Babci Mary’s Polish Soup

Happy Mother’s day!

Okay; Mary is not my grandmother. In fact, we’re only related by marriage. Since I came across the existence of Babci Mary from a cousin I’ve never met in person, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get to know my cousin. By proxy, I’ve gotten to know my own family better.

1917 Kwiatkowski Joannes Mary children and possibly Michael

“Babci” Mary is the beautiful woman seated to the far right. Bernie’s mother is the little blonde seated next to her; his grandfather Joannes “John” is seated on the left. We have speculated that the man standing on the right is my great-grandfather Michael. Michael and Joannes were brothers.

Babci is a Polish word meaning grandmother. It is pronounced bob-chee with the emphasis on the last syllable, making the last consonant in the first syllable sound more like p. 

I met my cousin Bernie on Facebook when I started this blog. Hoping to connect with other family researchers, I created a companion Stories From the Past Facebook group. Many researchers have joined the group, along with friends and childhood classmates. Thanks to my father’s familial connections on Facebook, I was further connected to many cousins from Southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania. Bernie is one of those cousins. Continue reading

A Boy and His Sister

Warning: Despite my insistence that this blog is all about graveyards and dead people, it’s really about family history. This story is about part of my family, and it is part of my children’s history, so even though they are still alive to tell this story themselves, I’m going to tell it now to keep it from becoming untold.

My baby boy turns twenty this weekend.  I haven’t been able to get him out of my mind because he lives nearly three hundred miles away. I have been too ill to travel for the last year or so. I’ve been having car problems too. So has Jake. I miss him terribly, but he promises to come and visit soon, and I can’t wait. Yes, this is the story of a boy and his sister. I’m getting to that–I promise.

But first, a little about a boy and his music. I usually begin my day by listening to uplifting music, and today was no different. I  began by listening to “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, but that got me thinking of sons in general, which got me thinking of Jake. Again. And then I began wondering why I hadn’t listened to anything from Waiting for Compromise lately. In fact, I’ve been avoiding it.

You see, Jake is the lead singer in a band (Waiting for Compromise). Or am I supposed to say was? I don’t know. He is one of three extremely talented singer/songwriters. Two  are brothers, and then there’s Jake. Jake moved to the other end of the state for a full-time job about a year and a half ago, and the two brothers have done a pretty good job of keeping their band going despite the fact that Jake is no longer around. In fact, they’ve even released their first album. Jake wasn’t able to be around for most of the recordings, so he doesn’t sing in many of them. But this one, “Morning’s Coming Soon,” brought me to tears:

Jake does sing in this one. He’s the crazy blonde always up front and in the middle. It’s not the song itself that makes me cry, but the video montage, the fact that the boys are separated, and the lyrics. They probably did it on purpose just to make me cry. Well, it worked, so I’ve been avoiding their music for a while. To be fair though, Jake tells me it makes him cry too. Continue reading

Traditional Christmas Eve in Poland- Wigilia w Polsce- tradycje

Just found this blog post today. I love it because it gives insight to Polish traditions and life in Poland from the prospective of a transplant. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post weekly. Having three active blogs, this may seem difficult, but having access to great re-posts such as this one will make things a bit easier.


In Poland, Christmas Eve is a day first of fasting, then of feasting. The Christmas Eve feast begins at the appearance of the first star. There is no red meat served but fish, usually carp. The supper, which includes many traditional dishes and desserts, can sometimes last for over two hours. It is followed by the exchange of gifts. The next day, the Christmas Day, is often spent visiting friends and family. In Polish tradition, people combine religion and family closeness at Christmas. Although gift-giving plays a major role in the rituals, emphasis is placed more on the making of special foods and decorations.

As mentioned before on the night of Christmas Eve, so important is the appearance of the first star in remembrance of the Star of Bethlehem. On that evening, children watch the sky anxiously hoping to be the first to cry out, “The star has come!” Only after…

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The Lonely Haciendas of Mexico : Which Way 2015, Week 35

This is a repost of a repost. I could not look at these pictures without wondering about the stories that go along with them. Why did these families leave? What is it that makes us let a beautiful old home go to ruin? Enjoy.

lifelessons - a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

                                                  The Lonely Haciendas of Mexico

Although not obvious to the unschooled eye, the haciendas of Mexico are everywhere in my part of Jalisco.  Some are retained by the children of former owners who live in Guadalajara or farther away.  The descendants of families who have tended these haciendas for hundreds of years  still reside there with no money for maintenance and owners who forget their pay for months or even years at a time.  This, although sad for them, is fortunate for those of us who wish to witness the ruins of times gone by, for a few hundred pesos is a godsend to them and wins us admittance to see these aging ghosts.


