The Uncles’ Military Service

I arrived at Logan Airport, picked up a rental car and drove to Worcester, Massachusetts to visit my uncles Ray and Henry.  Ray and I went to get a bite to eat and Ray started to tell me about his time in the military service.  At this point, I realized that I didn’t have a pen or paper with me and I particularly thought a digital audio recorder would have been useful.  A little late to think of these things, I guess.

When we returned to Henry’s house, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and started taking notes.  Ray and Henry talked mostly about World War II, but spoke about a few other things as well.

Ray volunteered to join the Coast Guard.  On the same day he entered the Coast Guard, the cops arrived at his house to announce he had been drafted.  Ray volunteered to take training as a signalman, and was one of two men to earn a grade of 4.0.  As a Signalman First Class, Ray was assigned to the Destroyer-Escort DE-325, the USS Lowe in an Atlantic convoy to the Mediterranean.  It took 22 days to cross the ocean.  He was later assigned to the Landing Ship Tank LST-795 and traveled to Okinawa and Iwo-Jima.  At the end of the war, his ship picked up POWs in Japan.  Most of the POWs were Australians who were malnourished.

Henry was drafted into the Army.  In the year he became eligible for the draft, he turned 18 years old in May, took his physical in June, and was drafted in July.  His first assignment was to Fort Knox as a tank destroyer, and later was assigned to a troop ship in the South Pacific.  It took 30 days to cross the Pacific.  Still later he was assigned to the Philippines and finally he was assigned to the military police in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan.

Ray and Henry’s brother Fred (now deceased) entered the US Naval Armed Guard and was assigned to the Murmansk Run, delivering war supplies to the Eastern Front.

All three survived the war.

Tomorrow, more of what the uncles told me.

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The Works Progress Administration

Most genealogists are familiar with the Soundex indexes to the US Census and indexes to vital records in several states, but may not realize that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was responsible for those accomplishments.  In the later years of its existence, the Works Progress Administration was known as the Work Projects Administration.

The WPA was established in 1935 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his “New Deal for every American”.  As part of the relief efforts during the Great Depression, the WPA was designed to provide jobs for the unemployed.  Some of the better known projects of the WPA include Camp David, Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon, and the Houston City Hall.

In addition to these construction projects, the WPA also conducted the Historical Records Survey, an effort to survey and index historically significant documents.  Some of the works of particular interest to genealogists are:

  • The Soundex Indexes to the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. Census
  • The Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District #9, 1840-1950
  • The Soundex Name Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1790-1906
  • Index to Naturalization Petitions of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 1865-1957
  • Index to Marriage Record, Morgan County, Indiana, 1850-1941, inclusive
  • Index to Birth Records, Orange County, Indiana, 1882-1938, inclusive
  • The Salem Witchcraft papers: compiled transcripts of the legal documents of the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692
  • Dyer County, Tennessee wills
  • General index to records of births, marriages, and deaths, town of Berlin, Connecticut
  • Tyler County, West Virginia, marriages and deaths, 1853-1899
  • Grave stone records of Wayne County, Iowa
  • Record of the Greenhill Presbyterian Church, 3108 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, Delaware, 1851-1917
  • Inscriptions of Jewish Cemetery and small Jewish burial ground, Savannah, Georgia

The Family History Library Catalog has 992 matching titles for the keywords “Works Progress Administration”, and 1003 matching titles for the keywords “Work Projects Administration”.

The Historical Records Survey was shut down on February 1, 1943.  At that time, nearly everyone was employed because of the Second World War.

My first direct experience with the fruits of the WPA’s labor was in searching the Soundex cards for the 1920 US Census.  The card for my great great uncle, Frank Niedzialkoski is shown below.  Even though his surname is misspelled as Naedzialkosky on the card, the soundex code for Niedzialkoski and Naedzialkosky is the same!

Soundex Card for Frank Niedzialkoski 1920

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Top Ten Reasons to Suspect Jasia and I Were Separated at Birth

One of the genealogy-themed blogs that I read on a regular basis is Creative Gene written by Jasia.  After reading her blog for a while, I realized that we are a lot alike and am now convinced that we must have been separated at birth.  Here are the top ten reasons why:

10.  We are both of Polish descent and we are almost the same age.  I won’t be so unkind as to tell you how old we are 😉 ,though.

9.  We both enjoy writing.  Jasia completed a historical novel about her family history through Na No Wri Mo last November.  I’m planning to write a historical novel about my family, and have been thinking about trying Na No Wri Mo this November, but I’m hoping somebody will stop me before I do something I may regret!

