Meet Dennis Wolf – #whyivax

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Dennis Henry Wolf - my first cousin once removed. Born July 9, 1945, in Peru, LaSalle County, Illinois.
Dennis Henry Wolf – my first cousin once removed. Born July 9, 1945, in LaSalle County, Illinois.

Meet Dennis Wolf, my mom’s only maternal cousin, who was born on July 9, 1945. My mother was 13 at the time of his birth so definitely old enough to understand just how much this new baby boy meant to everyone, especially his parents. The story of his birth and the happiness it brought to everyone was constantly talked about in our family.

Dennis was the only child of Aunt Frances, my grandmother’s sister, and her second husband, Henry “Bear” Wolf. Frances had lost her first husband when he passed away only a few years after their marriage – they had no children. Bear had also been married before and also lost a spouse, but being about 18 years older than Aunt Frances, had two adult sons from his first marriage.

Frances and Henry “Bear” Wolf.
Frances and Bear married as World War II was beginning and had their son, Dennis, the year the war ended.

Because of the deep love and regard everyone had for him, Dennis was a constant and regular presence in our lives. Mom regularly commented on how sweet Dennis was – how loved he was. Of course she didn’t have to tell me. I heard others speaking of him in the same manner every time we visited my Aunt’s home. His photo, the one at the start of this post, was everywhere. No visit was complete without my Aunt Sophie – Frances’ sister – picking up his photo and kissing it and saying “and here is little Dennis.”

My brother and I were welcomed into the family about 20 years after Dennis was born. I wish I could share with you the times Dennis played with us when we visited. I wish I could tell you about the time he took us for ice cream or to a ball game. And I wish I could share all the fun times we had with him when we all got together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I can’t because Dennis didn’t make it past age 6. He came down with the measles, and before he could recover, he caught another illness from someone and ended up with pneumonia. Within a week of getting the measles and after five days of being treated in the hospital, he passed away. My mom always said the same thing about his death, “his little body just couldn’t fight both diseases.”

Dennis Wolf at age 6 – the son of “Bear” and Frances Wolf. He passed away a year after this photo, a month before his seventh birthday, on June 8, 1952.

Although physically gone, Dennis lives on through the expressions of love and through, what I now understand to be, sorrow. As much as the love for him brought a smile and wistful look, his loss brought sadness and tears to the eyes of every family member. And I am sure his death is one of the main reasons my mother made sure we were vaccinated as babies even scrapbooking the proof of it in our baby books.

Dennis, on the right, sitting on his porch with his friend.

Unfortunately for me, the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was not yet available when I was a child. According to my mom, I contracted them all over the years, fortunately not all at once. The only one I remember is the mumps which due to the severity of the case I had caused my little head to swell to grotesque proportions. My experience was horrific enough that when I had my own children twenty years later, I made sure my babies were all vaccinated so they would never have to go through that.

Newspaper clipping posted by his parents after the death of their son, Dennis Wolf.

All of Dennis’ relatives are gone now except for me, my brother, and Uncle Louis – my mom’s brother. We all carry on the story of “little Dennis” and so far those of my children who have their own kids are definitely choosing to protect them by ensuring they are vaccinated. Today I decided to share the story with all of you because I fear people are forgetting the losses, the ever present sorrow, and the sadness of a life lost too soon. People no longer remember the family stories of how a sweet and loveable child who means everything to a family slips away while those who love him look on helplessly. Except today we are not helpless, and perhaps by sharing stories of #whyivax can help others understand its importance, spare the loss of loved ones before their time, and give a little boy or girl a fighting chance.

The gravestone of Dennis Wolf in Peru City Cemetery.

