I hope to share research, information, tips, and a little of my family history with others following the path to greater genealogical awareness. Let the search for enlightenment continue...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where They Lived: Every Address Tells a Story


(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Back in June I started blogging about my aunt Helen Bulak's 1937 trip to Poland. Unfortunately, due to an unexpected and extended trip of my own, my plan to write regular posts about her trip using photos, memorabilia, and entries from her travel diary was waylaid. Our document analysis assignment for the 98th COG provides the perfect opportunity to get back on track and re-immerse myself in my research. It also offers the opportunity to take a look at a "document" that frankly doesn't look like much, but despite its appearance provides a significant amount of information. I'd also like to briefly mention three of my favorite resources for locating information on people and places in Warsaw, Poland. I would not consider one to be a "traditional" genealogy resource, yet it provides a unique source of information not found elsewhere.

When I started researching my family history about seven or eight years ago I knew little about my grandfather Adolf Szerejko's family in Poland. I knew that my grandfather came from Warsaw, that some of his family were killed during World War II, and that family still lived in Warsaw at least up until the 1960's or 1970's.

Most people know Warsaw and Poland suffered significant losses during World War II. After the Warsaw Uprising in August and September of 1944 the city was systematically destroyed by its Nazi occupiers and the surviving population was relocated to camps of one sort or another for the remainder of the war. The human, cultural, and historical losses suffered by the people of Warsaw was immense. Because of these losses research into the lives of 20th century Warsaw ancestors presents its own unique set of challenges. Records and repositories were destroyed. Churches and church records were destroyed. Until recent years churches, if they survived, were not required to retain records. Family records were destroyed. What's a genealogist to do?

Using a variety of sources--photos, the Ellis Island database, vital records, family letters, and e-mail correspondence with a long-lost cousin--I've managed to discover quite a bit of information about the family in Poland. My Aunt Helen stayed with my grandfather's brother, Feliks Szerejko, and his family when she visited Warsaw in 1937. I know from her travel diary that she visited other family members as well. When I first found my Aunt Helen's diary I also found a folded piece of paper with family addresses tucked inside. The address list and the travel diary, together, provide a significant amount of information about my grandfather's family in Warsaw.

At first glance, what does the address list tell me? There are four addresses from Warsaw. Three are for my grandfather's brothers--Feliks, Jan, and Henryk. This tells me the three brothers are still alive as of August of 1937. When I compare the names with what is in the diary and the names on the backs of my photos, I can put a name and and identity to a face. The final address is for my grandfather's aunt, Julja Bileska. I have photos of a Julja Bielska, and I know my great-grandmother's name was Jozefa Bielska, so my guess is Julja and Jozefa were sisters. In parentheses is the word Ciocia, Polish for aunt. That pretty much confirms it for me. Feliks' address is listed as ul. (ulica or street) Dzialdowska 8-37. I learned from my cousin Marek, who grew up in the greater Warsaw area, that
ul. Dzialdowska is in the Wola district of the city. Henryk's address is listed Grochow (the district) and Omulewska (the street) and Warszawa (the city). Julja Bielska is listed as living at ul. Kopernika 31-7.

When doing research in World War II Warsaw, knowing the district where someone lived can be very important. My mom told me Feliks' wife Leokadia was killed during World War II--the Germans shot her and everyone else in their apartment building. I have no idea when and why this happened. Since Feliks and Leokadia lived in the Wola district, I suspect this may have happened as part of the
Wola Massacre during the Warsaw Uprising. After doing some research, I have discovered there were barricades, fighting, and mass executions in the area of ul. Dzialdowska. In this case knowing the district where a street is located also provides significant background information about the inhabitants of the street.

If I want to locate one of these addresses on a map what would I do? So much of Warsaw was destroyed during the war. How do I know where these places are or use to be? A couple of years ago I found a unique source,
Fotoplan '35. Fotoplan '35 is part of larger resource, Warszawa 1939. The fotoplan contains fragments of an aerial photograph of Warsaw taken in 1935. The folks at Warszawa 1939 are using the fotoplan to document pre-war architecture in Warsaw. If you click on a section you can look at architecture for that area. Red indicates buildings that are no longer there. Green indicates buildings which still exist.