8.  We both spend a day taking pictures and find that we’ve taken way too many photos of gravestones.

7.  Jasia’s first SLR camera was a Canon ME Super.  Mine was a Canon ME.  I was on a budget.  Jasia received a Canon Digital Rebel XT for Christmas.  I want a Canon Digital Rebel XT for Christmas.

6.  Jasia enjoys reading mystery novels by Janet Evanovich, who has just released her 12th novel in the Stephanie Plum series.  I enjoy reading mystery novels by Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, who has just released her 11th novel in the Sister Mary Helen series.  Both Janet Evanovich and Sister Carol Anne O’Marie are published by St. Martin’s Press.

5.  Jasia has 17 first cousins on her father’s side of the family and she is one of the youngest.  I have 18 living first cousins on my father’s side and I am one of the youngest.

4.  Jasia’s paternal grandfather died 5 years before she was born.  My paternal grandfather died 2 years before I was born.

3.  Jasia lives about 60 miles from Hell (Michigan).  I have friends who live about 90 miles from Purgatory (Maine).  I live about 190 miles from Heavenly (California).

2.  We both have blonde hair (OK, my hair has been getting darker the older I get).  Jasia has blue eyes (at least I think she has blue eyes from her picture).  I would have blue eyes if it weren’t for that pesky dominant gene for brown eyes I inherited from my maternal grandmother.

1.  Jasia and I have both never met each other.

Take a moment and visit Jasia’s blog.  On July 3, she’s hosting a Carnival of Genealogy on her blog.

…And I stole the idea for a top ten list from the Genealogue, who I suspect may have stolen the idea from someone else.

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Preparing for a Trip to the Northeast

The entries on this blog may get a little bit shorter and a little less frequent over the next couple of weeks as I prepare for my trip to the northeastern US to visit family and a little genealogy research.

The plan is to visit family in Massachusetts and New York.  We’ll be celebrating my birthday (about a month late), and taking a few day trips.

The first of the day trips will be to Howe’s Caverns and Secret Caverns in New York with my nephew, Lukas.  I don’t get to spend time with Lukas very often, so I’m looking forward to a whole day of exploring caves with him.

My cousin Chris from Florida is visiting Albany, New York, and I’ll meet up with him and my cousin Helen for a trip to Worcester, Massachusetts.  We plan to visit some relatives, stop in at a few cemeteries, and visit the Higgins Armory where my grandfather, Kostanty Niedzialkowski, once worked.

At the end of my trip, I’ll spend a day at the Massachusetts Department of Vital Records and Statistics looking up vital records for my ancestors, and finally I’ll spend a day at the Massachusetts Archives in an effort to find the birth and death records for the two (unrelated) infants who share a grave with my Aunt Bronisława.

So, now, I’m getting ready for my trip, making lists of relatives buried in cemeteries in New York and Massachusetts and lists of the vital records I already have so I don’t duplicate my previous efforts.  No matter how much time I spend getting ready for these research trips, it seems like I’m never quite ready!

I’ll try to makes some entries in the blog from time to time to review what genealogy discoveries I’ve made on this trip, but I’m not sure how often I’ll have access to the internet.  In any case, I hope to have some interesting experiences to relate once I return home!

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More on Podcasts

Purists might define podcasts very narrowly as audio files that can be captured and played on a digital audio player.  Podcatchers such as iTunes and Juice can be used to automatically download podcasts and transfer those files to a digital audio player such as an iPod or the MobiBLU DAH-1500i (“the cube”).

Personally, I don’t own a digital audio player.  I manually download podcasts, use Roxio CD Creator to create a music CD and burn the podcast onto a CD.  After that, I just play the audio CD on my car stereo to help make it through the long commute.

Since Barb Poole wrote about podcasts the other day, I thought I’d throw in my 2-cents worth and list three podcasts in addition to the ones she mentioned.  New episodes appear fairly regularly on these sites.

A recent addition to the podcast scene is the Genealogy Tech Podcast, concentrating on the technology side of genealogy.  Bill Puller posted his first episode on June 10, 2006 and has posted four episodes so far on 1- Choosing a Web Browser, 2-  Protopage, 3- A9.com, and 4- Map Builder.  His voice reminds me of Stephen Hill from public radio’s Music from the Hearts of Space, and if you’ve heard Hearts of Space, you know that can’t be bad.

Dick Eastman occasionally throws a podcast into Eastman’s Online Genealogical Newsletter; the most recent podcast entitled Excavating Grandma’s Privy for Family History Data was posted on June 15, 2006.  Wow!  What a title to get your attention!  Earlier this month, Dick’s podcasts covered an interview with Liz Kerstens about Clooz 2.0 and an interview with Christine Rose about her book Courthouse Research for Family Historians.