IMG_0316IMG_0369IMG_0210IMG_0305IMG_0150IMG_0199IMG_0109IMG_0116IMG_0126IMG_0160IMG_0220IMG_0216 (1) One of the haciendas depicted was purchased by a Canadian couple who donated it as a boy’s orphanage.  Another is a former horse-raising hacienda with all its original furniture, drapes, tackle and games room, complete…

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I went to the cemetery looking for my family. I think I found them.

A few days ago I decided to change my screensaver on my PC. I thought I’d look up places where my ancestors lived and fill my screensaver scroll with interesting photos of those places to provide inspiration for my family search and for blog posts. You wouldn’t believe the stories I uncovered! Right here, in the good ol’ U S of A!

But first, a few shots from my past in the old world:

Wimpassing Im Schwarzatalle, Lower Austria , where my great-grandmother was born. Yes, those are the Alps in the far background.(

Wimpassing Im Schwarzatalle, Lower Austria , where my maternal grandmother was born. Yes, those are the Alps in the far background.(

Hanstein Castle, near Hanover Germany. (

Hanstein Castle, near Hanover Germany where my maternal grandfather was born. (

The only Jewish synagogue in the old Jewish sector of Pressburg, Austria, now Bratislava, Slovakia.  Did my maternal great-great-grandfather preside over a congregation here?(

The only Jewish synagogue in the old Jewish sector of Pressburg, Austria, now Bratislava, Slovakia. Did my maternal great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Rudolf Abeles preside over a congregation here?(

Bydgoszcz, Poland (

Bydgoszcz, Poland where my great-grandparents immigrated from. (

One of the few remaining buildings in a tiny place called Kwiatkow in Poland. If I go back far enough, will I find that my surname originated here?

The photographs of the old world are amazing, but I do have ancestors from the colonial days in America too. My paternal grandmother was born in Potter County, Pennsylvania, and my grandfather, son of Polish immigrants, was born in Cattaraugus County, New York. The two counties share state borders, and from what I’ve heard, Grandma must have crossed the state line where she met my grandfather. I’ve actually driven through Cattaraugus County, and I even stopped in the City where my father and grandfather were born (probably the same city where my grandparents met, considering it is rural New York, and it really is more of a small town), so I really was more interested in seeing images from the Pennsylvania side.

11The first pictures I found of Potter County’s “Painted Hills” were truly beautiful. Having been raised in the wide open spaces of the American West, I was shocked at the immensity of these rolling hills and their thick coating of deciduous trees.  The photographs are beautiful, but I can imagine that the early settlers found the terrain a bit unforgiving at times.I think I would have felt quite isolated living within these thick forests, even if I had neighbors a few hundred feet away.

45This rail-bridge puts the immensity of the hills in proportion, dontcha think? This is not at all how I imagined Pennsylvania. This is a helluva gorge. But really, I grew up in the driest state of the nation. I don’t think I ever truly experienced a forest until I toured America’s Midwest. And mountains? Well, the ones I know are rocky. I guess that’s why they call them the “Rocky” Mountains. These should be the Tree-y mountains. But I guess it doesn’t roll off the tongue or fall quite right on the ear. Is this actually even a mountain range?

For some reason, this just seemed like a fitting image. Dad was born during the depression, and I know Grandma had a tough life after her mother died

For some reason, this just seemed like a fitting image. Dad was born during the depression, and I know Grandma had a tough life after her mother died

The more I looked, the more I could visualize family and the conditions they must have lived in, and probably even found quite comfortable for their times.

This could have been the home of my great grandparents, or more likely great-greats....

This could have been the home of my great grandparents, or more likely great-greats….

Grandma was born in Wharton, so I entered Wharton Cemetery as a search term. You know …. Me and cemeteries. I had to do it. This is what popped up:

I immediately posted the link above to my Stories From The Past Facebook group. (You can join too!) I said, “This cemetery includes family names such as Jordan, Walker, Williams, Wykoff, Card (by marriage, I think), Bartram and Berfield. Several of these tombstones are direct ancestors, so I am thinking that a large portion of this very small graveyard is related to me.” My father used to tell me that I was a distant cousin to Charles Ora Card, the man who settled the town of Cardston Canada. I guess he was right. And I guess that makes me a distant cousin to Orson Scott Card, Author of Ender’s Game, as well.

Then one of my Kwiatkowski cousins from across the border in New York chimed in. He posted a link to the cemetery where many of my grandfather’s relatives are laid to rest (yet another cemetery loaded with untold stories). I immediately identified my great-grandfather’s name among the dead there. Wow. Social networking for dead people!

