The Bandleader’s Changing Birthdate

Posted in Daily Journal, Census Records at 9:56 pm by Administrator

Earlier this week I received an email message from one of Jan Savitt’s children, Devi, asking for advice on how to research Jan’s Savitt’s family history.  We’ve exchanged a few messages this week so I could find out what was already known about the family and what Devi wanted to discover.  Well, the problem is so interesting that I couldn’t resist conducting some research of my own.  Sometimes I think my interest in genealogy is a curse - I can’t resist a good genealogical problem!

Devi’s father is Jan Savitt, a famous bandleader from the 1930’s and 1940’s who died suddenly in 1948 of a cerebral hemorrage while on his way to a gig in Sacramento.  Searching the internet for “Jan Savitt” produces lots of hits, many of which are links to CDs of his bands.  Several other internet records are brief biographies of the Jan.

Online biographies usually list Jan’s birthdate as September 4, 1913 in Petrograd, Russia, and describe his father as a drummer in the Imperial Regiment Band of Tsar Nicholas II.  The biographies variously state that he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1914 when he was 15.  The biographies state that he was invited to join the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra when he was 15, studied at the Curtis Institute and in Europe, formed a string quartet in 1936, formed his band “The Top Hatters” in 1937, and began touring in 1938.  He died on October 4, 1948.

So, how much of all this is true?  To start, if he was born in 1913, he couldn’t have immigrated in 1914 at the age of 15.  To be fair, most online biographies acknowledge that Jan’s birthdate is in dispute.

Devi provided me with some information about her father, her uncles, and her grandparents, and armed with that information, I immediately searched the census records to see if I could confirm the information in the biographies.

In 1930, Jan was living in Philadelphia with other family members.

1930 Census

1930 Census Record for Joseph Savitt and Family

The 1930 Census states that:

  • In 1930, the family was living at 6221 Pine Street in Philadelphia
  • The head of household was Joseph, age 60, a married white male, born in Russia, working as a motor mechanic in a motor brushes manufacturing company
  • Joseph’s wife was Ida, age 51, a married white female, born in Russia, with no occupation listed
  • Joseph and Ida’s son David was a 29 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale dresses
  • The couple’s son William was a 26 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale shoes
  • The couple’s son Jan is listed as Jay Savitt, a 22 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a musician in an orchestra
  • Joseph’s nephew David was a 31 year old, single white male, born in Russia, working as a salesman in wholesale shoes
  • All people in the household are listed as naturalized citizens who immigrated in 1910 and spoke Jewish before coming to the United States
  • The family owned their home valued at $5500
  • The family owned a radio
  • None of the family members were veterans

From this record, in 1930 Jan was known as Jay Savitt, was born about 1908, emigrated from Russia in 1911, was Jewish, was single, and was working as a musician in an orchestra.

Click on this link to view a PDF of the 1930 Census record for the Savitt family.

Tomorrow:  What do earlier census records say about this family?


Cemetery Iconography and Designing Bronisława’s Monument

Posted in Daily Journal, Gravestones, Cemeteries at 4:00 pm by Administrator

The first burial in what would become a shared grave for my Aunt Bronisława was made in 1912.  Now, 94 years later, a monument will be erected on the grave.  I have thought long and hard about how to design the monument for this grave.  The questions I considered were:

  • What iconography should be on the monument?
  • Should the complete dates or just the years of birth and death be included on the monument?
  • Should some prayer or other inscription be included?
  • Should anything be written on the back of the monument?

Iconography is:

the science of identification, description, classification, and interpretation of symbols, themes, and subject matter in the visual arts.

-Encyclopedia Brittanica Online

In reference to cemeteries, iconography usually refers to the images inscribed on tombstones and the meanings behind those images.

Modern iconography sometimes uses images that reflect important events or hobbies in the life of the deceased, such as the image of a pair of wedding rings or a picture of a man fishing.  Modern iconography also extends to images of the deceased or images of the church they attended.  A common icon for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is a picture of the temple in Salt Lake City.

