Saturday, April 30, 2016

A to Z Challenge – What I learned

  •         It is possible to blog every day. (But it may not be practical)

  •        Having a prompt like the Challenge does make it easier to come up with a topic.

  •        It is not necessary for every blog post to be deep and pithy. Sometimes little snippets are all you need to let folks know that you’re still around – as long as they are pertinent to your blog theme.

 This has been an interesting and enjoyable exercise. Even when I struggled to come up with a topic, I managed to post something.  As a master procrastinator, I find it all too easy to put off writing when I’m short on inspiration. 

I won’t continue posting daily, but hope to keep up the momentum to post more frequently as long as I can stay on topic.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A to Z Challenge – Z is for Zero

Zero is the number of ideas that I have for a topic for the letter Z.

I like to visit the zoo. Zebras are fascinating animals. I’ve never been to Zanzibar so I can’t write about it.

Z (or zed, if you prefer) is just the end of the line – at least for this A to Z Challenge. It has been a worthwhile exercise.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A to Z Challenge - Y is for You

You have encouraged me to complete the A to Z challenge. Without readership, I might have given up when I had to think hard to find a topic to match the letter. You kept me going.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A to Z Challenge – X Marks the Spot

Where did your ancestors live?  What do you know about it? What does it look like today?

Using Google Earth with Street View and Google Maps, you can visit your ancestral villages.  Here are some my Xs in Poland as shown by the yellow push pins in this Google Earth image.

In an earlier blog post I discussed using both Google Earth and Wikipedia to explore your geographic roots.  Here's the link.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A to Z Challenge – V is for Verify

It is so exciting to find a family member in a database!  Perhaps you find a gem in someone else’s online family tree, or an ancestor’s name pops up on a passenger list, or birth or death record.  WOW!

However tempting it may be to take what you find at face value, it is important to verify all information. Check everything you can check.




Do your best to make sure that you’re not following a false positive.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A to Z Challenge – U is for Upper Levee

The Upper Levee in St. Paul, Minnesota is where countless immigrants made their first home in the United States. Literally on the banks of the Mississippi river with mud and annual floods, this was certainly not the “streets paved with gold” vision of America. Italian immigrants made up the largest ethnic group on the levee, but there were also large numbers from Poland, Bohemia, and Scandinavia.

The ship landings here were the northernmost ports on the Mississippi. Between the railroads and the river, St. Paul was the transportation hub of the upper Midwest.

My great grandparents, Michael and Elizabeth Schipp (Sip) made their first US home on the levee. Most of their grandchildren were born here including my mother and her siblings (children of Ignatz Ganas and Stella Schipp Ganas)  shown in the photo below.

In this 1917 snapshot, they’re arranged by height rather than age. Fourth from the left is actually the oldest.  WW I was still going on and you see the 2 youngest girls, Julia and Emily (my mother) dressed as nurses and the two youngest boys, Chester and Frank dressed as doughboys.  Visible as a horizontal line in the upper background is the High Bridge that spanned the river connecting the bluffs on either side.  Gives perspective on the levee relative to the rest of the city.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A to Z Challenge – T is for Teamster

My maternal grandfather, Ignatz Ganas was a teamster back in the day when the term actually reflected what they did.  They drove teams of horses. He also did some tailoring for private clients.

I wish I knew more about him back then. Was he independent? Did he haul for some specific company or companies?  I do know that he owned his team and a wagon. He died before I was born, but I remember his work / horse shed. When I was a curious child, I badly wanted to explore that shed. It still smelled of the dressed leather tack; it had a grinding wheel and a lot of very interesting looking stuff. Where’s that time machine I keep asking for??

Friday, April 22, 2016

A to Z Challenge – S is for Steerage

Many of our immigrant ancestors sailed to the United States in conditions we cannot imagine.  They traveled in “steerage” or “tween decks”.  This was the lowest deck of a ship – called steerage because it was often at the same level as the steering mechanism of the ship. Or it was a relatively shallow space between decks.  Depending on the year of passage and the shipping line, people may have been packed in large compartments of double deck bunks, fed provisions that were barely edible; or they could have been given more humane treatment and food that actually could provide sustenance; and even medical attention.

In some cases, passengers were required to purchase their mattresses which were filled with straw or dried seaweed. Some were required to purchase their eating utensils and plates. Sanitary conditions were anything but sanitary.

GG Archives has articles and images describing what our immigrants experienced including examples of tickets, passenger lists.  There is also a comparison of ticket prices shown in today’s dollars.

