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.

One Young Genealogist That Is SO Into It

Daniel's GenealogyTwo years ago, my 13 year-old nephew asked me if I was going to do his dad’s genealogy like I did his mom’s – my sister. I said sure, but he could do it. Little did I know that I created a monster, because Daniel loved the thrill of the hunt as well as the record analysis. While I was hoping to impress upon him the importance of citations and correlation of evidence, just having someone else in my family interested in genealogy was wonderful.

I started him off with paper and pencil, so his first question – so appropriate for his generation – was, “Can’t this be done on the computer?” Why yes, yes it can, but sometimes it’s good to do both. His Christmas present that year was RootsMagic 7 software. However, with computer crashes, it’s been a little slow going for him, so I told him about Drop Box. Now we share information and I can help from three hours away.

When I told others about his interest, they were jealous. How do we get the younger generation involved? Well, I wasn’t hooked until age 55, and wish I would have started sooner. Everywhere, genealogists ask the same question, so I decided to go right to the “original source” and ask the 15-year old about his genealogy experiences. Below is the interview:

Pam:    What got you interested in genealogy – besides me?

Daniel: The fact that this history of our family is so unknown and you always have a little drive to find out the secrets of your family’s past.

Pam:    Has anyone else in your family done research on your dad’s Italian side?

Daniel: No one has done much research into my family’s history. My grandmother did some, but she isn’t alive anymore.

Pam:    What is the most frustrating part? How do you deal with it?

Daniel: Losing all your data – computer malfunctions! And thinking you have a lead and it turns out there’s no way it could be possible. You just keep pushing and don’t let it hinder your motive.

Pam:    What is the best part? What do you think would attract younger people to genealogy?

Daniel: When you finally put a piece in the puzzle and it makes you satisfied to know that you’ve gone one step closer into your family’s history. You have to be a creative hands-on learner who always wants to do more.

Pam:    Do you have any friends who “get” genealogy? Should family history be taught in school?

Daniel: It’s not a highly talked about subject. If it was taught in school, it would have to be an optional class – it’s not for everyone. It would teach people what to look for when looking through documents to find what was a match. History and genealogy could be tied together. Doing projects in history to find people in the past is like finding your own family.

Pam:    How do you keep track of your genealogy family?

Daniel: I use diagrams and charts the most, on a computer program, because they show up in a “pretty diagram.” [Air quotes]

Pam:    Where are you now in your research?

Daniel: When my grandmother died, my family asked me who each family member was and how they were related. I’m working on being our family history expert.

Pam:    Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?

Daniel: Binders are useful. Organization is the key. You can’t trust electronics – don’t rely on computers for everything.


As you can see from our short chat, our two generations are closer than we think!

10 Things I learned at the 2016 NGS Family History Conference

NGS2016 Conference LogoOne week ago, I returned from my second National Genealogical Society Family History Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first one I attended live was in 2014 in Richmond, Virginia.

What a difference a second conference makes!

So what did I learn?


  1. Every level of genealogist attends this conference, from beginner to pioneer – and you can learn from all of them.
  2. Every year you go, you will re-connect with people you met before, they’ll introduce you to new people, and someday, you will become the one doing introducing!
  3. Working the Association of Professional Genealogists booth – or any booth – is a great way to meet cool new people.
  4. Networking is easy at luncheons, ProGen gatherings, or just sitting next to someone waiting for a lecture to begin.
  5. Supportive spouses and partners who “aren’t all that into genealogy” rock!
  6. Legends in our field are approachable.
  7. Citations don’t have to be complex or intimidating to write.
  8. Indirect evidence can be just as powerful as direct evidence.
  9. I really DO know some of this stuff!
  10. BCG (Board for Certification of Genealogists) certification is doable!

Next year’s 2017 conference will be in North Carolina – driving distance from Franklin County, Pennsylvania. And I can’t wait to re-connect with all my old and new friends.

Maybe I will be on the clock for certification by then?!?

Franklin County Goes Outdoors – And Discovers its Roots

049During the entire month of May, the Franklin County Historical Society and Franklin County Visitors Bureau will be teaming up to re-introduce our residents to people who made our county what it is today. These were the pioneers, entrepreneurs and just everyday people who helped shape our county, state and country.

