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Why I DNA Test “In All the Ponds:” Finding My Schwarz Slovak Family in Australia & California

Many don’t DNA test for various reasons. Luckily, my relatives have been all in to help our family research. And because they understand the importance of testing, a huge brick wall—the one I least expected to break through—came tumbling down.

Gizella (Schwarz) Pracser

Gizella was born on 26 August 1871 in Sered, Slovakia, to Franciscus and Julianna (Jordan) Schwarz, the sixth of eight children. She married Joseph Pracser in 1892 and immigrated to Chicago in 1923. In the 1930 census, Gizella lived apart from her husband in Chicago and worked at a restaurant. This is all that I knew of my great grandmother—until this year.

Requests and searches for a death certificate, funeral record, and burial place came up empty until she appeared at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. Last March, I went in search of her husband’s and son’s markers and discovered Gizella there, too. The cemetery found no current records but went back to older microfilm. Her headstone was dated 1936, but the marker was purchased in 1949 by her daughter, Bessie.

Gisella (Schwarz) Pracser (1871-1936)

I now had Gizella’s death year but still knew little about her Schwarz family. A female’s family in Slovakia loomed as my most daunting brick wall. My grandmother (her daughter-in-law) knew Gizella’s parents’ names, death dates, and places. Unfortunately, my own research confirmed that only the names were correct. I needed to go beyond the limited on-line resources, so I turned to DNA.

DNA connects Slovakia to the U.S. and Australia

I found DNA matches on Ancestry (two predicted 4th-6th cousins), 23andMe (two predicted 3rd-4th cousins), and FamilyTreeDNA (one predicted 3rd-5th cousin). None matched cousins on my mother’s side but did match my father’s side, so I knew they were in my Slovak line—but where? I also knew they didn’t match my Slovak grandmother’s family, because second cousins living in Slovakia had graciously tested for me. That left only my Slovak grandfather’s family. Based on our shared centimorgans (42-73), we were probably third cousins (3C) or third cousins once removed (3C1R), sharing great great grandparents—either Joseph Pracser’s parents or Gizella Schwarz’s parents.

I contacted my two Ancestry matches in June 2019 but got no response. When I tried again in October, one responded with an apology that he rarely checked the email associated with Ancestry and referred me to his sister, Yvonne Schwarz, the family genealogist. And that’s when the brick wall fell. Yvonne and her brother are, in fact, my third cousins, and we share great great grandparents, Franciscus “Franz” Schwarz and Julianna Jordan, Gizella’s parents from Sered, Slovakia. Yvonne’s great grandfather, Edmund “Mundi” was Gizella’s younger brother. Did I mention that Yvonne lives in Australia? Gizella and Joseph immigrated to the U.S. in 1923, and Yvonne’s grandparents, Alexander and Jolan, immigrated to Australia in 1949. Our families, over 9700 miles away, connected through DNA, and Yvonne was incredibly generous with her knowledge.

What I learned from Yvonne:

  Franciscus Schwarz (1821-1876)
  • Franciscus “Franz” Schwarz was born in February 1821 in Waldhausen im Strudengau, Oberösterreich, Austria. His father may have run a saddlery business.
  • Franz established a small pileatore (hatter) shop in 1852 in Sered. His business quickly grew to three shopfronts, including a factory.
  • Julianna Jordan was born c. February 1832 in Bratislava, Slovakia; her father died just prior to her birth.
  • Franz and Julianna married on 2 November 1856.
  • Franz died on 7 March 1876 in Sered. Gizella was just four years old, and Yvonne’s great grandfather, Mundi, was only one. Franz’s large grave marker implies that he was a man of some importance.
  • On 16 August 1879, Julianna married Petrus Treisz who ran Franz’s hat manufacturing company.
  • Julianna died on 27 December 1914 in Sered.
  • In 1922, Mundi’s daughter, Edith, immigrated to the U.S. Her destination was “Cicero, Illinois, cousin Bukovsky at 2342 S. 58th Street,” the home of Gizella’s daughter.
  • In 1957, Mundi’s son, Alexander, visited my relatives, Frank and Bessie (Pracser) Varchulik and Irma Bukowsky in Downers Grove, Illinois where they lived on a small farm.
  • Yvonne also shared the following records:
    • Franciscus Schwarz 1821 birth record
    • Franciscus Schwarz 1876 death certificate
    • Franciscus Schwarz 1876 cemetery marker photo
    • Julianna (Jordan) Schwarz Treisz 1914 death record
    • Various photos of family members and tools of the hatter’s trade

 

 

 

 

But how would Yvonne and I translate the Slovak records? I contacted my dependable friend and genealogist, Peter Nagy in Slovakia, who promptly translated the original records and interpreted their meaning. He also found Julianna’s second marriage record, confirming that Petrus was 20 years younger than Julianna! According to Peter, “Petrus was probably the assistant of the first husband. After his boss died, he married his widow and so became the workshop owner. It was quite common in that time.”