More traditional iconography, however, may require additional interpretation.  Many older icons are seldom used today.  A weeping willow signifies mourning; roses represent the brevity of life; oak leaves and acorns mean a ripe old age; butterflies represent an early death.  An angel trumpeting indicates the resurrection, while an angel weeping means mourning.  A bird represents eternal life, and a flying bird means resurrection.

Often, an icon can have different meanings for different persons.  In one case, an anchor may be used to indicate hope, while in another case an anchor can mean that the deceased was a seaman.  Specific types of trees can be used to mean different things:  an apple tree represents love, a cypress tree means faithfulness, and an olive tree indicates wisdom.

And sometimes, the icons on a gravestone mean nothing at all.  Someone may have selected an image simply because they liked the image.

In selecting the iconography and design for the monument for my Aunt Bronisława and the other two infants buried with her, I took into consideration the size limitations imposed by the cemetery and the style of the other monuments nearby. 

Monument Front

Front of Monument

Because the information on three individuals could make the monument rather busy, I decided to keep the inscription simple (remember, this is a headstone for a single grave, not a grave intended for three people).  I decided to include the name of each child followed by the years, not the entire dates, of birth and death.  On the front I decided to include the icon of a lamb with a cross to symbolize the innocence of the children when they died and the Roman Catholic faith of the families.  I also decided to include an inscription I had seen on many graves in Poland:


meaning:  Jesus, We Trust to You.

Finally, I added the surnames of the three children to the back of the monument, so it could be easily found when approaching from either direction.

Monument Back

Back of Monument

While the design is not finalized, I did receive the proofs of the design today.  I made a few comments and expect to receive the revised proofs in a few days.  I’m rather happy with the design.

1For further information on cemetery iconography, check out:

If a book-length work interests you, try:

Finally, if you’d rather listen than read, check out the Halloween 2005 edition of The Genealogy Guys Podcast.


Finding the Third Infant

Posted in Daily Journal, Vital Records, Cemeteries, Burial Records at 12:00 pm by Administrator

The third infant buried with my Aunt Bronisława in a single grave in Notre Dame Cemetery was difficult to research.  On the cemetery records, he name was listed as Franciszek Stonia and he was buried on August 30, 1914 at the age of 8 months.  I knew nothing more about him.

The Massachusetts Birth and Death Indexes for 1913 and 1914 did not list anyone by the name of Stonia.  A search for the surname Stonia in Massachusetts on Ancestry.com did not yield any results.  The book, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, Second Edition by William F. Hoffman did not list Stonia, although the given name Franciszek is clearly Polish.  I suspected that the name had been misspelled in the cemetery records.

I searched for similar surnames such as Stania; I searched using Soundex.  I still had no luck.  Barb Poole went to the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and searched for the child’s name in their records and she had no success, either.

I went to the Massachusetts Vital Records Office in 2005 and found that the vital records for 1911-1915 had been moved to the Massachusetts Archives.  I went to the Massachusetts Archives in 2005 and found that the death records for 1911-1915 had been sent out for microfilming.  I searched the birth records for 1913-1914 at the Massachusetts Archives, but I couldn’t find the child.  I contacted the Worcester City Clerk who told me that if I provided them with the correct spelling of the surname and $8, they would do a genealogy search for me, but they wouldn’t allow me to search the records myself.  I contacted the NEHGS and asked if they had the vital records for 1911-1915 and they told me that those records were not yet available to them.

So, on my recent trip to the east coast, I anxiously anticipated my visit to the Massachusetts Archives, hoping that the death records for 1911-1915 had been microfilmed.  When I arrived, I found that the volumes I needed to search had, indeed, been microfilmed and I jumped right in…

Since I knew the child was buried on August 30, 1914, I assumed he had died a day or two before burial.  Since he was buried in Worcester, I assumed he had died in Worcester.  I randomly looked through the death index for 1914 and made note of the volume numbers for death certificates in which Worcester deaths were recorded.  I found several volumes for 1911, selected one microfilm and fast forwarded through the records until I reached the records for August 1914.  Fortunately, the records on the microfilm were in chronological order.  There, on August, 29, 1914, one day before the child was buried, was the death record for Franciszek Stoma, a very close match for the Franciszek Stonia in the cemetery records.  Moreover, the date of birth on the death certificate was December 2, 1913, indicating that the child was 8 months old when he died, again matching the information in the cemetery records.