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Poznan Databases and the Szwajkowski Family

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I’ve been a big fan of the Poznan Marriage Database project for many years. Without it I would probably never have found ancestors who lived in Poznan area. The site definitely helped me figure out my great grandmother, Josephine Szwajkowski, was from the Kurnik area. I discovered this because I had her parent’s names from her marriage record: Joseph and Frances Kasperska Szwajkowski. So I put them into the Poznan Marriage Project site to see if I could find them, and I got the following result:

Poznan Marriage Project Example

Poznan Marriage Project Example

As you can see, this shows Josephine’s parents, Joseph and Frances, married in Krerowo in 1859. So this gave me a location to begin my search in Poland. At this point, I could have ordered the records through FamilySearch.org and gone to my local LDS church to view the microfilm. But with all the families I’ve been focusing on lately, the Szwajkowski’s were not really on my radar screen at the moment. So I logged their marriage and put it all away for another time.

Then the other day when I was at the Poznan Marriage Project site, I noticed a link to the “Basia Database.” So I spent some time checking out the site. According to the information there, volunteers are currently in the process of transcribing records for births, marriages, and deaths in the Poznan area. Then these records are made available through the site. So far it appears they have primarily covered the southern portion. Seeing that this covered the area near Kurnik and Krerowo, I put in the Szwajkowski name. And I was rewarded with records allowing me to discover many new family members along with a death record for my great great grandfather, Joseph Szwajkowski – Josephine’s father.

If you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can click on over to http://www.basia.famula.pl/en/. Once there you can fill out your search parameters as I’ve done in the image below by clicking “Extended Search” below the Search button and filling in the blanks with what you know:

Basia Database Site

Basia Database Site

After you have your information typed in, click the search button. Here’s how my results looked. I clicked the green area to get the listing below the map to show up:

Basia Site Search Results for Joseph Szwajkowski

Basia Site Search Results for Joseph Szwajkowski

This listing includes the marriage record for Johann Szwajkowski who is a son of Joseph and Frances and a brother to my great grandmother, Josephine. The listing also shows the death record for Joseph. To view the record, you need to click the little numbers on the right that look like this: 1876/4/82, scan 39. This takes you to a page that shows the actual document. This is the record for Joseph’s death which included the names of his parents, Johann and Marianna Kuzma Szwajkowski – my great great great grandparents!

Joseph Szwajkowski Death Record

Joseph Szwajkowski Death Record

Be prepared though if you find documents for your ancestors – the ones I found appear to be in old German and Polish. Even the handwriting is in an old German Script. I used this site to be able to figure out the letters: Gothic Handwriting. Fortunately, between that site and Google Translator, I was able to figure out what each document said.

We are fortunate that there are so many people willing and able to transcribe these documents for us. And thanks to the State Archive in Poland for making these records available online. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the results for the rest of the area.

 

Here’s a photo of my great grandmother, Josephine, and her husband, Joseph Norwich.

Joseph and Josephine Szwajkowski Norwich

Joseph and Josephine Szwajkowski Norwich

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Finding Our Borowiaks in Poland

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Fortunately with the help of the Poznan Marriage Project and microfilms from the Church of Latter Day Saints, I’ve finally been able to locate our Borowiak family in Poland. My husband’s great grandfather, Frank Borowiak (1858-1925) immigrated from there sometime between 1879 and 1884. But we never really knew where exactly in Poland he was from. Based on some earlier research, we found his family initially living in Lemont, Ill., then moving to Minnesota between 1893 and 1896.

Michalina Borowiak Gravestone in Lemont, Ill.

Michalina Borowiak Gravestone in Lemont, Ill.

I think we even found the grave of his mother, Michalina Polcyn Borowiak although at the time, in 2004, we were not sure if Michalina was Frank’s mother or not. But by finding Frank’s baptismal record in the Polish records, we now know for a fact his mother’s name was Michalina Polcyn. However, I have still not convinced myself this gravesite is Frank’s mother’s only because so far the dates do not match up. I have a little more research to do to see if I can tie them in any way. Her birthdates are close, but not exact.

As for Frank, there had also been many discrepancies in his birthdate between all the sources we found. But finally we now know his birthdate was Dec. 24, 1857. And we finally know for sure the name of his father, Valentine. This had also been a question because of the many different names used in all the sources we found.

