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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!

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 Franklin County – June 2017 Workshop and Getaway!

In less than two months, I will be collaborating with several people who share an interest and expertise in Franklin County, Pennsylvania genealogy. We are joining forces to put together the first Franklin County Genealogy Workshop (and Retreat). We’ve added “Retreat” because of the beautiful home-base for this workshop – the amazing Mercersburg Inn in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Jim and Lisa McCoy, owners of this magnificent bed and breakfast have given us special rates for this event and will serve up breakfast and dinner for two days!

The Mercersburg Inn

Besides meeting others researching ancestors in Franklin County, we will answer your questions such as:

  • When was Franklin County formed?
  • What if my ancestors were living in Franklin County before it was a County?
  • Why did people move here and why did they leave?
  • What original records are available and where are they?
  • What are Orphans’ Court Records and why should I look for them?
  • How do I find my ancestors’ cemeteries?
  • What research options are available to me after I return home?

 

Check out the details:

The Schedule:

Wednesday afternoon, June 21:

  • 1:00pm Check-in
  • Interactive Presentations:
    • 1:30 The Genealogical History of Franklin County – Janet Pollard, Franklin County Visitors Bureau
    • 2:30 Original Records, In and Around Franklin County – Justin McHenry, Franklin County Archives
    • 3:30 A Guide to Franklin County Repositories – Pam Anderson, Anderson CoGen
  • 6:00pm Dinner

Thursday, June 22:

  • 8:00am Breakfast
    • 9:00am-4:00pm Research and lunch on your own
  • 6:00pm Dinner

Friday morning, June 23:

  • 8:00 Breakfast
  • 10:00 Checkout (or choose to add another day)
  • Continuing researching your ancestors

Schedule individualized consultations with Pam Anderson on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

 

Accommodations:

Mercersburg Inn 

405 S. Main Street

Mercersburg, PA  17236

717-329-5231

Cost:    Wednesday & Thursday – One-person Registration with Dinners – $355 per room

Add on Friday Night Stay for $110

*Additional person $110 – shared room occupancy

 

Contact me at (717) 597-1345 or pam@AndersonCoGen.com if you have any questions.

We hope you can join us!!

 

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.

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