Stoma death record

Death Record for Franciszek Stoma

The death record states that:

  • Franciszek Stoma’s death was recorded in Massachusetts Deaths volume 111, number 38
  • He was a single, white male, born in Worcester on December 2, 1913 and was 8 months, 28 days old at the time of death
  • His father was Wauzeniec Stoma and he was born in Russia-Poland
  • His mother was Mary Lachowicz and she was born in Russia-Poland
  • S. C. Mieczkowski. M.D. attended him from August 24, 1914 until August 24, 1914
  • He died at 7 PM on August 29, 1914 at the family home at 105 Washington Street in Worcester as a result of Gastro Enteritis 
  • Wawrzinie Lachowicz of Worcester was the informant
  • The statement of death by S. C. Mieczkowski. M.D. was made on August 29, 1914
  • He was buried in Worcester on August 30, 1914 by the undertaker Lucian Karolkevicz of Worcester
  • The Death Certificate was filed by the registrar on August 31, 1914

Some problems here are that the correct spelling of both the father’s given name and the informant’s given name should be Wawrzeniec (Lawrence or Loran), the informant’s surname is listed as Lachowicz, suggesting that the informant may have been related to the mother, but it’s possible that the informant was the father and the clerk erroneously recorded the mother’s maiden name instead of the father’s surname.

Since the birth date was listed on the death certificate as December 2, 1913, I went to the 1913 Birth Indexes and found a Frank Stoma listed.  Frank is the English equivalent of Franciszek.  The child’s birth record was listed in a ledger, as were the birth records for Aunt Bronisława and John Kurpiel.

Stoma birth record 

Birth Record for Frank Stoma

The birth record states that:

  • Frank Stoma was listed as entry number 4108 in Massachusetts Births, volume 616, page 566
  • He was a male child, born in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts on December 3, 1913 
  • His father was Loran Stoma and his mother was Mary Lakavic, both of whom resided in Worcester
  • His father’s worked in a Leather Shop 
  • Both of his parents were born in Russia
  • His birth was registered in the City of Worcester in January 1914

As with Bronisława Dańko, the birth date on the birth record did not match the birth date on the death certificate.  In both cases, the birth date on the death certificate was one day earlier than that listed on the birth record.  the names of the child, the father, and the mother are all anglicized on the birth record.

So, I was able to find the birth and death records for all three infants.  In all, I’ve spent  over three years looking for the location of the grave and the birth and death records for the three children.

Tomorrow:  Designing the Monument


The Brief Life of John Kurpiel

Posted in Daily Journal, Vital Records at 2:00 pm by Administrator

My Aunt Bronisława was the second of three infants to be buried in an unmarked grave in Notre Dame Cemetery, Worcester.  The first to be buried was John Kurpiel who died when he was only a month old.  Like Bronisława, he was from a Polish family and he died of broncho pneumonia.  Finding his birth and death records was relatively easy, especially since Barb Poole looked up the volume and page numbers in the vital record indexes at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston.  I didn’t have a chance to visit the NEHGS in my recent trip to Boston (although I did have dinner on Newbury Street, just a few blocks from the NEHGS on Saturday night).

John’s birth record is shown below.  Like Bronisława’s birth record, John’s record is included in a ledger and was recorded in January of the year following his birth.  In John’s case, his birth was actually recorded after his death.  As with Bronisława’s birth record, I cropped the ledger page just below John Kurpiel’s entry, so John’s name appears to be at the bottom of the page.  The original page contained many more entries below John’s.

John Kurpiel birth

John Kurpiel’s Birth Record

The entry states that:

  • John Kurpiel was listed as entry number 224 in Massachusetts Births, volume 611, page 514
  • He was a male child, born in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts on October 30, 1912
  • His father was Mateus Kurpiel and his mother was Katarzyna Novak, both of whom resided in Worcester
  • His father’s occupation was not listed 
  • Both of his parents were born in Austria
  • His birth was registered in the City of Worcester in January 1913

The correct Polish spelling of the names of John’s parents should be Mateusz Kurpiel and Katarzyna Nowak.