Valentine and Michalina married on Nov. 8, 1840, in the Zon Parish in Poland. Valentine had been born in Pruchnowo on Jan 14, 1815 (could also be his baptismal date – only one date was given in the record) to Joseph and Marianna Borowiak. I am still researching the family so have not yet verified many other details other than Frank had at least two siblings: Rosalia born Feb. 15, 1842, and Joseph born 31 Jan 1845.  Below are some of the entries for a few of these facts. I’ll post more as I learn additional facts:

 

Frank Borowiak Baptism Record

Frank Borowiak Baptism Record

Valentine and Michalina Polcyn Marriage record

Valentine and Michalina Polcyn Borowiak Marriage Record

 

Valentine Borowiak Baptism record

Valentine Borowiak Baptism record

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Illinois Bell Girls

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Joyce Marfell as Miss Voice, 1952In a previous post, I mentioned I discovered my mother had never graduated high school. She quit right after turning 16 and started working at Illinois Bell as a telephone operator. I am thinking she chose Illinois Bell because her Aunt Sophie worked there. (Unfortunately I was never really told what my Aunt did there other than serve as a union steward.) Anyway, in 1952, when my mom was 20 years old, she won the Illinois Bell Miss Voice contest for our area. It must have been a big deal for her because we heard stories about her experience many times during her lifetime. And there was always this huge poster of her as a telephone operator hanging in our basement.

After my Aunt Sophie passed away in 2000 and my mom passed away in 2003, I was left their photos. Within these family pictures were several of people who worked for Illinois Bell. Many pictures were of work-related events. Unfortunately I only knew a few people in the photos from the times when my mom would go through pictures with me. But one day I was talking to a friend of my mom’s, Rita Griffin, and I told her about the photos. She said she still met with some of the women who used to work at Illinois Bell and could probably figure out who some of the people in the photos were. So thanks to her, I now have some of them identified. I uploaded them to Flickr and figured I would post them here in case anyone saw a relative (you have to click the photo to see the names). There is one photo that seems very old, but unfortunately Rita was not able to identify anyone in that picture.


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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The US 1940 Census and My Elusive Daltons

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Joe Dalton Gravestone

Joe Dalton's Grave

The release of the US 1940 census is almost upon us – only 30 more days. And when that day finally arrives, and the records are thrown open, who will be the first person you seek? For me, it will be Joseph Dalton, one of the more intriguing figures in my ancestry. This is because the 1940s seemed to be one of monumental change for Joe and his family.

According to family interviews and Joe’s death certificate, he was born in Fork Ridge, Tenn., on Feb. 23, 1900. His parents were Mack and Minnie Sanders Dalton. From what I have found so far, Joe was the sixth child in a family of nine. Perhaps Joe’s family problems were partially attributable to his mother and father’s relationship.  According to family lore, Mack left Minnie about 1916 to return to “the hills of North Carolina.” I’ve heard and read this from several family members – the story is that Mack was Cherokee and left to return to his homeland or another family he had and eventually died in that state. Some said he changed his name and even that Mack Dalton had not been his original name. One family member I spoke with said they heard another family member was visiting North Carolina years after Mack left and saw someone who they thought looked like Mack. I also heard stories that suggested Mack left because Minnie drank heavily and was caught with another man.

Of course, like many family stories there are inconsistencies with documents. All of the census entries for Mack show him to be a white male born in Virginia, as were his parents. His wife was from Virginia. And all of their children younger than Joe were born in Virginia. Another clue that Mack’s original birthplace was Virginia is found in the World War 1 record for his son,  George. The entry lists George’s father as born in Richmond, Virginia. But as we know, family stories are often based on some element of truth, so it makes me wonder what was really going on with Mack.

But back to Joe – as most of you would expect, Joe married at the relatively young age of 19. His wife was Ottice Woods, herself a descendant of an interesting parental history. From what I’ve found so far, Joe and Ottice remained in Tennessee after their marriage and had a son in 1921 and another in 1922. But sometime between the birth of their second son and 1924, they moved to Benham, Kentucky, in Harlan County where Joe worked as a miner. In 1924, Joe and Ottice had twins, but neither survived more than a couple days. The notation on their death certificates said, “I did not attend this case. No doctors were called. Twins born that were pre-mature.” Over the next 10 years, the couple had at least eight more children for a total of twelve. A few, like the twins, did not survive into childhood.

