Another Great Pennsylvania Archives – In Our Own Franklin County Back Yard

I’ve written before about the Pennsylvania State Archives, and about the wonderful staff and their records. I’ve solved many clients’ genealogy problems because of my monthly trips to Harrisburg. However, many people are just now learning about the not-so-new resource right here in Franklin County – The Franklin County Archives.

The Franklin County Archives
The Franklin County Archives

The Archives are run by Director, Justin McHenry. Justin and his three staff members are responsible for preserving all of the records created by Franklin County Government since the county was formed in 1784. According to their website, “The Franklin County Archives is dedicated to safeguarding and preserving its history and heritage as well as providing the public with access to the documents and records pertaining to the history, administration and operation of the County.” To genealogists, the most important part of that statement is “providing the public with access to the documents and records.” And that is just what they are doing.

A couple months ago, I brought my Menno Haven Retirement Communities genealogy class to the archives to learn about the resources that are housed at there. Justin explained that the records of most interest to genealogists are being moved from the Courthouse to the Archives, and slowly being scanned so they’re available online. The goal is a one-stop-shop for people who will eventually be able to research their ancestors from the comfort of their own home.

At this time, most of the records from the County Clerk’s office have been transferred to Justin’s care – Orphans’ Court records, such as tax records and delayed birth records; also, naturalization records, administration papers, early land warrants, early rough draft surveys. Some records, like land records and tax assessment books, are categorized by township on the website. If Justin has any records in his possession that aren’t already online, he will scan them and place them in the “requests” category – NO CHARGE!!!

Franklin County history reference books have also been scanned and are available online, including the 1868 Beers Atlas of Franklin County. According to the website, “These and the other works in the ‘Reference Books’ are in the public domain and provided for you to help give a more robust search when looking for an ancestor. All of the books have been OCRd, meaning when you search for a name it will produce hits from the reference books.”

Justin McHenry, Director of the Archives
Justin McHenry, Director of the Archives

Change is usually difficult, but those of us who do genealogy research in Franklin County are excited about this change and look forward to more documents online, easily accessible to the public. Thank you, Justin!!

Association of Professional Genealogists’ New Author – It’s Me!

APGQ Sep 2016

What a great present I found waiting for me after a ten-day vacation to Slovakia. It was my first article for the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) – and it was chosen as the lead article for the APG Quarterly September 2016 issue. The APG  is an “international organization dedicated to supporting those engaged in the business of genealogy through advocacy, collaboration, education, and the promotion of high ethical standards.” Many of my clients have located me through this website. And I too, found an amazing genealogist, Peter Nagy who I worked with on my trip to Nitra and Sered, Slovakia.


This article is on Transferable Skills – yes something I should know a bit about. Speech Pathology to Construction to Genealogy means I’ve had to answer the same question over and over: How can you do that?? I just wrote about what everyone knows – no matter what your job or career, it’s all about being:

  • A self-starter
  • Goal-oriented
  • Analytical
  • An effective communicator
  • Client centered


Like my past articles, the editor and APG Publications Advisory Committee worked with me to make this submission its professional best, and I thank this wonderful editing team for their help and guidance.

Finding Family in Slovakia – Part IV

Pam Meeting Milan
Pam Meeting Milan

Finally, the good part . . . We arrived on a September Thursday morning and had the day to ourselves to explore Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Friday morning was a scheduled tour of the city, then a tour of Devin Castle, where Tom and I would meet Milan Hrnčiřík by the Iron Curtain Memorial at 1:00 pm, which is exactly where he was. I had no photographs of him, but I knew him the minute I saw him – and we hugged. Our first photograph together was taken while we were waiting for Peter, Milan’s son, to drive us to lunch.

To recap – because I know this can get confusing – there were four Supena children born 1899-1909: Marie (my grandmother), Jolanka, Stefan and Helena. Marie and Stefan immigrated to the United States, but Jolanka and Helena stayed in Slovakia, and I would soon meet their children and grandchildren.