John’s death record is recorded on the standard form, just as Bronisława’s was.

John Kurpiel death

Death Record for John Kurpiel

The Death Record states that:

  • John Kurpiel’s death was recorded in Massachusetts Deaths volume 111, number 303
  • He was a single, white male, born in Worcester on October 30, 1912 and was 1 month, 20 days old at the time of death
  • His father was Mateus Kurpiel who was born in Austria
  • His mother was Katarzina Novak and she was born in Austria
  • Peter O’Shea. M.D. attended him from December 17, 1912 until December 20, 1912 
  • He died at 6 PM on January 13, 1913 at the family home at 161 Millbury in Worcester after suffering for 4 days with broncho pneumonia
  • Mateus Kurpiel of Worcester was the informant
  • The statement of death by Peter O’Shea. M.D. was made on December 21, 1912
  • He was buried in Worcester on December 21, 1912by the undertaker Lucian Karolkewicz of Worcester
  • The Death Certificate was filed by the registrar on December 23, 1912

Tomorrow:  Adventures finding the birth and death records of the third infant.


The Birth and Death of Aunt Bronisława

Posted in Daily Journal, Vital Records, Cemeteries, Burial Records at 11:14 pm by Administrator

My Aunt Bronisława Dańko died when she was one year old and was buried with two other infants in an unmarked grave in Notre Dame Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts.  In order to erect on monument on the grave, the cemetery requires that the names of all three infants be included on the monument.  The cemetery provided the following information on the three infants:

Notre Dame Cemetery No. 01 - Owner: Owner, unknown
Lot - Sec-3 Lot-1464 Grv-1A-1C
3                                         3
3                                         3
3                   1C                  3
3                   1B                  3
3                   1A                  3
3                                         3
3                                         3
Space Deceased/Reserved  Burial Date     Age  Container
1A       Kurpiel, John            12/21/1912    1Month
1B       Danka, Bronislawa    01/15/1913   1
1C       Stonia, Franciszek    08/30/1914    8Months

AAAEnd of ListAAA  Perpetual Care Unpaid — No Activity Allowed Until Full Payment

Since the cemetery had misspelled my aunt’s surname and did not have the dates of birth or death for any of the three infants, I set out to find the birth and death records for the children.  In the blog entry Aunt Bronislawa Has Been Misplaced, I described my efforts to find the vital records for the trio.

During my recent trip to the Massachusetts Archives, I found the records for all three children.  My Aunt Bronisława’s birth record was recorded in a ledger in January 1913, although she had been born almost a year earlier.

Birth Bronislawa Danko

Birth Record for Bronisława Dańko

In the image above, I cropped the ledger just under the entry for Bronisława, so it appears that she is the last entry on the page, but the original image included quite a few more entries below her name.

The entry states that:

  • Bronislawa Danko was listed as entry number 961 in Massachusetts Births, volume 608, page 486
  • She was a female child, born in the City of Worcester, Massachusetts on January 3, 1912
  • Her father was Mike Danko and her mother was Mary Ginsky who resided in Worcester
  • Her father was a laborer
  • Both her parents were born in Austria
  • Her birth was registered in the City of Worcester in January 1913

Note that her mother’s maiden name was actually Dziurzyńska, not Ginsky.  This error was likely due to difficulties of hearing and spelling the polish surname or to transcription errors.  The entry were made a year after the event and the family was probably not present at the time the birth was recorded in the ledger.

Bronisława’s death record was recorded on a standard form which was completed at the time of death.

Death Bronislawa Danko

Death Record for Bronisława Dańko

The Death Record states that:

  • Bronislawa Danko’s death was recorded in Massachusetts Deaths volume 107, number 290
  • She was a single, white female, born in Worcester on January 2, 1912 and was 1 year, 11 days old at the time of death
  • Her father was Michal Danko who was born in Austria
  • Her mother was named Mary and was born in Austria
  • P. H. Nichol, M.D. attended her from January 7, 1913 until January 13, 1913
  • She died at 2:30 PM on January 13, 1913 at the family home at 3 Moran Court in Worcester after suffering for 6 days with broncho pneumonia
  • Michal Danko of Worcester was the informant
  • The statement of death by P. H. Nichol, M.D. was made on January 14, 1913
  • She was buried in Worcester on January 15, 1913 by the undertaker Lucian Karolkewicz of Worcester
  • The Death Certificate was filed by the registrar on January 20, 1913

Note that the date of birth on the birth record is January 3, 1912, while that on the death certificate is January 2, 1912.

