common usage having been coined by someone in Washington, DC. That is nothing new to genealogists and family
We deal with alternative facts on a regular basis. How many ways can that surname be spelled or
misspelled? Are Sally and Sarah the same
person? Is that person a biological parent or a step parent? An official document states a birth year as
1885; but then another document, also “official”, pins the birth year as 1887.
Just how many nicknames are there for Margaret?
Genealogy software and online genealogy sites have us record
facts for each individual in our family trees.
I wish there was a better word. Sometimes a fact is just the best
information we have at the time. Unless
we have absolute proof, there’s always the chance that our “fact” will be
contradicted or disproved.
As frustrating as that can be, it is also what keeps us
digging through old records and keeps us on our toes.
All four of my grandparents emigrated from Poland in the
How does a family decide to leave their homeland? Extended family
has probably lived in the same area for generations. Parents, brothers, sisters,
uncles, aunts are close enough to visit easily. Their support system is well
established and reliable.
Why abandon this seemingly comfortable way of life to endure
the indignities of weeks at sea in steerage, and the unknowns of a new home in
a strange land?
The answer seems simple in some cases such as the Irish
potato famine. It was a matter of survival.
Why did my Polish ancestors come to the US? It’s not surprising that the answer has to do
with politics and power. Heads of government who sought to expand their realms
and control the populace.
In the 19th century, my families were in Prussian
Poland where the government was imposing strict Germanification on its
provinces that were once Poland. The
Polish language was forbidden. All civic
offices and school classes were conducted in the German language. It was forbidden to teach the Polish language
even as a foreign language. German emigres to former Polish lands were given
priority for jobs and land purchases. Poles were relegated to second-class
Although Poland did not exist on a map in the 19th
century, Poles still considered themselves to be Polish and chafed under
I would love to know the family conversations that led to
the decision to emigrate. It must have
I am grateful that they made those decisions. I was born in 1942 in the USA. I cannot
imagine being born in 1942 in Poland.
A most heartfelt
thank you to my great grandparents who took the risk to come to a new
country. Words cannot express my
D is for Dachtera, my maiden name. Alternate spelling: B-R-I-C-K--W-A-L-L.
That’s an exaggeration. It’s probably more like a wooden blockade–
a tall, thick wooden blockade.
Using BaSIA, I am able to see where that surname is
concentrated in Poland. Years ago I
spent untold hours scouring FHL films looking for records of my great
grandfather, Joseph Dachtera in Parkowo and Oborniki just northeast of
Poznan. I created a detailed spreadsheet
listing almost 150 individuals with that surname and worked hard at trying to
isolate my great grandfather with no success.
I gave up in frustration and went on to other research.
But that was more than 10 years ago when I was just
beginning my genealogy journey. I’ve learned a lot since then about research
techniques and 19th century Polish surname conventions, or lack of
Great Grandpa Joseph Dachtera is my next project. Armed with better knowledge and capabilities,
maybe I’ll find an open gate in that blockade.
Until recently, my research on collateral lines has been
limited to those living in the US – my great aunts and uncles The discovery of distant Polish relatives in
the US got me busy looking at collateral lines from a 3rd great
grandfather born in Poland in 1779.
I should have done this a long time ago! On the other hand, the information I found
may not have been easily available a long time ago.
My 3rd great grandfather, Johann Ganas, lived in
the small village of Czerlejno which was the estate of a Polish nobleman.
Johann’s sons had to look elsewhere for work but they stayed within a 10-mile
radius of their birthplace. In the next generation, some families moved farther
away but still within 20 miles of Czerlejno.
The Ancestry hints showed me that 3 Ganas families came to
the US between 1887 and 1891. Two of them settled in Buffalo, NY; and one in
Milwaukee, WI. My grandfather, Ignatz Ganas arrived in 1893 as a single man and
settled in St. Paul, MN. Maximillian
Ganas, a Roman Catholic priest, arrived in Detroit, MI in 1911.
WOW!! What fun! I have more Polish cousins in the US than I’d
ever imagined. With ongoing research, I
hope to be able to find living distant cousins.
Aunt Bro was my mother’s 2nd oldest sister. Her
mother called her Bronie. Before I
started doing genealogy, everything I ever saw about her said her name was
Bernice. Bernice = Bro? Didn’t make sense to me.
It finally made sense when I was able to review the
sacramental records at St. Adalberts church in St. Paul, Minnesota. My mother’s parents gave their children
Polish baptismal names. They used
American names thereafter but grandma always referred to Bronislawa as Bronie
and she was Bro to everyone else.
One mystery remains:
why was Bro’s husband, Daniel Muccio, referred to as Uncle Jim? I’m sure I’ll never know.
Some genealogists are little more than name collectors. To some, what matters most is how many names
are on their family tree. But each of
those names represents a person, a real human being who lived and worked,
loved, laughed, cried, and felt all of the same emotions that we feel.
Let’s try to understand our ancestors. That gets more
difficult as we go back in time, but if we learn about the times in which they
lived, we can begin to understand the legacy they left to their immediate
descendants, and to us living in the here and now.