Supena Sisters Jolanka Felix Katulik, Marie Pracser, Helena Hrncirik, ca.1948
Supena Sisters
Jolanka Felix Katulik, Marie Pracser, Helena Hrncirik, ca.1948

That Friday, I learned about the Hrnčiřík family – how Milan, his two brothers, and mother, survived World War II. His father was killed by the Nazis in the famous Slovak Uprising of 1944, and was never seen again. Milan is 87, with college degrees. He traveled the world, even coming to Chicago in the 1950s to visit my grandmother. Milan and his wife, Dorota, have two sons who run the restaurant at Devin Castle, and a daughter who was voted “ 2014 Most Loved Teacher in Slovakia.” Needless to say, he is very proud of his family. These three children are my counterparts – grandchildren of Helena (Supena) Hrnčiříková, my grandmother’s sister. After lunch, we drove to Milan’s home, former communist housing, which looks like a typical American two-story townhouse with a lush back yard and beautiful garden. We spent the afternoon with Dorota and Vlasta, his niece, talking and sharing photographs. Luckily, I discovered that most Slovaks speak English, especially the younger generation.

The next day, we drove to Nitra, our family’s ancestral town. Our first stop was the cemetery where my great grandparents are buried – the place that I first found Milan as the contact for the family plot. What I didn’t know was that just three days before our arrival, Milan had their headstone exchanged for a “better one,” just because we were coming. There were also fresh flowers on the grave, placed by Gitka, Milan’s brother, Ivan’s widow – again, just because of us. I later found out that Milan was also in constant contact with our tour agency and checked out our hotels in Bratislava and Nitra. He wanted everything to be perfect.

After the cemetery, we walked to the church where Milan’s parents (and possibly my grandparents) were married, then to the home where Milan lived with his mother and brothers after the war. Gitka Hrnčiříková now lives there with her daughter, Jana. They welcomed me as if I was a long lost daughter. We were surprised to find that Dušan, Milan’s middle brother, also drove to Nitra to meet us. He had done research on our family and later emailed me a copy of his manuscript. Dušan and his daughter, Vlasta – another granddaughter I met – are now my friends on Facebook! I had just met most of Helena Hrnčiříková’s children and grandchildren!

Milan in Front of Supena Family Home
Milan in Front of Supena Family Home

On Sunday, Milan came to meet us to go to my grandmother’s childhood home. But there was another surprise. Staying at the hotel for her husband’s 60th birthday party, was another granddaughter – Gabriela (Kutalíková) Meravá, granddaughter of Jolanka. “Your grandma-ma’s must be working up there,” said Milan, pointing to the heavens, because this was definitely not a planned meeting! We then walked to the former Supena home and shop on Podzámska Street where the Supena sisters grew up, and the Town Palace where my great grandfather worked until he died in 1918 of the Spanish Flu. The whole time, we took the photos in some of the same places that I had pictures of my grandmother.

On Monday, we said goodbye to Milan as we continued our trip to the High Tatra Mountains. But we met him four days later to have one final lunch – soup included, of course! He even came again at 7:00 am on Saturday morning to see us off. So what did I learn from our trip? First, “Supena” is not pronounced Soo-pee´-nə, as we always thought. It’s pronounced Shoo´-pay-nə. Second, my new relatives treated me as if they always knew me. My Slovak family was so welcoming that I couldn’t wait to share our adventure with my American one. Finally, I hope that everyone has the opportunity to find relatives that they don’t yet know – whether they are down the street or across the pond.

Tom and I leave tomorrow for a reunion with our Slovak family.

Finding Family in Slovakia – Part III

Before we get to the good part – and Milan – I want to set a little background about the Slovak Republic and its people. Growing up, I remember my grandmother telling me she was from Austria, Hungary, Austria-Hungary or Czechoslovakia. In fact she was from all of those places. Luckily she lived in the same city, Nitra, until she moved to the United States – and that city never changed names. From 1867 until 1918, Slovakia was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, specifically Hungary. After World War I (1918), Czechoslovakia was formed from countries that now make up the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. After World War II until 1989, Czechoslovakia was a communist country. In 1993, the people of Czechoslovakia voted to separate and become their own countries. No wonder my brothers and sisters disagreed about where our grandparents came from!

Slovakia in Eastern Europe
Slovakia in Europe

Located in eastern Europe, the Slovak Republic (19,000 square miles) is less than half the size of Pennsylvania, but both the land and climate are similar. Its eight regions are like our counties. The largest city and capital is Bratislava, slightly larger than Pittsburgh. Like Pennsylvania, the country can be driven from east to west in half a day, but gas costs $7.00/gallon! Slovakia has over 500 caves and is fourth in the world for its percentage of forests. The people care so much about their wildlife, that they built overpasses for the deer to migrate across major highways. There are over 5,000 natural springs, and only 500 are used for spas or drinking water. The High Tatra Mountains promote hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Slovakia also boasts 500 castles, one of which my grandmother grew up near on Podzámska Street, which means, “under the castle.”