Tomorrow:  The birth and death of John Kurpiel.


A Brief Summary of My Trip to Boston

Posted in Daily Journal, Vital Records, Gravestones, Immigration, Cemeteries, Naturalization at 8:36 pm by Administrator

I’m back home now.  I’m really bushed so I think I’ll try to get to bed early tonight.  My body clock is now 3 hours ahead of Pacific Time, so I suspect I’ll be up extra early for work tomorrow!

At the end of my vacation, I drove to Dorchester and checked into the DoubleTree Club Hotel.  I spent most of Friday and Saturday researching my family’s history at the Massachusetts Vital Records Office and the Massachusetts State Archives, both of which were within walking distance of the hotel.

I spent all day Friday at the Massachusetts Vital Records Office in Dorchester.  Fortunately, Massachusetts allows researchers to work onsite at the Vital Records Office, so I was easily able to find many records I couldn’t find otherwise.  The Vital Records Office charges $9 per hour do conduct research and $18 for a certified copy of a vital record, making research at the Vital Records Office rather expensive.

I purchased 47 birth, death, and marriage records.  The cost for copies of vital records onsite is $10 less than the cost to order the records by mail, so I saved quite a bit of money by ordering onsite.  The staff at the Vital Records Office tried to give me computer printouts of some of the recent births, but I asked if they could give me photocopies of the actual certificates and they graciously did so.  The actual certificates contain a lot more information than the computer printouts, so I’m happy that I insisted on the photocopies.  With recent efforts by some members of the Massachusetts Legislature to restrict access to Vital Records, I decided it was time to get as many records as I can as soon as possible.

On Saturday, I went to the Massachusetts State Archives and made copies of 7 birth records, 3 death records, and 12 naturalization records.  The Archives doesn’t charge for research onsite and charges only 50 cents a page for copies, so my research at the Archives was a lot less expensive than my previous day’s research at the Vital Records Office.

The information I found at the Massachusetts State Archives included the birth and death records for all three infants buried in the grave in Notre Dame Cemetery that I discussed in Aunt Bronisława Has Been Misplaced!  It turns out that the surnames of two of the three infants were misspelled in the cemetery records.  The data I complied from three birth records, three death records, and one cemetery record are:

  • John Kurpiel, born October 30, 1912, died December 20, 1912, buried December 21, 1912, age 1 month
  • Bronisława Dańko, born January 3, 1912, died January 13, 1913, buried January 15, 1913, age 1 year
  • Franciszek Stoma, born December 3, 1913, died August 29, 1914, buried August 30, 1914, age 8 months

I also ordered a monument for the grave, and the stone will be put into place sometime later this year.  Notre Dame Cemetery pours foundations only twice a year - in May and September - so the stone can’t be put into place until September at the earliest.  Tomorrow, I’ll call the monument company to provide them with the correct names and dates, and then I’ll wait to receive the proofs of the inscription.  I’m looking forward to getting monument set in place on this grave that has been unmarked for 94 years!

There’s a lot more to report on my vacation and research trip to the east coast.  I’ll post some of the more interesting records as soon as I get the photocopies scanned.


Spelunking with My Nephew

Posted in Daily Journal at 7:46 pm by Administrator

I spent a day with my nephew Lukas and we went exploring two caves that are accessible to the public in upstate New York:  Howe Caverns and Secret Caverns.  Here are some pictures from our trip.  Howe Caverns is much more developed than Secret Caverns.  Howe Caverns has a brick path on the cave floor, while Secret Caverns has a much rougher floor.  In the pictures, most of the color comes from strategically placed colored lights.  The natural colors of the formations range from white to tan to black with rose hues in some places.

Howe Caverns 2 

 The Tour Guide with my Nephew Lukas

Howe Caverns 1

 Stalagmites and Stalactites in Howe Caverns
Stalagmites grow from the ground;  stalactites grow from the ceiling.