Some stuff

Susannah Sterling Berfield

And still another New York cousin said “my wife’s ancestors are the Berfields (there are various spellings) from Wharton and Sinnemahoning. I have a fair amount of information about them. Send me a few names and I will see what I can share.” The next thing you know, he was sending me this photo of my fourth great-grandmother’s tombstone. Wow. My cousin’s wife is my cousin too. It turns out, that this Susannah was a Sterling before she got married, and her father settled in the nearby area of Sterling’s Run (I learned that on My cousin tells me that Susannah’s husband, Stephen Berfield, was responsible for settling the Sinnemahoning area of Pennsylvania.

And remember that rail-bridge? My cousin also said that “The movie Unstoppable was shot in that area, and Olean as well. The Wharton/Sinnemahoning area is basically steep hill, road, steep hill, railroad tracks, steep hill, then creek. No room for error. Many train wrecks occurred in that area on the PRR, the most recent when a chemical spill killed the fish in the Susquehanna, prompting the movie.”

Oh. My. Gosh. Who’da thunk that a simple image search on the internet would reveal so many stories?  I have a bit more unearthing to do, but I think we’re on to something here. By the way, Olean is where my Kwiatkowski cousins are from. And no, I’ve never met any of them in person. That’s another story for another time.

How to Dig up Dirt on your Ancestors

I don’t know about the Brits, but here in the U.S. we say we’re “digging up dirt” when we work hard to get the details of an interesting, maybe even scandalous, story.  It’s just one of those idiotic idioms we use.

They might be, Harry. Just how much do you know about Lilly and James Potter?

I’ve just wrapped up my first professional research project. All of the records come from the British portion of the U.K. It’s been a lot of fun, and a LOT of work. Probably a lot more work than I needed to do; but I can honestly say that I now know much more about a complete stranger’s past than they do.

I’m busy trying to make a living, so my dad, who is retired, handles the majority of my family’s genealogy. My dad is from a small town in New York, but he grew up in Nevada with no communication from his father’s family in New York or from his mother’s family in Pennsylvania. When grandma left the Painted Hills area, she cut all ties. Dad had to remake a lot of connections to begin his research. Thanks to the internet, it’s been a little easier, but Dad’s no youngster, and he likes doing things on paper. It’s a little slow and messy, and he’s got to be incredibly organized. Unfortunately, my dad inherited his organizational skills from me.  I have had to learn to make a strength out of my weakness, and it is a constant battle. That last project reminded me of that.

Until I began the Untold Stories  project, I really was just a dabbler. Genealogy is a hobby I’ve had since I was a teenager. It is something my dad and I have in common, and I have very fond memories of our family search “dates” from my childhood. My most recent free-lance job was for a genealogical research company, so I don’t get to know who the client I’m working for is.  Honestly, I like it that way because I don’t enter my research with any prejudices. I was presented with just a bit of hearsay, a photograph, and four “documents”. One was an “annotated” copy of a census record, and another, a scribbled index of a census record which was not a match for the ancestor they wanted me to search. I was feeling a little better about my organizational skills upon seeing these.

But I was totally unprepared for the deluge of documents that I would uncover, and I had no clue how to store them temporarily among my already overflowing genealogy files on my computer.  After I had collected about thirty documents, I decided to go back and double check to see if I’d missed anything. It was then that I realized that I did miss something; I missed documenting my research so that I didn’t have to repeat the process while looking for things I missed. I stopped right there, and created some templates to help myself stay organized and focused while gathering piles of information.

By the time I finished recovering all of the files and missing documents, I was a week-and-a-half late turning in the finished project. It was seriously frustrating for me, but I know now exactly what I need to do to stay organized and get things done quickly and efficiently while doing my genealogy.

My dad’s managed to get documents for his parents and family members together in a system that works for him, but all of the digital files that I have been given have yet to be organized, and I was recently handed a packet of paper copies for my mother’s side of the family. They are all in German. Mom said, “We don’t know what they are. You figure it out and let us know.” Gee, thanks. In the meantime, Dad’s still digging.

My New System

Actually, I think my new system will shave weeks off of my next search, and I am feeling ready to tackle the job of locating my lost ancestors in Germany. Yes, they are lost, but that’s another story for another day. So here are my suggestions for people like me and my anonymous client:

  • Gather as much information as you can from family members. Talk to the oldest ones first, and always use a voice recorder, making sure to record the date and year of the recording before you launch into your Q and A.
  • Organize all of the vital information you have into one place. As you gather more information, add it, but make sure that you have a system to identify the information you already have versus the new information that you add. Here’s the one that I made:
I highlighted what I already knew in green, and what I found in orange.

