Know Your Groups

If you’re lucky,  your family has never immigrated.  It happens. But since the discovery of the Americas, people have been migrating with increasing frequency. No matter where you live, if you are anything other than indigenous, you can be sure you will find immigrants in your past. People marry outside their traditional cultural and social sets all the time, bringing more groups into the mixture.

While this is usually a good thing, it often makes it difficult to do genealogy. But as my family has found, focusing on one family group at a time helps to organize and focus on the task at hand.

Take a look at my family:

  To make it easy, I begin with my father’s parents, and go from male to female, and oldest to youngest by generation. My father’s father is easy.  He is is the progeny of Polish-Catholic immigrants, so he is of two family groups: Polish, and  Polish-Catholic. Making a distinction of religion is important, because records were often kept separately.

Once we have identified the generation that migrated, we then focus our efforts on understanding the place where they came from.  My Polish relatives migrated from Bydgoszcz, one of the larger cities in Poland. It stands to reason that people migrated from rural areas into the cities for economic reasons, and so once we have exhausted the family name in that area, it will be necessary to look into outlying regions. Knowing the family group allows me to follow that group until I get to its origins, and then subdivide each surname in that group so I can do the same.


Many Polish names like mine, are based on places or ‘kowa”; so once we’ve exhaused our search in the Bydgoszcz area, we can start looking for something with a prefix of Kwiat or Kwiatkow, a “place of flowers.”  A Google search reveals five possibilities in Poland, including a small town by the name of Kwiatkow just south of Bydgoszcz, but it may not necessarily be the place of origin for all Kwiatkowskis because Kwiatkowski is among the most common names in Poland.  Besides that, a “place of flowers” could be just about anywhere, including places not listed on the map. But it’s a good place to start.

Long Island/New Jersey

On my dad’s mother’s side, we have several groups.  We can count the most obvious one as Euro-American. We can narrow that group even further by places of settlement. One group originally settled in the Long Island/New Jersey area. I feel safe in assuming that I still have relatives there.

Painted Hills, New York/Pennsylvania

When parts of the family emigrated from Long Island, another group was created. This one is called Painted Hills.” It covers a strip of land in southwestern New York, and northcentral Pennsylvania.  Grandma grew up in Pennsylvania, and Grandpa grew up in New York. They both belong to this one group, which has a genealogical society devoted specifically to research in this area. Click on the photo for access to the Painted Hills Genealogy Society.




We have been able to follow some groups from my father’s matrilineage out of the country, and we know for sure that Sweden and the Netherlands play equal roles in providing ancestors, so that adds two more family groups.  as one of those groups through the Wyckoff line.

We can count religious groups too, so we add Dutch Reformed Church to the mix.  When doing genealogy, we can look for records in municiple files as well as church files. Counting a church as a group gives us more possibilities for finding family documents. Of course, we cannot count atheists and agnostics, as they are not organized groups maintaining records.

As you can see, the list grows longer, the farther back you search.  That is why it is best to focus on one group at a time. Here are my additional family groups that I know of through my mother, my children, my husband, and in-laws. I have tried to order them by generation:




















Cantonese (Hong Kong)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)

A Renewed Tribute to Tante Rosa

A couple of months ago I had to delete one of my blog posts: “A Tribute to Tante Rosa.”  I had linked the post to the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California because I would not have been able to write my tribute without access to their research on the Holocaust.  Unfortunately, the Shoah Foundation attracted malicious hackers, and my blog post had to be removed in order to protect the rest of my web site.  Why is it that tragedy attracts malevolence?

Rosa Daniel as a child

Rosa Daniel as a child

Today I am rewriting my tribute to Tante Rosa (Rosa Daniel), since I did not save it in any other form. I will not be linking my site again to theirs, but I do recommend looking up USC Shoah Foundation.  It does a great job at personalizing genocide, something we should all make personal.

If we can’t relate to it, we have no reason to put an end to it.

Tante Rosa’s story has been intrinsically connected to my appetite for genealogy.  I truly believe that we are all products of our past, and that those who came before us help to define who we are today.  For example, my mom tells me that my brother walks with the same swagger that my grandfather had; and I know that my daughter suffers from the same anxiety and depression that I believe came from Rosa’s sister: my grandmother (Josephine Daniel).  My mother and I have it too. As I learn more about each of my ancestors, I begin to understand how customs, traditions, physical characteristics, and yes, behaviors, are kept alive in myself.

star of david holocaustI learned about my Jewish predecessors as a young girl, and I wondered about the behaviors  not only of Nazi sympathizers, but of the Jews themselves. I wondered why people took their fear of differences so far that they felt  those who were different had to die. And as I watched my own family, I began to see repeated behaviors that mirrored behaviors of those from certain races.  I have come to understand that these are not necessarily “racial” behaviors, but circumstantial responses that have been passed down from one generation to the next.  When it comes to my grandmother’s side of the family, I speak specifically of pathological illnesses including (and not limited to) depression, anxiety, and paranoia that are quite often evident in surviving European Jews and their families. The tragedy has been kept alive in ourselves.  If we don’t understand it, how can we “fix” it?