Howe Caverns 6 

 The Pipe Organ in Howe Caverns
The tour guide hummed into a formation on the cave wall opposite this formation and it sounded like a pipe organ playing!

Howe Caverns 14 

The Bridal Altar in Howe Caverns
The heart is a piece of calcite cut in the shape of a heart and lit from below.
Quite a few couples have been married here.

 Howe Caverns 17

 The Old Witch in Howe Caverns
See if you can see the face of a Witch in this rock.
The tour guide pointed out three different ways to see the witch.

Secret Caverns 002 

Flowstone and Stalactites in Secret Caverns 

Secret Caverns 08 

 The Elephant’s Foot in Secret Caverns
Lukas has just passed the Elephant’s Foot.


More from the Uncles

Posted in Daily Journal, Family History, Automobiles at 4:54 pm by Administrator

After telling me of their war experience, my uncles Ray and Henry talked about a few other details of their family life when they were young.  Everyone in the family, including children and grandchildren, called my maternal grandparents “Ma” and “Pa”.

Ma worked for the Bancroft Hotel in Worcester.  The Bancroft is now the Sheraton.  She would take the bus to work in the morning.  There was a cop in a “cop box” in Lincoln Square who would jump out to help her cross the street.  The family was familiar with the beat cops in their neighborhood.  Once, when one of the local cops died, Pa took Ray to the wake.  That was the first corpse that Ray ever saw.

The family lived in a triple-decker house on Huntington Avenue owned by Pa’s uncle Frank Niedzialkoski.  At the time they lived there, a trolley ran up and down the street and cost 5 cents a trip.  Often, Ray would walk to save the 5 cents.  In addition to the house on Huntington Avenue, Pa’s uncle Frank owned a farm called Sky Farm in Sterling, Massachusetts.  Ray, Henry, and their brothers and sisters would work on the farm during the summer.  Ray remembered being very well fed.

Pa owned a number of cars during his lifetime.  Even though the family didn’t consider themselves wealthy, they must have been better off than many of the other families in the neighborhood since they were one of the few families to own a car.  Pa owned a Model T Ford.  He later purchased a 1924 Hupmobile with the option of solid wheels rather than wire wheels.   The Hupmobile had windows that had to be buttoned in and windshield wipers you turned by hand.

1924 Hupmobile

The 1924 Hupmobile

Ma and Pa owned a three decker building on Prescott Street and operated a grocery store out of the first floor in a neighborhood that included a mix of all nationalities.  Their building is the only building left standing on Prescott Street today.  The building was located close to the American Steel and Wire factory where the people would work from 6 AM to 6 PM.  The whistle would blow at 6 PM and a stream of people would come out and walk down Byron Street and past their house.

The family found ways to save money.  When the children were young, Saturday was bath day.  Ma would heat water on the stove and everybody would take a bath in the same water.  Pa would resole their shoes himself and would make moonshine in the kitchen which he would barter with others in exchange for haircuts for the boys.  The boys would go to the dump and find copper, brass, lead, and aluminum that they could sell.  They would pick through the dump with 5-10 other kids and earn about $5 a week for their efforts.  In hindsight, Ray marveled at the fact that they never caught serious diseases picking through the dump.

Later, Pa worked for Worcester Pressed Steel.  The company owned land behind the factory and the employees were given a plot for a garden.  Pa had one of those plots.  At the time he worked for Worcester Pressed Steel, Pa owned a Hudson.  In the winter, Pa would come home at night and drain the radiator so the water wouldn’t freeze.  At the time, antifreeze didn’t exist and so people either had to use alcohol in the radiator to prevent freezing.  To save money, Pa just drained the radiator at night and refilled it in the morning.  He had preferred employee parking as a machinist at Worcester Pressed Steel and so he was able to park in the company garage during the day so the radiator wouldn’t freeze at work. 

John Woodman Higgins, the owner of Worcester Pressed Steel, opened a steel museum known today as Higgins Armory.  Although Worcester Pressed Steel is no longer in business, the Armory still exists.  Pa worked at Higgins Armory for a while, and Pa gave my mother a cigarette lighter in the shape of a suit of armor.  I plan to visit Higgins Armory during my visit to Worcester later this week.