Our ancestors left everything they knew:  home, extended family, livelihood. They spent weeks at sea in atrocious conditions in hopes of a brighter future.  Pretty gutsy if you ask me.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A to Z Challenge – R is for Research

Research.  It’s what we do as genealogists – whether amateur, like me, or professional.  We’re researchers and detectives on the hunt for facts and clues. We haunt libraries, archives and court houses.  We spend hours reading microfilm and fiche hoping for a hint of our family history.  We spend even more hours scouring the world on the internet.

Research = Fun for many of us. It’s the thrill of the hunt.  The answers are out there somewhere, we hope. That’s what keeps us going.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A to Z Challenge – Q is for Quiet

Family history is mostly a quiet pursuit. Research is done in libraries and archives; or online in solitude.  It appears to be calm and tranquil. It is not.

That external quiet is deceptive because there’s a frenzy of mental activity going in the search for clues and facts. Clues always lead to more questions and the mental activity kicks up a notch or two. Not to mention the urge to shout to the rooftops when a discovery is finally made.

Quiet is not necessarily restful. It can be exhausting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A to Z Challenge – P is for Penmanship

Or lack of penmanship.  Reading old church sacramental records from Poland can be very challenging.  The handwriting ranges from elegant to chicken-scratch.

It would seem that elegant writing would be easy to read – but that’s not always the case. Flourishes and curlicues can make it difficult to read old European handwriting.  It can make it hard to distinguish between a J or an F or a T – or a P, R or B.

In many cases later 19th century church records were tabular. Column headings were printed on the pages to be filled in by the priest.

But earlier records that were in paragraph format can be a huge challenge. The image below is one of the easy ones.

In this high tech age, it seems that cursive writing may disappear completely.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing.


Monday, April 18, 2016

A to Z Challenge - O is for Ooops!

Things got very busy and I did not come up with a topic for the letter O.  But I don't want to break the string so..... oops.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Relationship Charts – xCousin yRemoved

Relationships across generations can be confusing to beginning and experienced genealogists alike. If she is my second cousin twice removed, exactly how are we related? What is my relation to my first cousin’s great grandchildren.?  Verbal or written explanations can be convoluted, but here are links to a few charts that are both clear and simple.

Generation Names by Alvy Ray Smith

How Are We Related? An updated version of the Alice J. Ramsay chart from

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A to Z Challenge – N is for Names

There are lots of interesting things to ponder about names. Does the name our parents give us have any bearing on how we develop as we grow up?  Does our first name have an effect on the first impression we make when meeting someone? Is there any advantage or disadvantage to having an unusual first name – or unusual spelling of a common first name?

My maternal grandparents gave most of their children Polish names – that’s how they appear in church baptism records. Here they are in order of birth

Baptismal Name
Common Name

Did “Alex” as a nickname become Alice?









Not “Francis” but the English version of Franz.

My own parents gave their three children middle names after the saints on whose feast day we were born.  I was born on the feast of St. Catherine. My next brother was born on the feast of St. Raymond.  But my folks had their limits. The next brother was born on the feast of St. Jehosaphat. His middle name is Joseph.

In Roman Catholic grade school, I was one Mary among many including the teachers who were all Sister Mary ………  How I longed to have an unusual name.  I envied Rita Hayworth’s daughter Yasmin. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

A to Z Challenge – M is for Minnesota

All four of my grandparents ended up in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Why?

Weather was not a deterrent as my immigrant ancestors were accustomed to the harsh winters of Poland.  And it probably didn’t hurt that the geography is similar to their homelands just east of Poznan.  

In the late 1800’s the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis were booming. St Paul was the northernmost port on the Mississippi river. Lumber and agricultural products from areas farther west arrived in St. Paul to be transported down the river.  Railroads were expanding. Industry was booming. Two giant grain millers, Pillsbury and General Mills were thriving. 

New immigrants could find work.  It was a good place to be.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A to Z Challenge – L is for Latin

My ancestors were Roman Catholics in Poland.  That means that their baptism, marriage, and funeral records were all written in Latin. How fortunate for me that Latin was the language of the church and the records were not written in Polish – a very difficult language.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A to Z Challenge – K is for Kulturkampf

In its narrowest definition, Kulturkampf was Otto Von Bismark’s struggle with the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1870s. In actuality, it had an enormous effect on the Polish provinces of Prussia beyond the conflict between church and state.

Most Poles were Roman Catholics.  Kulturkampf affected every aspect of their lives.

In 1872, a decree demanded that the use of the German language was compulsory in all state schools. The Polish language was banned -  even as a foreign language. [1]   In all courts and public offices, down to the local post office, business was conducted only in the German language

This was a key move in the process of Germanification of the Prussian Poland. German citizens were encouraged to migrate to Poland, and were given priority when acquiring property and in hiring.