And it’s even FUN!!

For the whole FAMILY!!!

And you just might find an answer to your family GENEALOGY questions in the process!

The first ever Franklin County Cemetery Scavenger Hunt will take place, beginning on May 2 and run till May 27, 2016. With spring finally here, people are looking for something to do outdoors – and this just may be the ticket! Especially since all correct entries will be entered into a drawing for 3 cash prizes – $100, $75 and $50!

Fifteen locations have been chosen this year that will take people to grave sites and monuments throughout southern Franklin County.

Since May is Memorial Day Month, this is a good way to remember those we have lost. And when you’re out and about, take special note of DAR and GAR grave markers as well as the men and women who participated in other military conflicts. I can guarantee that the military is represented in just about every one of our Franklin County Cemeteries.

I did say CASH prizes, right??? Packets ($8.00 per entry) will include the questions and maps – even Flat Ben – and can be picked up at the Franklin County Historical Society during normal business hours beginning Monday, May 2.

NEHGS – Great People, Great Resources, Great Place!

New England Historic Genealogical Society

Last month, my husband and I had the good fortune to tag along with friends on an Urban Getaway. Denis went to the NCAA wrestling finals in Manhattan, and then Theresa attended a work-related conference in Boston. I think Tom went to find us the best places to eat!

My destination was the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston to do some of my own genealogy research. I spend most of my time researching for clients whose ancestors lived in or traveled through Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Mine never made it to this neck of the woods. My mother’s side settled mainly in New York, Connecticut, and yes – Massachusetts.

One family that I am particularly fond of are the McMasters. John and Katharine (Ames) McMaster were Scots-Irish immigrants who arrived around 1720 – probably through Boston – and settled in Massachusetts. Their son, James, moved to New York by 1750. We know that he was married by the late 1740s, because that’s when the first of their nine children, David, was born. But this is also the BIG Question that my two fifth cousins, Jane from California and Terry from New York, have been working on:

“Who was the wife of James McMaster who was born c. 1712 in Ulster, Ireland and died bef. 1790 in Montgomery County, New York?”

Family tradition and an old partially documented manuscript suggest that her name was Sarah or Ann Gordon, but this has not been proven. The real purpose of my trip to Boston was to help and contribute to my cousins’ research by searching for information on the McMasters and the Gordons.

So what did I find at NEHGS?

  • First, a beautiful 7-story facility, exactly like what was described on the American Ancestors Website. I “visited” the Using the NEHGS Library page before leaving on my trip, in order to search their collections, determine what resources I wanted to look at, and locate what floor they were on.
  • But what I’ll remember is the friendly, helpful staff on every floor. Unlike some repositories that have (almost) armed guards, everyone was welcoming. Patrons are allowed to bring everything they need to do their research – lap top, back pack, camera, you name it. No lockers here.
  • The first thing on my list was a trip to the 5th Floor Stacks to request two histories of Leicester, Massachusetts and two original manuscripts – a bible record and a supplement to a family history, authored by a McMaster.
  • Next, I headed to the 7th Floor Reading Room to explore stacks and stacks of published family histories, town histories and published Massachusetts vital records. I think every book that was ever written on any McMaster family was there.
  • My final stop was to the Microfilm Collection on the 4th floor to check out New England vital records and the Massachusetts probate records that began in 1660.2016 NEHGS

So what new information did I find about the McMaster family?

What great contribution will I make to Jane’s and Terry’s hard work?

Well……nothing. Nothing new at all……..

But I don’t consider this a wasted trip. It took me a good day to get the lay of the land, and I only brought one Massachusetts family to research. There are plenty more where that came from – and I’ll be back. I may even hire an NEHGS expert to help.

As for the McMasters, the three cousins will keep searching – because the Scots-Irish are not quitters!