The population of Slovakia is approximately 5.4 million, similar to that of Minnesota. 70-80% of the population are Roman Catholic, like my Grandmother’s family. However, I don’t remember her attending church, and my father converted to the Episcopal religion when my parents married. Many immigrants moved to Pennsylvania to work in the mines, jobs that they held in their native country. However, my grandparents moved to Chicago, probably because they already had relatives living there. They were trained as a tailor and seamstress, and continued working in that industry when they arrived in 1920. It’s difficult to imagine moving from a beautiful country of mountains and forests to a large city of skyscrapers and traffic.

Typical Slovak Town

I thought I was familiar with Slovak food, because I especially liked my grandmother’s chicken noodle soup, made with lots of thin egg noodles and whole pieces of chicken, and especially her baked walnut roll. But the best were her plum dumplings – plums wrapped in potato dough, boiled, then rolled in buttered bread crumbs and sugar!! My sisters still make the dumplings and my cousin, Eric (so I’m told), is the king of walnut roll. In Slovakia, Tom and I learned that chicken is still popular, as is pork and anything made with noodles and cheese. But most important, is that every lunch begins with soup. Beer and wine are also popular, as many micro-breweries and family wineries have sprung up throughout the country. Unfortunately, Slovakia does not export their wine – they say there isn’t enough to export because they drink it all! But we were lucky enough to be in Bratislava for Beer Fest. Think of Chambers Fest Old Market Days, but with beer vendor tents. And then there is their traditional drink – Borovička – a juniper flavored brandy. We had a few of those, too….

Next time . . . the final chapter, or should I say, just the beginning of a whole new family.

Finding Family in Slovakia – Part II

The first step in trying to locate my Slovak family, was to hire someone in Europe to help with my search. In December 2013, I contacted a genealogist who I hoped would find more specific records on my grandparents and their families. This would also help to determine exactly where in Slovakia my husband, Tom, and I would travel in September 2014. I belonged to the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, and one of the speakers at a past conference was a genealogist and tour guide from Slovakia. I looked Michal up on the internet, and immediately contacted him. He said that he lived in eastern Slovakia and my family was from the west, but he would see what he could do to locate records for me. I paid his fee and he went to work. Unfortunately, the records that he found were already accessible to me on FamilySearch, and he didn’t cite his sources for the records he did send. I also realized that he wasn’t very careful, and identified several incorrect family members that I had to correct later. But what he did do, was translate many of the baptism records that he found. One of the notes on my grandfather’s baptism record said that he married Maria Supena in Nitra on 12 October 1919. Unfortunately, instead of Edmund Pracser (the name he went by in America), my grandfather’s name was written as Edmund KONAS. Where the heck did that name come from?!?!? The marriage date was correct, but the name Konas is not even close to Pracser. There will obviously be more research to do in the future!

So I had some more information, but I still didn’t have a family contact in Slovakia. On Michal’s website, it said that he could find families. Oh Boy. Awesome. He told me to send all the information that I had. Huh. I had no confirmed names, addresses, phone numbers, or emails. So what did I have? The only clue that I could give him was the information that I found on the internet on the Slovak cemetery site touting itself as  the “official portal of Slovakian cemeteries”. There was no photograph of the tombstone, like on Find A Grave, the website that is popular in the United States. However, this site listed the “present lessee” of the cemetery plot in Nitra where my great grandparents were buried. The name was Milan Hrnčiřík. I didn’t know this person, but it was a name that sounded familiar – his last name was the same as my grandmother’s sister’s married surname – a cousin? This was the name I gave Michal . . . and crossed my fingers.

In the meantime, I needed to prepare for the actual trip. Where would we go, and would we go alone or with a guide? We chose the guide. Michal ran tours, but only in eastern Slovakia, of course. So he gave me the name and contact information for Peter Blazicek of Best Slovakia Tours. Peter worked with us to customize the entire trip, and it was well worth the money to have our own personal guide who knew the country and spoke the language. By June, everything was finalized and we were ready to go. All we had to do was find someone to visit.

It was in July that Michal found my “someone”. Milan Hrnčiřík lived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, and the first stop on our trip. He told me that Milan spoke English, had access to his wife’s email, and was 87. I’d better hurry! He was my father’s first cousin, my grandmother’s nephew. That’s all I knew, but that was enough. I immediately emailed him and introduced myself. Following is a part of the email that he sent back in August:

Dear Pam, Hi Tom

You will visit ruins of very old guardian castle built on a high massive rock [on Friday]. Exactly here, under the high rock, on the bank of the huge Danube River is the ideal place for our historical meeting! I will be sitting on one of the four benches installed there next to the two iron curtain memorials. You really cannot miss me and the place!! Following my calculation you should reach the place between 1:00 – 1:30 PM.