In telling Rosa’s story, I hope that I am adding a human connection to history.  This isn’t just the story of Rosa Daniels, it is my story.

Grandma left Austria on her own between the wars.  She was tired of the poverty and bigotry experienced by her family, and wanted more for herself.  She explained:

It wasn’t as bad during World War I as it was after the war. Austria had food rationing during the war. We didn’t have much, but we did have something. Everything collapsed after the war; there was no rationing. after the war, there was two months when we never saw a piece of bread. We lived on the greens in the garden. My mother had a few chickens. Once in a while we had an egg, but we had nothing to feed the chickens. We used to get horsemeat; it was a feast to get horsemeat. We got horsemeat from an old horse that would kick off. Almost before it died, they would kill it and sell the meat. There wasn’t any cats or dogs around the country [sic ]. (Rothsprack, Josephine Daniel. Interview by Fredrick M. Kwiatkowski, approx. 1965)

The family property is located in building to the right. (Those are probably family members in the doorways.)

The family property is located in building to the right. (Those are probably family members in the doorways.)

Grandma left all four of her sisters behind in Austria. My Daniel great-grandfather and great-grandmother had passed from this life by the time Austria was annexed to Germany (Anschluss). Two of grandma’s sisters married influential men who were able to keep them safe, but Tante Leni (Helen Daniel Boe) and Tante Rosa were left alone in the town of Wimpassing im Schwarzatale, where they were the only Jews.  Grandma begged Rosa and Leni to join her in the United States, but Rosa felt that she would be able  to save the family’s property (a bakery and store).

Bremen--the ship that carried Tante Leni to safety in August of 1939.

Bremen–the ship that carried Tante Leni to safety in August of 1939.

Grandma scraped up the funds to get both sisters out of Austria, but Leni came alone, and I am told she was able to get out just before borders were closed to Jewish migration out of the country.  Three years after Leni left, the property was in the hands of the Nazis, and Rosa was gone.

I am not sure why, but Grandma believed that Rosa died in Auschwitz. From Grandma’s verbal history passed on by my parents, and information from the Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem, we have been able to piece together the truth: Tante Rosa did die at the hands of the Nazis, but not in a concentration camp.

As the story was told to me, Rosa took paperwork from Grandma into Vienna in her determination to save the family property from Nazi occupation.  The paperwork showed that Grandma was an American citizen with interest in the property. Rosa believed that property owned by a U.S. citizen would be exempt from seizure, so she took it to Vienna to have the property registered as American. This part of the story was passed on by word of mouth. I have since discovered that Rosa probably did not go willingly. Yad Vashem’s report of Tante Rosa’s transport says that “Jews that had been selected for this transport had to report to the assembly camp in a former school situated in the 2nd Viennese district, Kleine Sperlgasse 2 … On arrival at the school grounds, Jewish deportees had to hand over the keys to their homes” (Yad Vashem). Clearly Rosa stayed in contact with Grandma up until the days before her death, otherwise Grandma would not have known that Rosa was going to Vienna with her paperwork. After her trip to Vienna, Rosa disappeared, and Grandma never heard from her again.  Grandma died long before the invent of the internet, so she never knew what actually happened.

In 2010, my father found the Shoah Foundation. Originally, the foundation linked him to an eye-witness testimony of my great-aunt’s death.  Unfortunately, this information is no longer accessible to the general public, even if a direct familial relationship can be established.  The original “eye-witness” printout has been lost, so we have no way of proving the truthfulness of the supposed survivor who met my great-aunt on the transport train and watched her die. However, a later visit to the Shoah Foundation linked us to Yad Vashem, which led us to this document:

Rosa Daniel Death record

The content of the eye-witness report sounds legitimate due to the date of the arrival of Transport 39: September 4–the end of summer. I remember learning that many Jews died during transport due to heat exhaustion from overpacked trains on warm days.  Rosa boarded a cattle car on September 2.  The train was filled with at least 1000 people.  It is very likely that people died in large numbers during the two days they were on the train.  It is not likely, though, that the report is accurate, as there were no known survivors of Maly Trostenets.