It is no surprise to me that my ancestors chose to emigrate to the United States.

God’s Playground – Norman Davies
Gold and Iron – Fritz Stern

[1] God’s Playground – Norman Davies – Chapter 3, page 126, 127

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A to Z Challenge – J is for Jumping to Conclusions

It is very tempting and much too easy to come to a conclusion before we have all the data. Click genealogists do this when they see a familiar name on someone else’s family tree and simply add new information to their own tree.

DON’T DO THAT!  (Sorry for shouting.)

Same name, same location, year is off by only 1 or 2. Must be the same person. Could be the same person, but it could also be a different person from a different branch of the same tree. Be sure to check sources both the other person’s sources and your own.

Having said that, I do engage in reasoned speculation.  Evidence points in a certain direction, but there is no real proof. There are varied opinions on whether to put speculative data in an online tree.  I do that hoping that someone will either corroborate my conjecture with proof or prove me wrong.

How do you handle your “educated guesses”?

Monday, April 11, 2016

A to Z Challenge – I is for Ignatz Ganas

Ignatz Ganas was my maternal grandfather.  He was born in 1870 at Chorzalki – a tiny village near Iwno, Poland. He died in 1940 – before I was born – in St. Paul, Minnesota.

His life before he came to the US is a bit of a mystery because it is mostly hearsay. I have copies of the church documents for his baptism and his marriage. I have a copy of the passenger list showing his arrival in the US. I have stories my mother told me.

Apparently his mother’s family owned a tavern and he told stories about working behind the bar as a child.  His father, Joseph, died when Ignatz was 3 years old. His mother, Marianna Jaskowiak Ganas, remarried when Ignatz was 6 years old.

The rest of my “knowledge” of him is family lore – none of which I have been able to verify.

He was sent to live with his mother’s twin brother in Berlin. His uncle was a tailor who taught Ignatz the trade.

Ignatz left Prussia/Germany just before his 16th birthday in order to avoid conscription into the army.

I do know that he was back in Germany in 1893 because he sailed from Hamburg and arrived in the US in Baltimore that year. He was 23 then.

I would love to know where he traveled and how he lived for those 7 years. My guess is that he made a living tailoring. But where???

This is one mystery that most likely will never be solved. Back to my wish for a time machine.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A to Z Challenge – H is for Heritage

In a previous post, I explained that my focus is more on heritage than on lineage. In my view, those are two parts of the whole that is genealogy. Some people apparently concentrate on the names and dates and who begat whom without thinking very much about the people behind those names and dates. I need to know the names and dates and begats because I want to learn who my ancestors were.

My intent is to be a family historian. I am descended from Polish peasants. They may seem trivial in the broad scope of history, but like modern farmers and laborers, they were the backbone of their nation – providing the food and goods and services that keep things going.

Where and how did they live? What was life like for them in the 18th and 19th centuries?  What was life like in the US for my immigrant ancestors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

One of my fantasies is a time machine that would let me go back and observe. My maternal grandmother was a goose girl – she tended the geese on the family farm. It would be wonderful to be able to see that farm and watch her as a child with her flock.  I guess I’ll have to settle for learning by reading and studying to try to get a hint of my distant past.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A to Z challenge – G is for Ganas

My mother’s maiden name was Ganas. Her father immigrated to the US from Poland. But Ganas is not typical of Polish surnames. I’ve traced the family back as far as my 3X great grandfather who was born in 1779 in Czerlejno, Poland so I know that the family has been in Poland for more than 300 years.

But I wonder where they originated.

When I’ve done searches on that surname, the results seem to be predominantly of Greek origin. Did my Ganas ancestors originate in Greece?  When and why would they resettle in Poland?

My reading of Polish history tells me that in past centuries, Poland was a melting pot.  There were immigrants from many other nations.

There are also the many wars that occurred in that part of the world over the centuries as various kings sought to enlarge their empires. Foreign soldiers could have stayed in Polish territories.

I also read that in the late middle ages, there were many Greek and Turkish merchants and traders doing business in Poland. 

Did one Greek trader decide to remain in Poland?  In love with the land? In love with a girl?

I have 3 male Ganas first cousins and with any luck I’ll be able to convince them to do DNA testing. I’d like to see what that Y chromosome has to say.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A to Z Challenge – F is for Family Lore (or Fantasy)

Family lore can provide good clues for the researcher. Or Not.