DearMyrtle publishes a podcast, but deal old Myrt has been busy with some family issues the last few months and we’ve been anxiously waiting for word from her.  The wait is over.  She published her most recent podcast on June 20, 2006 including interviews with Kathy Meade on Swedish Church Records and with Denise Olsen on creating folders in Microsoft Outlook and Uninterruptible Power Supplies.  DearMyrtle has posted over 30 episodes so far.

I’ve found several other genealogy podcasts on the web, but most of them appear to have been one-time or short-lived podcasts.  That doesn’t mean the content is uninteresting or non-informative.  Further discussion of these “orphan” podcasts will have to wait for another day.

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Changes at MyFamily.com

Many genealogists have noticed the recent changes at Ancestry.com.  Is this a clue as to a possible reason why?

“Sullivan, former CEO of online dating service Match.com, joined Ancestry.com eight months ago and says his first order of business is to improve user experience in order to attract more subscribers. “I was attracted to the services provided by MyFamily.com. The family history research market is significantly larger than that of online dating, and Ancestry.com addresses a universal interest. Since this market hasn’t been fully tapped, there’s significant opportunity to grow markets here and overseas.” “

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The Key to Long Life

I already had plans on what to write today, but I saw this article and quickly changed my plans.

“The chances of living to the ripe old age of 100 — and beyond — nearly double for a child born to a woman before her 25th birthday, Drs. Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova reported. The father’s age is less important to longevity, according to their research.” [read more]

I guess that leaves me out!

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Barb Poole on Podcasts

Today, I’m pleased that Barb Poole has written another GuestBlog for this site!  Thanks again for your contribution Barb! 

Podcasts, what are they?

Ok, let’s get the definition of Podcast out of the way first.   According to my question to www.ask.com, I wrote “What does Podcast mean?”  They reply was short and to the point.   Podcast means A sound file distributed by a podcasting server.  I don’t think we need to worry about the server, but a sound file I do understand.  Just be sure to have your sound turned on!

Googling the words Podcast + genealogy, generated 400,000 hits on June 24, 2006.   I suspect that list will grow as time goes on.  This does not mean there are 400,000 separate podcasts; some of the more popular sites are mentioned in different blogs or web pages, so the same podcast could be mentioned several times.   To find a more specific site, you can add more words in your search engine, subjects such as Italian, Canadian, organizing, filing, or Polish (the words podcast + genealogy + Polish will give you Steve Danko’s blog.

I am only going to discuss two of the well known genealogy podcasts.  The first one listed below has been around for quite a long time, and the second much more recent.   Each is uniquely different.  One has just the sound of the speakers; the other has visuals to go along with the lecture.  There are many other podcasts out there; you should be able to find some which meet your needs.

A very popular podcast is http://www.genealogyguys.com/  in which George G. Morgan and Drew Smith discuss news items, have interviews and answer listener’s mail.  There is also a short advertisement from their sponsor.   The two interact well with one another, and a discussion outline is provided as well.  Their voices are soothing to listen to, and it is a joy to listen to them while doing something else, either at the computer or away from the computer.  

One of the first podcasts I listened to was through the New England Historical Genealogical Society (NEHGS) web site: http://www.newenglandancestors.org/. The lecture was called Who Was Your Mother’s Mother’s Mother’s Mother? by Julie Helen Otto, a genealogist at the Society.  This is a free lecture, and technically is a Macromedia presentation, not a podcast.  Listening to this was like being in a lecture hall, as there were slides & graphics, as well as an outline and the length of time shown for each topic (you always knew how much time was left).   In addition, It is very easy to press replay or skip a topic.  On another note, I know Julie personally and was very impressed with her lecture, I must tell her that.   If the icon for this lecture is not on the home page (it will probably be removed when the next new lecture is posted), just go to the Education Center tab and you will see archived lectures, including several for Getting Started in Genealogy.

I am thinking that this might be the future for some genealogy seminars at conferences.   Instead of purchasing the lecture on a tape cassette, you would pay for the lecture when you download it.  The last large conference I attended, I ordered a set of 9 cassettes (you normally can’t attend each lecture you want to hear as there are too many being held at the same time), and so buying them was the next best thing.   The worst thing was having to wait around after the lecture for the cassettes to be copied.  Then you had to carry them home in an already stuffed suitcase!

It should be noted that Podcasts are not just for genealogists, people in other professions use them too, but of course we like to think they were developed just for us, as were blogs, emails, message boards, chats and computers!

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In the News

I’m taking a National Institute for Genealogical Studies class that ends tomorrow, and so I’m spending most of my time today finishing up on the last few assignments.  Here are a few recent news articles of some genealogical interest.  As some people have already noticed, I was briefly mentioned in the Wall Street Journal Article!