Fotoplan '35 is in Polish. When I use it I pop it into
Google Translate which does a pretty decent job translating what I need to know. Unfortunately not all of the addresses I need are available on the fotoplan, however I did locate Julja Bielska's home. I found ul. Kopernika on Google Maps, then I checked the fotoplan for that part of the city. When you hover over a building, the building number appears. With a little persistence and patience I found number 31! One of the photos of ul. Kopernika 31 was taken in 1941. It amazes me to think that Julja may have been in the building the day the photo was taken. I have not yet, but plan to use it to try to locate churches near ancestral homes, to try to figure out which churches family members may have attended. I can then check to see if the churches and/or church records still exist.

Another resource I have found helpful is the
1938/39 Warsaw Telephone Directory. It's an incredibly interesting resource. It's also incredibly sad. I look at the lists of names, particularly the all the Jewish names, and wonder about the fate of all of those people. What happened to them? As a whole, the telephone directory provides snapshot in time, a picture of Warsaw society as it existed on the eve of World War II. Unfortunately I did not find my specific family members in the telephone directory. It is reasonable to think that not everyone had a telephone at that time. I did, however, find some of the surnames I'm looking for. I can follow up on the names listed, do a surname study, and try to make a connection between the people in the phone book and my known relatives.

One other resource I have found helpful is the Polish version of Wikipedia. I do offer a word of caution when using either Wikipedia or the Polish version of Wikipedia. Wikis by nature are compiled by people like you and me. Some people do careful research and cite their sources. Some people don't. When I use Wikipedia I usually look to see if the person who wrote the entry cites their sources and provides external links. Do I notice any glaring errors? That said, why do I like the Polish version of Wikipedia? The Polish version often provides more information on topics relating to Poland. Here is the
English version of the entry for the Wola district, and here is the Polish version for the the entry. The Polish version has more information and related links which is often the case.

One final tip when looking for family in Warsaw, or Poland for that matter. If you have an old address, consider sending a letter to the to the address, even if it's a pre-war address. My experience has been that if people returned to Warsaw, they often returned to the same area or even the same address once they were able to.


When it comes to research, I believe in documenting and verifying as much as I possibly can. Unfortunately research in Warsaw presents some unique challenges. I may never find the records I'm looking for. I may never be able to document my research or have sources to cite. It's something that I have to accept. It doesn't mean I won't keep trying though. Sometimes the information is there. We just need to be creative to find it.

Wordless Wednesday: Mom

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) I believe this photo of my mom, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, was taken about 1923. Given that my grandmother was a seamstress, I am reasonably certain she made the dress.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Madness Monday: The Stuff We Throw Away, and...

The Big Yard Sale: A Hundred Cars, a Little Bit of Cash, and a Whole Lotta Junk

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) I am sitting here, exhausted, typing in the debris-strewn aftermath of what the folks in town are now referring to as "The Big Yard Sale." I sold a lot of stuff, mostly household goods and kid stuff, and what's left is currently cluttering up my front hallway, kitchen, and garage waiting to go to Goodwill or be collected by the Big Brother, Big Sister Foundation truck next week.

About a month ago a woman in our neighborhood dropped fliers off around the neighborhood to inquire into the collective interest in a neighborhood-wide yard sale. Last week she notified those of us who responded that the yard sale was on. We live in an area with lots of families with young children so sellers and buyers were plentiful, particularly given the current economy.

All the prep for the yard sale made me think about all of the yard sales and flea markets I've done over the years. I, as well as many other bloggers, have written great posts about the stuff they have, the stuff they've kept, the stuff they've organized, and the stuff they're still trying to organize. See my series of posts, Letters and Photos and Stuff, Oh My!: Sorting Through a Loved One's Estate (Part 1). One thing I've never thought about too much, until now, is the stuff we throw away. What does our "trash" say about us?

For centuries archaeologists have examined, for lack of a better word, junk. The stuff that humans for one reason or another have determined they don't need or can live without. A great collective trash pile so to speak. From that trash pile archaeologists piece together, literally and figuratively, the stuff of people's lives.

With that thought, I tried to recollect what I and my family have tossed out over the years. Even though we don't own it any longer, what does the stuff we get rid of say about us and our lives? Do we regret our decisions to toss certain items away? For years my grandmother bemoaned the fact that she gave a Tiffany lamp to the junk man in the 1930's. According to her the lamp was "old-fashioned" and times were tough. My grandparents were struggling through the Great Depression, and the lead in lamp was worth more as bit of cash in hand from the junk man than the lamp itself was worth.