Franklin County at the Pennsylvania State Archives – The Conclusion

Tracking the Criminal in My Family Tree – Part II

By Michele R. Wade

Following is the conclusion to Michele’s experiences of researching her genealogy at the Pennsylvania State Archives with the help of Aaron McWilliams, their Reference Archivist. As you may recall from Part I, “Surprisingly we were just getting to the good stuff…”

Aaron, reading over the sentencing records, noticed a note at the bottom that said, “Dec. 29, 1944 See opinion filed in #208 March Sess. 1939 for change in sentence.”  He realized there was another sentencing record for Wayne. (Aaron obviously has had more experience with the criminal justice system than I.)  So he pulled the #208 sentencing file and found that Wayne was charged and convicted of “Escape”.  What?!?  Furthermore, this charge was in March 1939, which would have been after Wayne had finished his minimum sentence in October 1937.  Now I was really confused – he escaped after leaving prison?  However, at the bottom of the Escape sentencing record there are notes referencing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Wayne.  This led us to the Original Records files at the archives.

Up to this point to do research I just had to sign in to their entry book with name, date, and time, and I could use all the microfilmed records.  To use the Original Records (these are the original paper records) you must register at the archives.  This is just a one page registration form and you have to show a photo ID.  They go over the rules of handling the original files and making copies of them.  I was lucky as the original files for Wayne were a wealth of information about his criminal proceedings.

Eastern State PenitentiaryIn the original file there was Wayne’s Writ of Habeas Corpus petition, along with the warden’s response and the court’s verdict to the petition.  In September 1934, Wayne broke into a car dealership and stole a Ford sedan, plus automobile parts and tools.  He was caught and convicted of Larceny of motor vehicle, Larceny, and Felonious Entry and sentenced to 3 to 12 years at Eastern State Penitentiary.  Wayne served 3 years and 8 months and was released on parole June 1938.  His parole was for 8 years and 4 months.  In August 1938, just two months later, Wayne was involved in a hit and run accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania and taken to jail. This was the time period of the letter Wayne sent to try and get money for an attorney to defend him.  I guess he didn’t get the money or the attorney as he was convicted of “Failure to Stop at the Scene of a Motor Accident and Render Assistance” and sentenced to 6 months and 7 days in Dauphin County Prison.  On March 22, 1939, Wayne walked away from the Dauphin County Prison.  He claimed he finished serving his sentence on March 15th.  The warden strongly disagreed that Wayne was a free man and charged him with Escape.  The long and short of it was that Wayne had served his time for the hit and run but because of that, his parole was revoked and he was not at liberty to leave the prison.  On March 29, 1939, Wayne was returned to Eastern State to finish serving his paroled time of 8 years and 4 months.  This was where he was when he sent the postcard to his uncle.

In October 1944, Wayne petitioned the court for two main points.  First he claimed, repeatedly, that he did not escape from prison because he had served his time for the hit and run and was a free man being wrongly held.  The second point he claimed in the petition was that he had been advised that his maximum sentence was incorrect and should have only been 10 years, not 12.  The judge ruled that Wayne did escape from prison but that the 1 to 2 year sentence for Escape is too long and must be reduced to 6 months and 7 days. Punishment for Escape can not be longer than the original sentence the inmate was serving.  Additionally Wayne was correct – the maximum sentence allowed then for Larceny of a motor vehicle and Felonious Entry was only 10 years.  So Wayne’s sentence at Eastern State was reduced by two years.  However, when he was released from Eastern State he had to return to Dauphin County Prison to serve his time for his prison escape.

At the end of the day I can not believe the amount of information I found at the PA State Archives, largely with the excellent help of Aaron McWilliams.  If you are wondering what happened to Wayne after all this, I have to tell you, I can find no evidence that Wayne had any more problems with the law.  Wayne visited family in Chambersburg often and seemed to live a quiet life.  His obituary talked about his 17 years of employment at the Howard Johnson Restaurant at Lawns.  I hope you enjoyed my stroll down penitentiary lane.


Michele Wade is a graduate of the Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. She has been researching  her family’s genealogy since 1997 and volunteers in the genealogy library at the Franklin County Historical Society. Michelle lives outside of Chambersburg near Ft. McCord with her husband Jimmy, and sons Gus and Jesse.

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