The Uncles’ Military Service

Posted in Daily Journal, World War II, Military Records at 7:18 pm by Administrator

I arrived at Logan Airport, picked up a rental car and drove to Worcester, Massachusetts to visit my uncles Ray and Henry.  Ray and I went to get a bite to eat and Ray started to tell me about his time in the military service.  At this point, I realized that I didn’t have a pen or paper with me and I particularly thought a digital audio recorder would have been useful.  A little late to think of these things, I guess.

When we returned to Henry’s house, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and started taking notes.  Ray and Henry talked mostly about World War II, but spoke about a few other things as well.

Ray volunteered to join the Coast Guard.  On the same day he entered the Coast Guard, the cops arrived at his house to announce he had been drafted.  Ray volunteered to take training as a signalman, and was one of two men to earn a grade of 4.0.  As a Signalman First Class, Ray was assigned to the Destroyer-Escort DE-325, the USS Lowe in an Atlantic convoy to the Mediterranean.  It took 22 days to cross the ocean.  He was later assigned to the Landing Ship Tank LST-795 and traveled to Okinawa and Iwo-Jima.  At the end of the war, his ship picked up POWs in Japan.  Most of the POWs were Australians who were malnourished.

Henry was drafted into the Army.  In the year he became eligible for the draft, he turned 18 years old in May, took his physical in June, and was drafted in July.  His first assignment was to Fort Knox as a tank destroyer, and later was assigned to a troop ship in the South Pacific.  It took 30 days to cross the Pacific.  Still later he was assigned to the Philippines and finally he was assigned to the military police in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan.

Ray and Henry’s brother Fred (now deceased) entered the US Naval Armed Guard and was assigned to the Murmansk Run, delivering war supplies to the Eastern Front.

All three survived the war.

Tomorrow, more of what the uncles told me.


The Works Progress Administration

Posted in Daily Journal, Census Records at 7:33 pm by Administrator

Most genealogists are familiar with the Soundex indexes to the US Census and indexes to vital records in several states, but may not realize that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was responsible for those accomplishments.  In the later years of its existence, the Works Progress Administration was known as the Work Projects Administration.

The WPA was established in 1935 by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his “New Deal for every American”.  As part of the relief efforts during the Great Depression, the WPA was designed to provide jobs for the unemployed.  Some of the better known projects of the WPA include Camp David, Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon, and the Houston City Hall.

In addition to these construction projects, the WPA also conducted the Historical Records Survey, an effort to survey and index historically significant documents.  Some of the works of particular interest to genealogists are:

  • The Soundex Indexes to the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 U.S. Census
  • The Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District #9, 1840-1950
  • The Soundex Name Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1790-1906
  • Index to Naturalization Petitions of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 1865-1957
  • Index to Marriage Record, Morgan County, Indiana, 1850-1941, inclusive
  • Index to Birth Records, Orange County, Indiana, 1882-1938, inclusive
  • The Salem Witchcraft papers: compiled transcripts of the legal documents of the Salem witchcraft outbreak of 1692
  • Dyer County, Tennessee wills
  • General index to records of births, marriages, and deaths, town of Berlin, Connecticut
  • Tyler County, West Virginia, marriages and deaths, 1853-1899
  • Grave stone records of Wayne County, Iowa
  • Record of the Greenhill Presbyterian Church, 3108 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, Delaware, 1851-1917
  • Inscriptions of Jewish Cemetery and small Jewish burial ground, Savannah, Georgia

The Family History Library Catalog has 992 matching titles for the keywords “Works Progress Administration”, and 1003 matching titles for the keywords “Work Projects Administration”.

The Historical Records Survey was shut down on February 1, 1943.  At that time, nearly everyone was employed because of the Second World War.

My first direct experience with the fruits of the WPA’s labor was in searching the Soundex cards for the 1920 US Census.  The card for my great great uncle, Frank Niedzialkoski is shown below.  Even though his surname is misspelled as Naedzialkosky on the card, the soundex code for Niedzialkoski and Naedzialkosky is the same!

Soundex Card for Frank Niedzialkoski 1920

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