Other family items I've sold or tossed over the years include:

~ the books Poultry Raising in Your Back Yard and Celery Culture (I grew up in a city that at the peak of it's population in the 1950's hovered around 200,000.)
~ a wooden ironing board and a metal washing board
~ a Victrola cabinet without the Victrola
~ about 20 acrylic cardigans my grandmother was "saving for best" (Apparently best never came up...)
~ more dishes, glassware, plates, and platters than one family would EVER need (Mom said, "We did a lot of entertaining." Clearly. Does anyone really need three teapots, five cake plates/stands, and two hard boiled egg plates? Come on now...)
~ a huge number of religious items, such as prayer beads, crosses, and religious pictures, including several pictures of the pope (I can't remember which one.)
~ a variety of sporting goods, including golf clubs, a tennis racket, and exercise equipment
~ lots, and I mean lots, of doilies
~ an upright piano my grandmother bought for me for a $100 (I don't play the piano.)
~ DECADES worth of used wrapping paper and ribbons
~ hats, lots of hats
~ a moth-eaten beaver fur coat my mom bought in the 1940s
~ Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia (You know the one--cream volumes, black trim, gold lettering.)
~ Blue Willow section plates (My husband makes fun of my "food touching issues." What can I say? I come from three generations of people with "food touching issues." I don't like my peas in my mashed potatoes. )

Now if you were an archaeologist, and you looked at my family's trash pile, what conclusion would you come to about my family and me?

My husband and I did a "high five" last night when we realised someone took away the big TV at the end of our driveway with the "Free" sign on it. We'll save $25.00 trying to recycle it elsewhere. All in all, our participation in "The Big Yard Sale" was successful.

We made about $170.00, minus the $25.00 we spent to buy an old, kid's train table for my son's Legos. Oh, and $40.00 went to my son for his items. Believe me, he was keeping track of every dime. Oh, yeah, and $5.00 to give to the lady who organized the effort. So let's see $170.00, minus $70.00 is $100.00. If we add another $50.00 to that, we will have just about enough money to pay the junk dealer to come and haul the rest of our unusable stuff away.

What have you trashed? I really want to know...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Mule Train Into the Grand Canyon

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) This photo was taken in October of 1949. My mom, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette is the fifth rider from the bottom. The visit to the Grand Canyon was her final stop on a cross-country bus trip by herself. Mom told me she would save up her money and vacation time at work for a couple of years and then take a trip. On this particular trip she made stops in Chicago, Salt Lake City, with her final destination in California. She met family friends of my grandparents, Ben and Stella Lewanas, when she arrived in California. I know she also visited San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, and Pasadena. I have a collector's plate from Pasadena on the wall in my kitchen that she brought back from her trip. From California she stopped at the Grand Canyon, where this photo was taken. I believe my mom stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge. She often talked about her mule ride down into the canyon--clearly a highlight from her trip. Apparently she enjoyed her time so much at the Grand Canyon, she overstayed her visit and had to take the bus straight home, making no stops between Arizona and Massachusetts to get back to work the following week!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday's Tip: A Tale of Two Indexers

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) In the last week or so I renewed my search for an Aleksander Szerejko. I don't know for certain, but I believe Alexander may be my great-grandfather Leonard Szerejko's brother. I'm trying to tie Aleksander, Leonard, and a Victoria Szerejko together as siblings. For info on Victoria see my previous post What's in a Name? (An Ongoing Series) : Radziewicz. I discovered the Ancestry immigration collection was available for free over the Labor Day weekend, so I decided to take advantage of the offer rather than wait for my next trip to the library.

I did a bit of searching and eventually came up with a record for an Alexander Szorescko from Warchau. My grandfather and my great-grandfather were from Warsaw, so it makes sense that the Aleksander I'm searching might be from Warsaw. Warschau is the German translation of Warsaw--the ship set sail from the German port of Hamburg. Again, it makes sense that the person writing the information from a German port might write the name of the city in German.

The other night I jumped over to Steve Morse's One Step site to search the Ellis Island site from there. I found the following: Alexander Storeako from Warshon. Same person and the same record, but a different interpretation of the handwriting.

