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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 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!

You Always Remember Your First Time. . . .

Your First Franklin County Genealogy Workshop, Of Course!

Yes, it’s over *sad face* but it was so much fun! A great group attended our first “Finding Family in Franklin County” genealogy workshop. Because of their honest feedback, I am calling this our Pilot Program. I especially enjoyed catching up with everyone at breakfast and dinner. My first question was always—hesitantly—“Did you find any new records?” And the answer from everyone was, “YES!” Someone even found a real live cousin!

The attendees from Virginia, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh checked into the Mercersburg Inn at noon on Wednesday. That afternoon, we presented three 45-minute sessions:

Wednesday night, we met for dinner at the James Buchanan Pub and Restaurant for great conversation and discussion of plans for Thursday—where people going and what they were looking for.

Justin McHenry with Bill & Nancy at the Franklin County Archives

On Thursday morning we met for breakfast to give everyone an encouraging send-off. Individuals went to the Conococheague Institute in Welsh Run, Fendrick Library in Mercersburg—actually 2 people went there Wednesday before and after dinner—the Franklin County Historical Society and of course, the much heralded Franklin County Archives. Coincidentally, everyone was researching in the south-western part of the county, so they could discuss where they were going and what resources they were looking for. As I checked in at the various repositories, it was evident that everyone was doing fine, and appreciated the time to research on their own. We met again for dinner and to share what everyone found. Justin McHenry at the Archives was clearly the star of the day, finding records that others were not aware existed.

Jean working at the Franklin County Historical Society

On Friday morning, at our final meal together, the group openly shared their thoughts on the workshop. This was a true debrief of what everyone liked and what could be improved for next time—and there WILL be a next time! Because of the great relationships we developed in three short days, we got excellent feedback on what to continue and what to add. Some of the suggestions were to include historic tours as an option, rotate the venue around the county, discuss more about cemeteries and church records, and include more “locals” from the genealogy community—all ideas that we will definitely look at incorporating into the next session.

But mostly there was praise for the workshop:

“This workshop would benefit beginning researchers as well as more experienced researchers because we could choose What and Where to research and go at our own pace. The discussions about the local repositories and what they offer was the jumping off point for us to explore what interested us. Pam was an excellent facilitator to point us in the most advantageous direction for our personal research goals.”

I couldn’t have worked with a better team. Thank you Janet and Justin—and my advisors!!

Me with my group of “Advisors”

After the group picture—it’s what we genealogists do—I thought everyone would head home, but I was wrong. After checking out, everyone went on another excursion, either to a repository or sight-seeing around the county. And I went home, satisfied that we did what we set out to do—help others Find Family in Franklin County.

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!!

 

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