More DNA family in California

Yvonne also shared information about Edith (Schwarz) Fiedorczyk, Mundi’s daughter. After immigrating in 1922, she married and lived in the Chicago area where her daughter, Evelyn, also married. Checking DNA matches again, I contacted my two matches on 23andMe and the one on FamilyTreeDNA who all shared the same surname. A brother and sister responded and confirmed that the third person is their father. He is my 3C and the siblings are my 3C1R. They live in California and are descendants of Edith and Evelyn. Yvonne also shared Evelyn’s 1940s wedding photo, taken with Frank and Bessie (Pracser) Varchulik, Gizella’s daughter and son-in-law from Downers Grove. Our families were definitely connected.

Evelyn (center), Bessie & Frank Varchulik (right)

Because of DNA, someone in Pennsylvania connected with someone in Australia and someone in California. And DNA reconnected families in Australia and California–all with help from someone in Slovakia.

My Dive into Proofing and Editing

This past spring, Lois Kleinhenn Lanier asked me to help proof and edit her new book, Descendants of Valentine Bohn (1793-1854) and His Wives Barbara Strickler (1796-1837) & Elizabeth Bastian Bostwick (1809-1851). I’ve proofread many reports, articles, and other written narratives, but this is the first time that I have been asked to proof an entire book. And I dove in headfirst to this amazing opportunity!

Lois and I partnered for about five months to bring this work to her publisher. My role was to make editorial suggestions, but credit for the final product goes to the author. Lois worked tirelessly for many years, researching her family and putting her findings in writing—in 384 pages of writing to be exact. Her Bohn family history begins in Pennsylvania, but quickly moves to many states west of the Mississippi. She has carefully researched eight generations of her family, documented by almost 3600 foot notes, using a variety of original sources, and including an extensive index of names.

Lois Lanier handed me an unexpected educational opportunity. She also wrote a kind recommendation: “Pam was editor for my book, Descendants of Valentine Bohn . . . . She provided invaluable assistance on appropriate genealogical formatting. She provided thorough feedback and constructive criticism. She was accessible and always met deadlines. I look forward to working with her again.”

The feeling is mutual, Lois!

Be the Link – Part II

Last week, I wrote of our “re-meeting” with my Praser family—my paternal side—in Chicago. After immigrating in 1920, my grandparents, Marie (Supenova) and Edward Pracser, welcomed Marie’s brother in 1923. Stefan “Steve” Supena was the third child, and only son, of Stefan and Maria (Fuscikova) Supena. At the age of 16 and on his own, Steve emigrated from Slovakia to Chicago. In 1925, he met and married Elizabeth “Bessie” Trampota. Their son, Ronald, was born in 1933. Ron married Nancy Novy in 1956, and they had five children. Several years ago, I found Sheri, the wife of one of Ron and Nancy’s sons, on FaceBook. Sheri has been the conduit to my Supena family.

Sheri put me in contact with her sister-in-law, Mary, who emailed me additional information on her family. It turns out that they lived within a half-hour drive of where I grew up—but I don’t remember ever meeting them. Mary’s family was surprised to learn that Steve’s first cousins still live in Slovakia—but not as surprised as my Slovak family was to learn about Steve. Family lore in Slovakia was that “Steve went to the United States and was never heard from again.” This all changed when my Slovak family gave me a photograph of Ron from his eighth grade graduation. Obviously, someone in Slovakia knew that Steve was alive, well, and married with a son. But that was 70 years ago!!

This year, I tasked myself with the job of being the link between east and west, Slovakia and the U.S., the Supenas, Hrnčiříks, and Prasers. And thanks to Sheri, we began the “linking” in March while on our trip to Chicago. Sheri arranged for dinner at their favorite local Italian restaurant in Elmhurst where they are regulars—Pazzi di Pizza. She must have known that Tom and I were looking forward to pizza in Chicago! The food was great, but as always, the best part was meeting new family. I will try again to introduce the Supena women that Tom and I met. And yes, he was the only male with five women—and he did just fine.

Mini Supena Reunion
Ann, Sheri, Tom, Pam, Mary, Nancy

Sheri married into the Supena family. But like I’ve said, she was the conduit that brought us all together. She is so much a part of this family, it seemed like they were all sisters. Her husband, Paul, sells building supplies, so we could commiserate about the last down-turn in the economy and how it affected the building industry—and the catalyst that sent me to genealogy. Sheri and Paul are also huge Chicago sports fans. YAY! Sheri is very involved in the Alzheimer’s Association, but her paying job is as an actor! She may just be an extra in television shows and movies filmed in Chicago, but someday . . . . And then the surprise came. The restaurant staff brought out a birthday cake?!? A total surprise for her sister-in-law, Ann—and me! Ann’s birthday is four days before mine. How thoughtful was that!?!