I looked more closely at the record. What do I see when I look at the record? I see Alexander Szoreako from Warshau. Three different people interpreted the same record in three different ways. I'm still not convinced Alexander Szorecsko or Alexander Storeako or Alexander Szoreako is my Aleksander Szerejko, but it gives me something to go on at this point.

Tip for the Day: If you can't find the record you are looking for using one database, try another database that searches the same set of records or record groups. Maybe you'll find it there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mystery Monday: Another Polish Wedding

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Here is another item from my mystery wedding collection. My guess is that the photo was taken about 1920, judging from the style of clothing. Though I don't know for certain, it was probably taken in Worcester, MA and the wedding probably took place at St. Mary's Church (Our Lady of Czestochowa). The maid of honor next to the bride could be my grandmother, Anna (Bulak) Szerejko, but I am not sure. There is a definite Bulak resemblance. The bride and the other bridesmaid have similar features, so they could be Bulak (sometimes spelled Bullock) relations as well. If you recognize anyone in this photo let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Follow Friday: Happy New Year!

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) I've noticed a number of bloggers setting genealogy/blogging goals and making their New Year's resolutions over the last few weeks. Now that my son is back in school, this is something I desperately need to do.

I enjoyed our summer and our month in California, however I've been playing catch up ever since. August came, and I spent the entire month entertaining the young son and toting him to lessons and activities and preparing for back to school. My house needs work, my garden is a disaster, and my genealogy research and blogging have gone somewhat off course. While blogging allows for stream-of-consciousness writing, I feel it's time throw out a lifeline before my blogging descends into the dark, murky waters of the Stream of Unconsciousness.*

Fall is a great time to set goals. It's a new school year, a new schedule, and a time of new beginnings. Even though I've been (mostly) a stay-at-home mom for the last few years, for the almost 18 years of my professional life I worked either in higher education or secondary education, and fall always means the start of a new year. After all these years I still can't give up my academic year planner!

My genealogy goals for the next few months are:

~ Go to the library or a records repository at least every other week
~ Focus research on a few individuals for the immediate future and work diligently at organizing what I already have
~ Make a habit of typing up research and inputting data into my system IMMEDIATELY (No excuses on this one.)
~ Scan and organize photos and slides
~ Continue with my letter translation project with my cousin Marek (He'll be happy to read this one!)
~ Organize digital photos over the winter
~ Join a ProGen Study Group after January 1, 2011
~Participate in an education program (in person or online) once a month
~ Read/familiarize myself with the genealogy books I've ordered

My blogging goals for the next few months are:

~ Return to posting regularly on my Aunt Helen Bulak's Trip to Poland, 1937
~ Participate in the Carnival of Genealogy as much as humanly possible
~ Write one or two solid comments to other geneabloggers every week, minimum
~ Participate in GeneaBloggers daily blogging themes at least a couple of times a week
~ Continue to post the results of my Naramore research
~ Post on a New England theme or Worcester theme once a month

One disclaimer--all bets are off for November. I've decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I'm planning to use the month of November to write the bones of a novella I plan to enter into a contest in the spring.

I'm already feeling a little overwhelmed when I look at my list, but I'm going to do my best. My husband makes fun of my inability (Well, that's what he says anyway...) to plan my time. Basically he always tell me to think about the time I need, then double it. Looking at my list, I should be pretty busy until September 2012.

Happy New Year!


For other great lists check out:

Martin Hollick's New Year Resolutions at The Slovak Yankee
Marian Pierre-Louis' A New Year's Wish List and then some at Roots & Rambles (Marian even has a Weekly Goals plan. I am in awe of this.)
Astrid's Genealogy Goals for the Fall at Of Trolls and Lemons
Tina Lyons' Fall Genealogy Goals at Gen Wish List
Greg Lambersons' Genealogy Goals for the Fall at Greg Lamberson's Genealogy Blog


* The Stream of Unconciousness is located after the Cliffs of Insanity and just before you get to the Fire Swamp and the Rodents of Unusual Size. (Just kidding. If you don't "get it" rent the DVD of the Princess Bride. You'll be glad you did. TGIF everyone!)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Jacob Riis, Riverside Cemetery, Barre, MA


