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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.

Vacationing with Your Ancestors – With the Help of a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA)

It’s that time of year when we all begin planning and looking forward to summer vacations. And if you’re like me, you try to schedule at least one trip around researching some of your ancestors in a really great place—and everyone in Franklin County, Pennsylvania hopes your ancestors lived here—and that you’ll be visiting us soon!

To help prepare for your trip, check out our Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program through the Franklin County Visitors Bureau (FCVB). This year, the FCVB invested in this nationwide program whose objective is “to increase regional tourism by inspiring front-line employees and volunteers to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience.” So how does a CTA fit into a genealogy vacation?

Franklin County’s First CTA Training

 

 

 

 

 

 

My hope is that by becoming a CTA, I can make every researchers’ visit to Franklin County the most fulfilling it can be. I do this by studying all aspects of Franklin County, to be the go-to source for finding Pennsylvania ancestors. I’ve learned through experience that my most successful trips were those where I contacted area experts who helped guide my research. Rather than using the hit-and-miss method when I wasn’t familiar with county towns and townships, these knowledgeable people pointed me to the most important repositories and sights, such as:

  • Courthouses & Archives
  • Historical Societies & Libraries
  • Ancestral Homes & Farms
  • Schools
  • Businesses
  • Churches
  • Funeral Homes & Cemeteries

Besides giving directions, locals also know what records each repository may hold that will helpful when researching your family history. We also know the best and most convenient lodging, restaurants, and other non-genealogy things to do (for any family members who might not be into the research thing).

So when planning your “family” vacation, don’t forget to contact someone who will make sure you spend your time as efficiently and productively as possible. In Franklin County, it’s definitely a CTA—and it could be me!

Janet Pollard, Franklin County Visitor’s Bureau, and a new CTA

 

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 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.

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.

We take pride in our work, and it shows

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