A Road in Benham, Kentucky

A Road in Benham, Kentucky

I often try to wonder what life was like for Joe and Ottice living in what was probably mining company housing. From the books and newspaper articles I’ve read about mining in that area in the 1920s and 1930s, I don’t think it was a very safe or easy life at all. They probably did not have proper nutrition or health care which could have led to the high infant mortality experienced by Joe and Ottice.

So with the last birth of Joe’s children around the mid-1930s, there ceases to be any further documentation of the family other than the death of his mother, Minnie, in 1940. And if it had not been for additional information I learned from other family members, I might never had discovered Joe’s final fate. According to my birth aunt, Joe divorced Ottice about 1944 and moved to West Virginia with his son, Jesse. What happens next I have pieced together from family stories and court records and a trip to West Virginia.

According to my birth aunt, Joe and his son opened a bar in West Virginia. On March 15, 1952, robbers entered the bar, and Joe shot at them and killed a man. Joe ended up in prison, but the day before he was to be released, May 19, 1953, he was knifed by someone in prison. When I found Joe’s death certificate online, I found that the official record indicates he slit his own throat. I thought this was odd because why would someone serve their time then commit suicide the day before they were to be released? So I traveled to West Virginia to read the court records myself.

Jail where Joe Dalton died

Jail where Joe Dalton died

According to the records, Joe pleaded not guilty. At his first trial, the jury could not come to a decision so a mistrial was declared. On November 24, 1952, the records show that Joe and his probation officer appeared before the court and asked he be placed on probation pursuant to a plea of guilty. Unfortunately for Joe, the court decided to instead put him in jail for one year. However, they did agree to give him six weeks to put his business in order prior to serving his sentence. And unfortunately on May 19, 1953, at 6 pm, Joe’s throat was cut – he died within two to three minutes.

In addition to documenting the court proceedings and his death, the records provided me with other interesting facts about Joe and his life in West Virginia. His probationary review shows a prior arrest on July 1, 1951, in Knoxville, Tenn., for intoxication. And the most unexpected twist I found was that Joe had been living in Greenbrier County for about seven years and worked as a miner until November 1951 when he married and started assisting his wife in operating “Beer Parlot” near Duo. His wife?! No one in the family had mentioned or seemed to know he remarried. According to the documents, he married his wife, Kathleen Sutton (age 37), in Covington, Virginia.

Beer Parlor owned by Dalton

Possible Remains of Dalton's "Beer Parlor"

Fortunately I was also able to speak with someone from Kathleen’s family who helped fill in more details and information about the shooting. According to her, these two brothers had entered the kitchen of the bar where Kathleen was and were threatening her and trying to rob her. Joe came in and shot at them killing one. This makes sense because of the hesitation for the jury to convict Joe of manslaughter. She also said while Joe was in prison, he was often released during the day to help out around the jail with cooking and other duties. Kathleen passed away in 1988.

During my time in West Virginia, I also went into the mountains to try to find the bar where the shooting occurred. The road to the bar was a one lane road next to a creek with few buildings left along the route and no way to determine an address of anything. After traveling the correct distance out of Duo, I fortunately saw someone in the front yard of a mobile home, and I asked him if there was a bar nearby. He said the only bar he knew about was the one shown in this photo – as you can see it had fallen into ruin. Based on my research and the information from this man, I believe it is probably the right one. Although I really wanted to go through the debris, I did not want to trespass and also wondered about snakes and wild animals. So I took my photos and left.

As you can see – there are still many unanswered questions about Joe and his life and even his death. One day, I had hoped to talk with one of his children. But I’ve not been able to locate them with the information I have, and as time goes on, I have less of a chance to find them alive. At least the release of the 1940 US Census might provide me with a few more clues. Although I’ll probably never know if Joe really did take his own life or if someone stopped by the jail that night in May of 1953 to pay Joe back for killing their relative or friend.

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