(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Last spring I read The Other Half: the Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America. It was an interesting biography of Jacob Riis--journalist, photographer, and author of How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. I was surprised to read that he had a farm in Barre, MA in the later years of his life. I was also surprised to learn Jacob Riis died in Barre on May 26, 1914 and is buried in the Riverside Cemetery. I forgot about this until started researching the Naramore family for my series of posts COG 97: Researching the "The Coldbrook Tragedy" (Part 1 of 4). Last week when I was out at the Riverside Cemetery searching for the Naramore memorial for my post, Tombstone Tuesday: The Naramore Children, Riverside Cemetery, I located the Riis marker. The marker is a simple field stone without any kind of inscription. I found it interesting that a man who spent so much time documenting the miseries of tenement life in turn-of-the-century New York, was laid to rest in a place so quiet, rural, and timeless.

See Also:

New York Times obituary for Jacob Riis.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mystery Monday: Here Come the (Mystery) Brides, Again

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Thank you Thomas MacEntee for introducing new daily blogging themes at Geneabloggers! I've been trying to figure out how to post all of my mystery photos to hopefully identify some of the people in them. Mystery Monday presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.

My mystery collection seems to include an inordinate number of wedding photos, as I mentioned back in June in my post (Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Here Come The (Mystery) Brides. Call me an optimist, but I'm hoping some of you out there in geneablogger land can help me to identify some of the people in these portraits.


I honestly believe my grandparents and great-grandparents attended EVERY Polish wedding in Worcester, MA from 1900 until 1970. They received a photo of each event and then promptly forgot to label the photo as to whose wedding it was. I found the photos in the basement of my mom's house several years ago, and I just can't seem to toss all of these lovely brides out. Some of them I suspect are relatives--I can tell by the family resemblance. Others, I don't have a clue. My aunt Helen Bulak seems to be a bridesmaid in a number of them. My grandmother was a soloist at St. Mary's Church (Our Lady of Czestochowa) in Worcester and in her own words, "I sang all the weddings." My guess is she sang at someone's wedding and received a photo as a thank you in return.

What do I know about this photo? The photographer on the cardboard mount is listed as Knight's in Worcester MA. So the photo was probably of a wedding that took place in Worcester, MA. I see a family resemblance in the bride and the bridesmaid to the left of the bride. My guess is the bride and the bridesmaid are perhaps related to my Bulak or Kowalewski relations. My grandmother's family didn't live in Worcester until 1900, so the photo was probably taken after 1900. If you have family, or know someone who has family of Polish descent who lived and married in Worcester, MA, about 1900 to 1912, particularly if they have the last name Bulak, Bullock, or Kowalewski, send them my way.

Now who's ready to catch the bouquet?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Coldbrook Springs, A Town No Longer

(Original Image and Text, (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Memorial marker on Route 122 in Barre for the village of Coldbrook Springs, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: The Naramore Children, Riverside Cemetery


(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) This was definitely one of the most interesting cemetery experiences I've ever had. Last week I drove out, or tried to drive out, to Riverside Cemetery in Barre, MA to take a photo of the Naramore memorial for my post, COG 97: Researching "The Coldbrook Tragedy" (Part 1). I checked MapQuest before I went and plugged the details into my GPS. I knew the cemetery was in the Barre Falls Dam area. The town of Coldbrook Springs no longer exists as a town as it was taken by the state for the dam in 1930.

I drove down three separate dirt roads which became narrower, rockier, and more remote. On the last road, according to my GPS, I was only about 500 feet from the cemetery, but the road looked questionable at best. I decided to double check my information and try again another day. Over the weekend I confirmed the location with another researcher familiar with the area. Yesterday I tried again following her directions. I found the cemetery without a problem.

When I got out of my car it was like traveling back in time. The Riverside Cemetery is remote and silent, far from any traffic sounds. I walked through the wooden arch at the front of the cemetery and eventually found the Naramore memorial down a hill, away from the main part of the cemetery. I will say the memorial wasn't exactly what I was expecting with all of the offerings left on and around the stone.

I took my pictures and left for the day. While I drove around the area, I noticed the Barre Falls Dam area is dotted with little old cemeteries--Parker Cemetery, Coldbrook Cemetery, and Riverside Cemetery. There's something kind of interesting, and maybe a little sad about them. Whether it's an accurate statement or not, at least to me, they almost seem like people and places that time forgot.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Glorious Gladioli!

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) My grandparents Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko and Adolf Szerejko, about 1953, with their flowers.