Maly Trostenets was not a work camp or even a concentration camp.  This Belorussian camp made no pretenses at freedom or survival.  It was simply a death camp. The only prisoners in the camp were those who were forced into slave labor–perforning camp duties such as maintaining mobile gas chambers and burying victims.

Yad Vashem details the last moments of those who survived the trip on Transport 39:

In order to save gasoline (and time), the trains were diverted to a seldom-used sidetrack that led from Kolodishchi to an improvised platform in the vicinity of Maly Trostenets. Members of the security service (SD) rounded up the Jews in a meadow close to the Maly Trostenets camp, where they were quickly robbed of their last remaining belongings. The SD-men conducted a selection in which they chose 20 – 50 young men who were then sent to various kinds of forced labor in the camp. The remaining Jews on this transport were brought directly to open pits in Blagovshchina forest, where they were shot to death by SD men.

So now we know.  At least we know enough.  Details are unnecessary, and photos are incredibly graphic. I am sure that Grandma saw enough on newsreels, and did plenty of imagining.  I wish someone could have been there to reassure her that Rosa did not suffer for long. Perhaps it would have eased my grandmother’s own suffering.

dachau-arbeit-59.4In the summer of 2001, I visited Germany and Austria. While I was in Germany, I went to Dachau.  The gates to the camp are emblazoned with the slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei (work brings freedom). It’s an ironic falsehood leading detainees to believe that hard work would result in their release.  Of course we know that was not so.

My visit to Dachau came before we had any answers to Grandma’s questions, so while I toured the camp, my mind envisioned a different fate for Tante Rosa.  It was a mostly soundless tour.  I was there with friends and I had plenty to think about, but nothing to say. It just seemed wrong to talk, although plenty of tears were shed, and not just by me. A few months afterward I was finally able to put those thoughts together, and I came up with my tribute:

Tante RosaTante Rosa


Bremen-Helene Daniel Boe transport 19

A new Branch on my Family Tree

My silence for the past few weeks has not been purposeful.  After the birth of my newest grandchild, I spent some time caring for his big sister, and then nursing a sinus infection.  I’d like to say that I am over the sinus infection, but every time I say so, it flares back up again.  And on days when it does, I am not capable of thinking straight enough to catch up on my writing. This morning was another rough one, but I’m feeling better for now.

So about that new grandkid.  He’s a cutie!  Brody was nine pounds and six ounces, and we assumed he was completely healthy; but on the morning that he was scheduled to go home, the doctor came into my daughter-in-law’s room to tell her that Brody had been moved to NICU.Brody NICU swing

Brody spent a week hooked up to tubes and monitors fighting off an unknown infection. He’s home now, and doing fine.  He’s been to the doctor twice already just to make sure.

One thing that everyone said when they saw that big boy with piles of black hair is that he looks like a little Navajo boy.  I said it too.  Because he is.

Brody’s mom is half Italian and half Navajo.  His grandmother on his mother’s side was born on the reservation in Arizona. Brody won’t know his Navajo grandmother. She died about a year ago.  His grandmother was kind of like my grandmother.  She didn’t like to talk much about her life on the reservation (my grandmother didn’t talk about being Jewish), so Brody’s mom doesn’t know much about being Navajo (like my mom didn’t know about being a Jew).

With my daughter-in-law, we have a whole new limb grafted into our nearly 100% European tree. That new limb brings some authenticity to the transplanting of our tree in North American soil. But it also brings a different way of doing genealogy.

I lived for just one year in Page, Arizona, where I taught English to students from the Navajo Reservation.  I fell in love with the Navajo people and their ways of doing things.  Because of that year, I know a little more about the Navajo way than my daughter-in-law does.  We are both looking forward to learning more about the Navajo culture as we help Brody and his big sister grow.

So . . .  Ya’at’eeh. Welcome to the world, little Brody!

You Know You Want This

Geneabloggers is running a holiday contest! They have lots of cool genealogy stuff to be won. Check it out here:

Click on the photo to enter.

Along with the contest, Geneabloggers is offering a holiday boot camp–absolutely free (almost, just donate what you want).  All you have to do is sign up and show up online (in your PJs if you want), and learn some great new tips and tricks for improving your search for your family’s past. Sign up now, there are only 500 spots available. It’s a Super Saturday for genealogists!

Click on the picture to enter.

Even if you don’t win the contest, the Boot Camp will be like winning anyway.  And no, Geneabloggers did not pay me to say this, I just wanted to share. Besides, I get five more entries into the contest for every one person I get to enter!

a free gift for you

I’m having a rough time getting started on my novel.  I start writing, and then I realize that I need to double-check my characters.  I am writing an historical novel based on the life of Mary Davis Skeen, so there are real characters out there paralleling the characters in my novel.

