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.

Paternal Update on My Birthline

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Earlier this year I was finally able to reconcile my genealogy research with my DNA. The key outcome of this effort was the realization that my birth father was not actually the person my research had led me to. Because this experience is a good example of the importance of DNA in researching family history, I blogged about the experience and related work that led me to my actual birth father over on another site I set up: Finding Father – Circumstantial vs DNA Evidence.

So based on this new knowledge, I have updated my list of surnames shown on my contact page. As for the older posts related to the family I had thought was my paternal line, I am leaving them up because they could still offer useful family information for anyone else researching that family. Eventually some day, when I have more time, I may end up writing up my research on that family since I have so many records. When I do, I’ll make it available online for other researchers. But for now, I’m working on my new paternal line which has proved to be more challenging. I’ll share some of my work in future posts.

Civil War Resources – The Battle of Gettysburg

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Gettysburg 2012Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg so I figured I would post a few resources genealogists can use for research or for family histories.

Fold3 Civil War Website

First, Fold3, an online site focusing on military records, hosts a separate website dedicated to the Civil War. It's a great place for browsing photos, maps, and records from the Civil War and just learning more about its history. Unfortunately, if you are looking for resources to use in your own work, the copyright might prevent you from doing so. Although many of these documents appear to have come from the National Archives, the terms of use on the site only allow you to use the resources found here for personal use or for your own family histories.

National Archives

Since many of the resources on the Fold3 site seem to have come from the National Archives, it only makes sense to stop over at their site to see what they offer. They have uploaded many of their Civil War photo collection to Flickr – you can find it here: National Archives Civil War Collection on Flickr. The agency also has over 200 photos listed at this link: Pictures of the Civil War.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has a considerable collection of records related to our nation's history. So it is always one of the first sites I visit when looking for photos or maps for research. And because much of the material is no longer under copyright, you can use it for illustrating a story or other work. But before doing so, make sure to check any copyright information listed for that item. You can find Civil War maps here: Library of Congress Civil War Map Collection

Civil War Trust

The Civil War Trust website now has an animated video and map with a narration of the entire battle. You can watch and listen to it here: Gettysburg Animated Map. The site also offers video narrations of other Civil War battles.

David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

Another favorite site of mine for historical maps is the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection site. Here you can find numerous historical maps from all over the world. The maps related to Gettysburg are at this link: Gettysburg Battle Maps. Fortunately the site offers the maps through a Creative Commons license that allows the material to be reproduced and transmitted as long as it is not for commercial use. There is also an option to embed maps on your own website as shown below.

Modern Day Gettysburg

Finally, for those of you who are looking for photos of the modern day Gettysburg Battlefield, I have uploaded several I took on a recent visit. I also have posted them with a Creative Commons license that would allow you to use them as long as it is not for a commercial purpose. You can find the set here: Public Works Group Gettysburg Photos



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 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 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

Tree is Messed Up Again

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It looks like the software that powers my family tree is messed up again. I’ll have to go in and probably re-install it again so until I get time to do all that, I apologize if you have access and can’t get it to work.  If you’re on, most of the tree (minus living relatives) is up over there. So feel free to search for Broviak Family Tree at until I can get this one working again.

Family Secrets

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Joyce Marfell Ochs

My mom - Joyce Marfell Ochs

Over the last week I’ve been fortunate to have received some correspondence shedding more light on a few unanswered questions in my adoptive family’s maternal tree. This is the second time that a family member has shared what had been a family “secret” or unknown fact with me on my mother’s side of the tree. My mother would have been scandalized, or would she? For I discovered shortly after she died, my mother held her own secret.

My mother was English on her father’s side and Polish on her mother’s. She was fiercely close to her father’s sister, Aunt Agnes, who had no children. Throughout her life she emphasized how completely moral and strict her father and his family were – a proper English family. She was very proud of this heritage. Because my mother freely shared so very many memories with me from her life, I would at first think she had no idea about the past I have uncovered.

And perhaps she was completely unaware of the two stories I have been told – one happened in England many years before she was born. The other occurred in the decades leading up to her birth. Which makes me wonder if these events pushed her father and his sister to live such a strict, moral life and raise my mother with as many restrictions as possible.

This upbringing must have worked, because my mother seemed to have led a moral life herself completely dedicated to her husband and my brother and I. She also was obsessively strict with us. But she did take one secret to her grave.

Shortly after she died, I received all the family photos and documents. This along with my life-long obsession of tracing my tree was enough to encourage me to begin my genealogical journey through the past. As most suggest, I began with my parents trying to collect any information or documents I didn’t already have. One place I always look is school yearbooks. The problem was I could find my mom in every year but Senior year. Worried I was missing something, I contacted the school. They told me I could pick up a copy of her transcript that day. To my surprise I discovered she never graduated high school – she quit the day of her 16th birthday!

Needless to say, she never shared this with my brother or I. When I asked her brother about it, he said “she never wanted me to tell you.” But finding out this fact explained so very much about my relationship with her. I believe she loved me, but there was always an undertone of animosity towards me I could never quite figure out. And she had not been at all supportive of my pursuing a college education and encouraged me to quit several times.  Now the pieces fell into place – she had almost failed every class she took while I frequently received outstanding grades.

As we begin our journey back through our trees, we might have some preconceived notions about what we will find. What I’ve realized by tracing all trees – adoptive and birth family and those related now through marriage – is that what we expect is often not what we discover. And sometimes if only we had shared a little more while everyone was alive we could have better understood each other and improved our relationships with our loved ones.

Found! Naturalization Record for Jozefa Lisowska

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The big win for me this weekend was finding the naturalization record (and attached photo) for my great-grandmother, Jozefa Lisowska. Because I was adopted and this is my birth family, I don’t have many photos from either my birth father or birth mother’s side. Fortunately I was able to spend time with my birth family, including Jozefa’s daughter and my grandmother, Stella. But while they were generous with stories and photos, I don’t think they had any of Jozefa. But now I have the one on her naturalization record!

So not only was I able to obtain all the standard information about her family and date of immigration, but I was able to see her!

Here is the page with her photo:

Naturalization for Jozefa Lisowska











As an aside, I was able to find this because was offering half off for subscriptions if you are an subscriber. Although I hated to have to spend more money on subscriptions, I have to admit it was well worth it just to get this record!

Tree is Back Up!

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Over the last week or so I was fortunate enough to be contacted by someone who was related through marriage to my husband’s great grandfather, Frank Borowiak. And even though the relationship was through his first wife, not my husband’s great grandmother, the connection brings much interesting information to the tree. Like so many of us have discovered, searching lines that are not direct, but are still connected, can often unsurface clues for our own direct line.

So, because it was so important to share our tree with this person, I worked extra hard to get the tree back online and now it is! So if you are related and interested in following my research or are interested in editing some parts, send me an email and I can add you as a user.

Problems with phpGedView Upgrade

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I have had some issues with the upgrade of the family tree site so will be working on that. Once I get it running, I will send out notices to those who have registered and make sure you are added as members. Thanks.

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