Sherri’s two sisters-in-law were also at dinner. Ann, of course. Yes, we almost share a birthday, but she is the youngest of her five siblings and nine years younger than me. But she was delightful. Having just returned from a trip to Florida, she accepted everyone’s teasing about returning to frigid Chicago weather with a tan. Her sister, Mary, has shared a lot of information with me about their Supena family. She wrote two articles for the Medijugorje Magazine, both of which talk about her father. Because of her emails, I was able to piece together and fill in a considerable amount of information about my grandmother’s brother, Steve, and her father, Ron.

The matriarch of this family is Nancy (Novy) Supena. Nancy is a charming woman who was married to Ron, Steve’s son and my grandmother’s nephew, for 59 years. Ron died in October 2015 but is remembered fondly. Mary said, “My dad was truly a gentle man, a very kind man, a man of faith, and a most loving husband, father and grandfather.” Ron was my dad’s first cousin, and a groomsman in my parents’ wedding. Nancy and Ron met in high school. After their marriage in 1956, Ron joined the military—and the family moved a lot. They finally settled in Oak Brook with their five children where Ron ran a successful law practice for many years. Nancy summed up our dinner meeting with the best thing anyone could have said, “It feels like we’ve always known you.”

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see this family again, and hopefully meet Mary and Ann’s brothers. They will all definitely be invited to our future Pracser-Supena reunion!

Be the Link – Part I

It happened again! We turned a conference into a mini family reunion – Twice!

Two weeks ago, I traveled with my husband, Tom, to Chicago for his 3-day conference. Originally from the Chicago area, Tom and I hadn’t been back for a long time. And I hadn’t seen my extended family for even longer. So I made the contact with my Praser family. My cousin, Ken, said the last time he saw me was at my wedding, which will be 40 years in May! I asked Ken to set up dinner with his family that still lived in “Chicagoland.” As most people know, March in Chicago is cold and windy. But what greeted us Saturday night was anything but cold. Ken reserved a table for nine at an Italian restaurant in the city. The food was excellent, but the family was even better. I want to introduce all seven of them, keeping my fingers crossed that I have most of the facts correct!

Mini Praser Reunion
Ken, Mike, James, Kayla, Rose, Kim, Pam, Julia
(Photo by Tom Anderson)

Ken and Julia are the leaders of the pack. Ken and I share paternal grandparents—our fathers were brothers. Like me, Ken has two brothers and two sisters. He’s a little older than I am, so we were not close growing up, even though our families both lived in Naperville. At dinner, I learned that Ken works for JPMorgan Chase in downtown Chicago. He also plays guitar in a band and golfs. Interesting, because Tom golfs and just began playing guitar again—they had things in common! Oh, and we are all big Chicago sports fans!

Ken’s wife, Julia, worked for AT&T, but about 20 years ago, adopted an infant from China. This little girl has grown into an amazing young woman. Kayla is a junior at Ohio State in the music program, the flute being her instrument of choice. It’s too bad that my nephew, Daniel, didn’t choose Ohio State for his engineering program. They chose him, but OSU didn’t have saxophones in their marching band, which is uber important!  As of last week, Kayla wants to go to graduate school, and possibly Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, which is less than three hours from our home in Chambersburg!

Ken’s son, Richard, lives in California, flies for Jet Blue, and has been researching their genealogy for several years. Because Rich showed an interest, and I needed a paternal cousin to DNA test, I asked Ken, who complied. Then about a month ago, I found a different Praser match on 23andMe. We had to be related because there are so few Prasers. And we were. It was Ken’s other son, Mike. And it was Mike’s family that rounded out our group at dinner. Mike works for an architectural firm in Chicago, pulling permits and basically doing the legwork to get construction jobs ready to go. With my 25 years in construction, we, too, had a lot in common. As I did with his wife, Kim.

Yes, Kim Praser, not to be confused with my sister, Kim Praser Pahira—and I think they are about the same age! Mike’s Kim Praser is a high school English teacher. And because of having worked in the school system as a Speech Pathologist, Kim and I also had stories to share. Kim is no stranger to Eastern European ancestors either, because her great-great grandparents immigrated from Poland. I see an awesome family vacation in their future, because Slovakia shares a northern border with Poland. It would also be an amazing experience for their two kids.

Mike and Kim’s youngest, 10-year-old James, is into football, baseball (Go Cubbies!) and Tae Kwon Do. We watched a video of James breaking boards, shared stories of when he broke his arm, and commiserated about when Daniel broke his leg. Boys . . . . And finally, there is 13-year-old Rose, named after my aunt, Ken’s mother. Rose also practices Tae Kwon Do (both kids are black belts with degrees!), and at 5’8” plays on her Junior High basketball team. It’s good to see that the Praser girl height continues into the next generation! The night ended with a promise to get together for lunch (with Ken, Mike, and Kayla) before we left.

At lunch, I shared pictures of our trip to Slovakia and our grandmother’s childhood home. Then we came up with a crazy idea . . . a “real” family reunion, possibly in 2020 to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of our grandparents’ immigration to Chicago! Stay tuned for details!

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