Jessica E. Vascellaro, “New Ways to Dig for Your Roots Online”, The Wall Street Journal, June 22, 2006, page D1

“While family-history aficionados have for years been able to hunt down batches of records (often with the help of subscription-only services available through libraries and schools), new services put such sources right at consumers’ fingertips and in one place. FamilySearch.org, a free site, says its recent efforts to digitize billions of reels of microfilm will allow consumers to access sources from their desk. Previously, the site could often only tell users how to find the relevant microfilm.”  [Read more]

Craig Wilson, “Death is the Story of Their Lives”, USA Today, June 22, 2006, page 1

“There are obit websites (obitpage.com), obit clubs (Friends of Obits in Atlanta), obit blogs (obituaryforum.blogspot.com), even obit-writing classes, so you can write your own before you go. If that’s not enough, a new magazine, appropriately titled Obit (obitmag.org), is expected to launch in January, and Marilyn Johnson’s The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries received rave reviews this spring. Part memoir, part history, part how-to, the book has been described as everything from charming to lively.”  [Read more]

Benjamin Pimentel, “Finding family. Online census data is genealogy treasure trove”, San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 2006, page C1

“The thrill of being able to go online, and finding information in five minutes — you can see what an incredible difference it makes,” said Lou Szucs, Ancestry.com’s chief genealogist. “There is something very magical when you find your family in the census. You want more and more. It’s very addictive.” [Read more]

Jim Herron Zamora, “ALAMEDA. DNA workshop upends notion of race for many. Students learn true genetic heritage and debunk family tales”, San Francisco Chronicle, June 11, 2006, page B1

“My father always made a big deal out of saying my grandmother was 100 percent Fox Indian,” said Davis, who tested as 96 percent European, 3 percent African and 1 percent Native American. “Well, it turns out that isn’t true. Not at all.” [Read more]

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A Forgotten Odyssey

The documentary film, A Forgotten Odyssey, describes the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939 and the consequences of that invasion.

The truth is, the odyssey of the Polish people after the Soviet occupation was not forgotten.  It was hushed up by the West.

Crosses 1

Warsaw Memorial to the Villages Overrun by the Soviets 

As the Soviets rounded up the officers of the Polish military to be later executed in the Katyn Forest Massacre, 1.7 million Polish citizens including the families of the officers, shopkeepers, and even entire villages that resisted Soviet authority were herded onto cattle trains and sent to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and remote regions of Russia.

The people were packed into train cars with a nothing but a cast iron stove in the middle of the car.  Food and water were infrequently offered, and no lavatory facilities were available.  To relieve their bladders and their bowels, they were provided only with a small hole in the floor of the train car.

One survivor recalled that her grandmother became ill on the trip.  No medical attention was provided and her grandmother died.  Their captors tossed the body of her grandmother into a ditch and the train moved on.

When the captives reached their various destinations, they were put to work at hard labor, still without adequate food, water, or medical care.  In at least some cases, the captives had to kill wild animals on the steppes.  But in a hostile environment wild game was scarce; some of the captives were reduced to catching steppe rats for food.  One man recalled that he was assigned to work in the bitter cold at night, and that to stay warm he would splash water on his clothes.  The water would freeze almost immediately into a hard shell, and the icy shell helped keep him warm.

After the Germans betrayed the Soviets and invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Britain convinced the Soviets to offer amnesty to the Poles and allow them to form a Polish Army to fight Hitler.  The Soviets allowed a number of the Poles to travel to Iran where the Allied forces were moving war supplies to the Eastern Front.  The difficult journey to Iran through inhospitable territory may have been the greatest trial the refugees had yet faced.  By the time the Poles reached Iran, they were starving, but they were generously received and fed by the American and British soldiers there.  They were not, however, allowed to speak of their treatment at the hands of the Soviets, lest they offend the Soviet Union, the new ally of America and Britain.

Crosses 5

On the Railroad Ties are the Names of the Villages Overrun by the Soviets 

Many of the Polish refugees who reached Iran entered the military service to fight alongside the Allies, not realizing that the Allies had already agreed to turn the eastern half of Poland over to the Soviet Union.  At the conclusion of the war, these soldiers found they had won the war, but had lost their home.  Over 110,000 of them and their families emigrated to England, and the rest relocated to other parts of the world. 

Of the 1.7 million Poles sent to the work camps in the Soviet Union, only about 500,000 are known to have survived.  Many of the survivors tried to forget these horrible years and later in life refused to talk about the experience at all.  In all, over 6 million Poles died during World War II at the hands of the Germans or the Soviets.

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