I highlighted what I already knew in green, and what I found in orange.

On the opposite side is a four-generation chart with siblings. Once again, green for old information, Orange for new.

On the opposite side is a four-generation chart with room to add siblings. Once again, green for old information, Orange for new.

You can download a Word doc  for free until July 15, 2015. Send your request for an individual search organizer to

Keep reading. I’ve included a link at the bottom of this post for a free download.

  • Identify every step of your search, making sure to include those steps that reveal no new information. Number each found document in the order that you found it, and include the date of the original document. For example,
name your files whatever you want. Just make sure that the first part of the file name is a number matching the order in which it was found.

If the third file I found was a census record from 1851, the file name would be 3.1851.  If the fourth file was a church in London, it would be

  • Make a research table. Write down EVERY step of your search, even if you don’t find anything. That way, you won’t keep looking in the same dead ends.
  • Number each document you find, and the order you found it, even though it may not be a perfect match. Number the corresponding digital file with the same number.
Make sure that you include a date and a number for every document you find. Photos do not need to have dates unless you are sure of the dates they were taken.

Make sure that you include a date and a number for every document you find. Photos do not need to have dates unless you are sure of the dates they were taken. Any search that does not turn up evidence will not have a date or a corresponding file number. With any luck, your research table will be as long as this one.

  • Print out your finished Research Table, and file it with the corresponding vital information organizer.
  • Keep a paper copy and a digital copy of every single document you find, and number your paper copies corresponding to your research table. File all paper copies together.

I’ll talk more about using these documents and organizing files, both paper and electronic, later. Just be sure to download organizers  today, because they are free for a very short time only!

Apologies to My Readers and Some Totally Irrelevant Information About Myself

Dear Readers,
Please accept my most profound apology for ignoring you. I wasn’t doing it on purpose.  In the last few months I have experienced some health problems that affected both my heart and my ability to think straight. So I was saving my energies for more lucrative ventures, like writing that I might actually get paid for.

But seriously, there were actually times when I started to write a new blog post, but got tired (physically, not mentally) and started dozing off. Dozing off isn’t a good thing when you are writing.

By this time you might be curious about what is going on with me. And now that I am feeling somewhat better, and actually understand it myself, let me tell you. It’s pretty simple, actually. I have chronic migraines and Grave’s Disease.

Those of you who actually suffer from migraines know all about the chronic part. Migraines are just chronic–one of those things that you just have to deal with. It’s very difficult to function during one, and once it’s over with, you have to deal with debilitating fatigue. Many years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic depression;now they tell me it was those headaches all along. Fortunately, the doctors are finding different ways to deal with it, and despite a rough start where new medication brought on a cluster of migraines lasting two whole weeks, I am feeling much better today.

You don’t have to tell me; I already know–it’s all in my head. That might even be true for the Grave’s Disease, if you count my neck as part of my head. Grave’s Disease is hyperthyroidism. It really has nothing to do with actual graves like the ones I usually talk about in this blog. My thyroid is actually over-functioning, and wreaking havoc with other parts of my body–like my heart. And if I’m not careful, I’ll be the one in the grave and I no longer be able to blog about it.

We discovered the problem when I landed in the ER with Atrial Fibrillation, more commonly known as A-Fib.

So now I am taking piles of meds: for my allergies, which contribute to my migraines; for my migraines, so I won’t have to deal with them on a daily basis anymore; for my heart, to keep it beating regularly; and for my thyroid, to keep it calm.

And then come the negotiations.  My thyroid doctor wants to radiate my thyroid, effectively killing it off.  I don’t like that idea, because I will have to rely on medications for the rest of my life.  My heart doctor will not take me off of the heart medication until I have removed ALL risk factors. Otherwise, I’ll be on heart meds for the rest of my life. And of course, that means doing something about my thyroid.

I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. But I really am shooting for a totally med-free life.  So here’s my plan: I negotiated with the thyroid doctor to try reversing the Grave’s Disease with medication and a healthy diet. He’s giving it three more months. And then, he says, he’s radiating me. He also says he thinks I have a 30% chance of success. Yuck.

Once I have successfully beaten the odds and reversed the Grave’s Disease, then I have to lose weight. Once that happens, I will be able to go off the heart meds.  And of course I haven’t mentioned the allergy shots.  Following that, I am hoping that I will be able to wean myself off of the migraine medication.  If you’ve got any suggestions, puh-lease, let me know.