I created a timeline of events in Mary’s life, and I thought I was ready. However, I keep going back to my online pedigree charts to find important people in her story. I realized I just needed a basic pedigree chart  to plug in family members so that I could have something to reference.

Doing genealogy online is quite similar, so I assumed that I would be able to find a basic pedigree chart online.  I wasn’t disappointed; there are hundreds of them.  The most basic ones are PDF files meant to be printed out.  The last thing I need is more paper on my desk.  The fancier ones, ones meant to be used on your desktop and saved electronically, are provided for a fee.  I didn’t want a fancy one, and I didn’t want to pay a fee to learn more software, so I created a template of my own.

I can use this very basic template to organize Mary’s family, save it as Mary’s pedigree, and then create a corresponding one for my fictional family.  I can also use it to focus on just one  family line from my own genealogy, and then save it to the corresponding family in my electronic genealogy file. Nice. No papers!

Free 4 generation template

Click on this photo for your free Word Doc. For a template, save as “Word Template.”

So . . .  here is your own copy of my 4 generation pedigree chart:

Use it. Save it for your very own. Reuse it.  Save it again. It’s free!

If you try it, please let me know if it works for you. 
*Note from me:   I had to take it out of template mode for Word Press, but you can save put it back into template mode when you save it. Just click on “save as” and then choose “Word template” in the “save as type” drop-down menu. I use MS Office 2010, but it should work the same in the previous or most current edition.


I’m Thankful for Geneabloggers

One thing I hate about Christmas–it tends to take over the whole month of November and December, and Thanksgiving tends to get thrown in as an afterthought.  I love Thanksgiving because it reminds me to stop and think of all of the many reasons I have to be grateful.

This month I am busy being grateful for my talent.  If you haven’t already noticed, I’m a writer. I have never written a full-length novel, and I am taking advantage of NaNoWriMo to get a good start on one. This means that I won’t be writing full posts in my blogs for a few weeks.

I have decided that this would be a great time to explore Geneabloggers and see what I can find that interests me.  And for a genealogist and writer, nothing is more interesting than a good book about real people.  Enter Literature and Genealogy by Jeannie M. Martin (

Check out Jeannie’s recent commentary on some great genealogical reads:

Click on the blog segment to get the full post.

Click on the blog segment to get the full post.

Death-It runs in the family

A curious thing about my ancestors–they’re all dead.  It’s the one thing they have in common. When they die, they get buried.  At least back in the day, that’s what they did.  Today, cremation is a definite possibility, and it’s getting more common.  Especially in Europe where they are running out of room for all of the bodies. But where did the bodies of our Euro-American ancestors go?  I have some guesses, and going by family names, religions, places of settlement, and places of origin, I’d bet some good money that I’ve got late relatives buried in  each one of the cemeteries I found.

Of course, I promised that I’d do some looking into the Polhemus family cemetery where my 5th great-grandfather was buried.  You would think that would be an easy thing considering that the cemetery is smack in the middle of American Revolutionary history. Not so.  None of the links to Colts Neck New Jersey Cemeteries seem to be working correctly.  However, I was able to get some interesting photos with definite possibilities.

I did some sleuth work, based on things I know about the Wyckoff family.  First, I know that they are Dutch; we have traced their records back to the Netherlands.  Second, I know that  they originally settled in the area of Monmouth County in New Jersey.  Third, I have some evidence from Find-a-Grave that indicates that Aukey Wyckoff was buried in the Polhemus family cemetery in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey. And, of course, I know their last name would have been Wikoff, Wykoff, or Wyckoff.  Knowing these things, I have come up with the following photos:

The Polhemus family cemetery, where Auke Wykoff is said to be buried, is located in the Colts Neck Reformed Church Cemetery. This makes sense, since most Dutch immigrants belonged to the Dutch Reformend Church. This is the only photo I could find of the “church” or cemetery.

Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church and graveyard

The Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church in Monmouth county. I would not be surprised at all to find ancestors buried here, even if they are not Wyckoffs.

Wyckoff family cemetery NJ

This is actually a screenshot of a street-view looking at the Wyckoff Reformed Church Cemetery in New Jersey. If I can’t find some relatives here, I’ll eat my hat!

The Wyckoff Reformed Church

  There are so many possibilities in New Jersey.  I would love to take a trip there sometime and do some cemetery hopping.  It would be a lot of fun to see how many of my Dutch ancestors I can find while I am there.