At the chosen place at the foreseen time I hope we will finally have the opportunity – with the Tom´s permission – for the first time to hug each other. At this very moment you are getting to become my guests and me your host! We will celebrate the above event in the nearby standing restaurant. After ending our lunches we will move then to my family house and spend a nice afternoon drinking coffee, eating cake and  talking.

“The ideal place for our historical meeting.”
“The ideal place for our historical meeting.”

What could be better than family that didn’t know you, but were excited to meet you? All we had to do now was wait to travel to a country that no one I know had ever visited. We were ready for our adventure in September.

Finding Family in Slovakia – Again

In 2014, I wrote a 4-part article for the Franklin County Historical Society’s “Crossed Keys Newsletter” about my trip to Slovakia to find my Pracser-Supena relatives. It was beyond expectations. One week from today we will be leaving for a return trip, so I wanted to post the story from two years ago. Following is part one.

In the fall of 2014, my husband, Tom, and I took a trip to the Slovak Republic. These four articles will describe how I researched my family, planned our trip, what I learned about Slovakia, and what I learned about my family that still lives in that beautiful little country.

I began studying my family genealogy seriously in 2010. My mother’s side was easy – they’ve been here forever and probably go back to the Pilgrims. My father’s side – not so much. I always knew that my grandparents “were not from here.” After all, no one talked with an accent like my grandmother’s. I was lucky enough to know her throughout my school years. But I was not smart enough to have asked her the questions that are now so important to me – about her family and my genealogy. She died in 1981. So I began my search with two pages of my mother’s hand written notes and my grandmother’s family photo. She is the one standing next to her father below.

The Stefan Supena Family, Nitra 1913
The Stefan Supena Family, Nitra, Slovakia, 1913

My grandmother, Marie Elizabeth Supena, was born in 1899 to Stefan and Maria (Fuscek) Supena. She was the eldest of four children who were all born in Nitra, Slovakia. It’s Slovakia now, but I grew up never knowing for certain. I had heard Austria, Hungary, Austro-Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Wars and border changes can do crazy things to your family history.

In 1918, Marie married Eduard Pracser, son of Josef and Gizella (Schvarcz) Pracser. They immigrated to Berwyn, Illinois in 1920 where she worked as a dress maker and he was employed at Kuppenheimer & Co. as a tailor. In 1921 my Uncle Joseph was born, and in 1932 my father Elmer came along. Unfortunately, Eduard died in 1947 of a heart attack, and Marie had to go to work in a factory to support herself and my father who was only fifteen.

Marie’s brother, Stefan, also immigrated to the United States. He had one son, Ronald, but I don’t recall ever meeting this family. However, her two younger sisters remained in Slovakia, married and had children. Could any of these children, my father’s cousins, be found? Were any still alive? And what about their children, my counterparts – the grandchildren of the Supena sisters? It was at this point that I needed to get serious about my genealogy if I wanted to have any hope of finding family in Slovakia.

Genealogists know that you begin with what you know, so that’s what I did. At this point, I decided to concentrate on the SUPENA family, as there are still questions on my Grandfather Pracser’s side, ie., what was his real surname, was his father really adopted, what happened to Gizella and her daughter when they immigrated to the United States in 1923?

This is what I knew about my Slovak side:

  • My grandmother rarely spoke about the Slovak side of our family – or maybe I just didn’t pay attention; she insisted on speaking English correctly and assimilating into her new country.
  • She flew back to her home country several times in the 1960s to visit her sisters and mother who stayed there, and she was always concerned about the political situation.
  • There are few on-line sources when researching ancestors in Slovakia – is the best.
  • My mother’s hand written notes listed my grandmother’s family members – siblings, parents, aunts, uncles with spouses and birth, death and marriage dates. But were they correct?
  • I found a passenger list on-line for my grandmother’s brother, Stefan, that listed his home address in Nitra. When I Googled the address, a specific house was identified!
  • I hired a researcher in Slovakia who found several new church records, but most importantly did the translations.
  • Thanks to the internet, I did find where my great grandparents, Maria and Stefan Supena are buried.

These were the only clues that I had to go on. In the next part, I’ll explain how I used these clues to prepare for my trip to Slovakia – and how I found Milan.

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