Stories that have been handed down for generations have some credibility simply because they’ve been repeated so often; and because the story tellers themselves are convinced of their validity. If your mother or grandmother told it, it must be true.

Unfortunately, they are often simply fantasy – the product of someone’s imagination or misinformation or wishful thinking.  Was distant cousin George truly a hero in the Civil War?  Or did his mother “pad” his resume? Or did George pad his own resume?  Are you actually descended from royalty?

The other side of that coin is lore about some long past scandal.  Was that grand uncle really a horse thief, or bigamist? Or was he merely the target of someone’s spite?

Inquiring minds want to know. Were they saints or sinners?

Today’s researchers are lucky to have sophisticated tools to help us find the truth behind the legends. We just have to make certain that we really want to know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A to Z Challenge – E is for Emily

My mother, Emily Ganas Dachtera was born in 1912 – the 10th of 11 children.

She was a gifted artist and seamstress who never had the opportunity to capitalize on her talents.  One of my favorite memories is of the year she produced a gorgeous landscape in icing on my birthday cake. There were many challenges in her life, not the least of which was a rebellious daughter (me). 

She died at the age of 98. I still miss being able to talk to her on the phone.

Love you, Mom

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A to Z Challenge – D is for Dachtera

Dachtera is my maiden name.

Stella, Andrew, Anna,Valentine, Pauline
Rosalie, Joseph, Magdalena, Stanley
My great grandparents, Joseph and Magdalena Dachtera arrived in the US from Prussian Poland in 1881 with their 3 children:
Stanislaw (Stanley) – my grandfather
Stanislawa (Stella)

In spite of many hours reading LDS microfilmed records from parishes around Oborniki and Parkowo, and Lechlin – Prusce, I still have not identified their village in Poland.  There are more films to read.

They settled first in Pennsylvania. I don’t know for certain whether Joseph worked in the coal mines or steel mills. Two more children were born in Pennsylvania. Sons:  Andrew and Valentine.

Nor do I know where they lived in Pennsylvania. They were there between census years.  I’m hoping to find church records of the baptisms of the sons born there, but have not begun that search.

By 1887 they had moved to St. Paul, Minnesota where their youngest daughters Anna and Pauline were born.   

PLEA FOR HELP:  I’ll be forever grateful if anyone reading this can give me some ideas or information to help me fill the gaps.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A to Z Challenge – C is for Challenge

Family history is a never ending challenge.  If you’ve worked at tracing your family tree, you know that it is so much more that finding a leaf (hint) on your online tree data.  If only it was as simple as the TV ads make it seem.

Who were your ancestors? When did they live?  Where did they live? When? How did they get there? Why did they move? Which Solomon Rose is the one I’m looking for? (This is an ongoing question in one of the lines I’m working on.)  What was life like for them?

Sorting the clues is a challenge. 

One census record shows a person’s age as 24, but 10 years later, the next census shows the same person as 29.  ???

Did the people transcribing the records correctly interpret the handwriting? Is that an e or an a? 

Is John Smith truly the son of John Smythe?

The challenge, of course, is what makes it fun. There’s joy in every little success.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Passenger Lists – Beyond the “Majors”

Look beyond and for passenger and ship lists.

has transcribed more than 17,000 ship manifests. This group of volunteers has been working for 14 years to make these lists available online.  But it is more than just lists.

The Compass page has several categories of links to other sites with additional information including immigration and naturalization; maritime resources; arrivals at non-USA ports

This site is so much more than passenger lists. It is a wealth of general and cultural information from the late 19th and early 20th centuries to help flesh out the immigrant experience.
·       Vintage brochures
·       Steamship tickets and menus
·       Daily life aboard a ship
·       Traveling steerage – multiple articles on the steerage experience.

The articles about traveling in steerage gave me a small idea of what my own immigrant ancestors went through - I'm certain that they never saw anything like the elegant menus shown on this site.

It is definitely worth spending time on this site.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A to Z Challenge - catching up.

Since I'm starting a day late, on April 2,  this post is both A and B

A is for Ambrose Dachtera, my father.

Born in 1914, the 10th child of Polish immigrant parents.
Ambrose was a devout Catholic who lived his faith. He was a hard-working, self-scarificing, kind and generous man. The best Daddy a girl could have. He will always live in my heart.

B is for Bronislawa, one of my mother's sisters.

Until I started doing family research, I never understood why, even though her name was Bernice, she was known as Aunt Bro; and my grandmother referred to her as Bronie.  My Polish maternal grandparents had all their children baptized with Polish names - some translated easily to English but others did not. They actually used American names throughout their lives so the Polish names were a surprise to me when I found the church records of their baptisms.