Top

genealogy

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.

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!

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

 

Put Aside the Dead People . . . Just for a While

Besides ancestor hunting, one of the best things about researching our genealogy is re-uniting with and meeting new cousins. This week I’m lucky enough to do this again at a “Mini Marquet Reunion” in California. I’ll be reconnecting with a cousin who I haven’t seen since the 1970s, meeting another cousin’s daughter, and introducing a fifth cousin that I met through the internet, to all of these people.

My mother, Miriam Marquet, and her two older brothers, Win and Art, were raised in Berwyn, Illinois in the 1930s and 40s. By the 1960s, the Marquet brothers and their families were living in California.

Arthur, Winfield, and Miriam Marquet, 1934

Our family traveled west a couple times to visit my uncles in the 1970s—five kids in a station wagon without air conditioning, and once with a collie! We couldn’t wait for the Holiday Inn swimming pool!!

Steve, Pam, Chris, Kim, and Ed on Vacation in 1971

But then I lost touch with my Marquet cousins—until 2012, when I contacted my cousin Matt, Art’s son, who was still in California. I knew his mother was interested in genealogy, so I asked if he had any information on the Marquet family. Because I made the effort to reach out, he sent me tons of old photographs and documents. It was then that I was proclaimed the family historian. That same year I was contacted, through Ancestry.com, by Jane, a fifth cousin who also lives in California. It turns out that she and I share a five times great grandfather, James McMaster, who we were both researching. Two maternal cousins living in the same state meant that a trip out west was in order. My husband,Tom, and I traveled there in 2013, where I met Jane in person and reconnected with Matt and his wife, Sherry.

Pam & Cousin Matt, 2013
Pam & Cousin Jane, 2013

But what about my Uncle Win’s family? About a year later, I saw that my cousin Amy had developed a tree on Ancestry.com, so I messaged her. In the fall of 2016, she came to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania “on her way” to a cruise out of New York City. She rented a car in NYC, and drove 4 hours south—definitely not on her way—to reconnect with my two New Jersey sisters, Chris and Kim, and me. Since she made that crazy trip, I promised to go back to California, and that’s where I’m headed this week.

Sister Kim, Cousin Amy, Sister Chris, and Pam, 2016

So on Saturday, January 27, Amy is hosting our first Mini Marquet Reunion at her house. Matt and Sherry will be there, and even Jane has agreed to drive down and meet more cousins. Amy’s sister, Mallory, is also coming, as are (I hope) the cousins’ children—first cousins once removed. I’m so psyched to meet more living people!!!

And maybe after talking genealogy a little, we’ll put aside the dead people, just for a while, and be thankful for the opportunity to meet new cousins and reconnect with the old—and yes, we are getting old! But hopefully some of those “once removeds” will carry on in the ancestor hunt where we leave off.

Finally, this year, I encourage everyone to take a break from your computers and archives, and connect or reconnect with your living family. You just may enjoy them more!

Peter Nagy – My Slovak Repository Guide

As I prepare to leave for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), I’m also getting ready to spend three whirl-wind evenings at the Family History Library. According to my SLIG syllabus, it’s “the largest genealogical library in the world.” So most people would assume that I’ll head straight to the Slovak resources. But not this time. Next week I’ll concentrate on the US and Canadian ancestors. But why???

About a year ago, in preparation for our second visit to Slovakia, I contacted Peter Nagy of CentroConsult, a Slovak genealogist that I found through the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). I hired Peter because I knew that he was familiar with resources in western Slovakia where my paternal grandparents immigrated from. What could Peter do that I couldn’t? He knew the Slovak system, specifically:

  • The different repositories and what records they held
  • The forms that needed to be filled out to obtain the records
  • What was needed to prove my relationship to get the records – my passport, my birth certificate and my father’s birth certificate
  • How to cite the various Slovak records
  • The language!

But the first thing that Peter did for me, was what I do for my clients—make me focus! I was only going to have a day to research there, so of course I wanted to know “everything” about the Supena and Pracser/Konas families (more about Pracser and Konas later). Luckily, Peter was patient and coached me through the Slovak genealogy process. He also began the research before our September 2016 trip. Because he knew where to look, he found and translated my great grandparents’ marriage record, which verified known information and provided some new details. In Slovakia, you don’t get copies of original records. All are derivative certificates taken from the original registers. But the one thing we could not locate was my grandmother’s birth record. We always knew she was born in Nitra. Right……

Nitra City Hall

After we did all we could via e-mail, we set our meeting date and place—Nitra City Hall, in the town where my grandmother grew up. At City Hall, we got my great grandfather’s death record and my grandparents’ marriage record. We were given the certified transcript, but were also allowed to view the actual registry to see if any other information might be apparent. Unfortunately no copies or photographs of these registries are allowed. And again, the birth place of my grandmother was not listed.

But because the family was Roman Catholic, we decided to walk to the parish and see if there might be a church marriage record for my grandmother, giving me her birth place and the church they were married in. As luck would have it, the office was closed.

Our next stop was the archives for the Nitra region, similar to our county archives. There we found a 1919 census record on microfilm. Unfortunately the copier was not working, so I was allowed to photograph the screen on the reader. It gave information typical to a US census—address, family members and birth years, nationality, religion and literacy.

The next leg or our trip was to Sered, where my grandfather grew up. Two years ago, a mystery was discovered that to this day has not been solved—but Peter and I have not given up. My family has always known our surname to be Pracser. But in all the Slovak records, my grandfather’s and great grandparents’ surname is listed as Konas. The first time Pracser is noted is on the ship’s manifest when the two couples immigrated. To try to get to the bottom of this mystery, Peter suggested that we check my grandfather’s sister’s birth record—she was the youngest—at the Sered City Hall. Again, the name was Konas. BUT, because Peter asked to look at the original registry, he turned the page and saw that Elizabeth had a twin brother that was stillborn. I would never have known this without the help of an experienced genealogist who knew the system and the language. Three towns and two repositories later, it was time to say good-bye to our new friend and guide…until I returned home!

Once at home, the question of my grandmother’s birth place continued to nag at me, and I still hadn’t contacted the Catholic Parish. I emailed Peter, and he said that if I wrote the letter, he would translate it for me. I wrote, he edited and translated and off it went in the postal mail. Within a week, I received an email from the pastor, asking me if I spoke Slovak. I said no, but copied Peter, who said he would translate for me. Almost immediately, I received another email with attached scans of the marriage registry—with my grandmother’s birth place! It was not Nitra, but what looks to be basically a small town grown up around a train station, a town called Čiky, part of Palárikovo. Peter found her birth registry on FamilySearch, then ordered the record from the archives. Was the family traveling to Nitra when they had to make an impromptu stop to welcome my grandmother?? We may never know.

St. Peter & Paul Church
Nitra Castle

My final question—for this round—was what church did my grandparents get marry in? The pastor quickly responded to my email: St. Peter and Pavol Church, the church we visited on our first trip to the Nitra Castle, closest to their home.

Many thanks go to Peter Nagy. I know that I couldn’t have been as efficient or thorough without him, and that he will continue to be there for me as I continue the quest into my Slovak ancestry and the Pracser/Konas mystery.

Peter Nagy with Pam in Nitra
We take pride in our work, and it shows

What Our Clients Are Saying