11 January 2015

Genealogy Do Over Week 2

This week Thomas MacEntee encourages genealogists to go back to when we were first interested in genealogy. I have to say that I can not actually recall that first moment in time.

My maternal grandmother had always talked about her uncles and our Irish heritage. All four of her grandparents were immigrants from Ireland. All four were Roman Catholic, as was my grandmother. Being Irish Catholic, you can imagine how much green flowed, especially on the holiest of days – St. Paddy’s Day! My grandfather’s (yes, her husband) mother was Irish Protestant. St. Patrick’s Day was interesting there.

As a child, I recall spending a week or so each summer at my paternal grandparents’ house. During the day, my grandfather worked at the Mill and my grandmother and I went visiting. We visited everyone! So, between the two of them I unconsciously gained an appreciation of family and genealogy. 

This week is designed to:
  1. Set research goals
  2. Conduct self interviews
  3. Conduct family interviews.
As I mentioned last week, I am not starting again from scratch but rather tweaking and, for the purpose of this exercise, I am focusing on Daddy’s line. When I first started tracing my tree, I took a Family Group Sheet, which I got from The Everton Publishers out of Salt Lake City, to each household along with a notebook and an ancestral chart, also from Everton Publishers.  

Set research goals:
When I came up with my Genealogical Goals for 2015, the very first was to tweak the tree! Two goals pertained to Daddy’s side specifically: Find and confirm the mother of Frances Skrabalak; and find out more specifics (though the goal is obviously vague) about the ancestral homelands of my Hruszczak, Matys, Kurenda and Skrabalak lines. They all immigrated here between 1904 and 1913 and I would like to know what prompted them to leave their homeland and what their journey here was actually like. I would also like to know about the villages/towns/cities from whence they came. 

Conduct self interviews:

I would rather not discuss myself too much so I am going to jump ahead to my memories and knowledge of my grandparents.

My grandfather (Gigi) worked at the Mill when I was growing up. He was a grinder. He loved golf and even played on the team for Lukens. He was really good too. His birthday is 5 January 1918. Baba was a year older than him. They met at school when they were just kids. Baba helped him learn English. Even in their later years, she would start a sentence in Polish and he would finish in Ukrainian and we would all be so confused! 

I always knew my grandmother (Baba) to be a housewife. I figured she worked during the War Years but never really thought about it. I assumed she helped my grandfather in the store when they owned a steak shop. It was not until the end of her life that I knew her various jobs. I was asked (as the family genealogist) one day to stop over at Hospice with everyone. I knew Baba was not long for this life (she confessed to me one night that she had spoken to my grandfather and he had already passed). It was not until my aunt asked me how to spell Baba’s mother’s maiden name that the realization hit. One of her jobs during the war was making explosives My grandfather did not like that one! 

Those two were so cute. I wish it didn’t take me to my adult years to realize how special they are. They were so in love with each other. At Christmas they would both address their packages to each other as “To my Honey. From your Honey!”  

Conduct family interviews:
I actually wrote down some notes during and after interviews with some family members who have passed. Others I have written. Normally I only ask one or two pertinent questions after the normal pleasantries. I have found this keeps them more focused. I took a Family Group Sheet with me when I first started asking questions.  

I also found if I shared something personal then some of my older relatives would open up. For example, I lost a child in September 1995 and (we were dirt poor and living hand to mouth at that time) a family member had the audacity to tell me that it was “for the best: and we “already had one kid too soon.” I was crushed! I went over to my grandparents, not searching for family history info but just needing some condolence, and they told how she had a hard time getting pregnant and had lost (by the way lost in this case means miscarriage) a child as well. I had no clue. No one had ever spoke of that, but then that kind of thing was not talked about in their day. 

In a discussion about when Daddy was born (it is only him and one younger brother), Gigi said he was so nervous. They lived up Rock Run – Hunkytown he called it. (I think I was in college before I realized this was not necessarily a term of endearment for us Slavic people). Anyway, they did not have a car then or a phone at the house. So he had to run out to one of the neighbors who had a phone to call the doctor.  

After my husband and I got home from out honeymoon, we stopped over and chatted. They told us they went to the World Fair in New York. They actually pushed back their wedding because Baba was in mourning and it was not appropriate, even though it had already been planned. Her father, my great grandfather John Kurenda, passed away in February 1938 so Baba and Gigi held off until October of the following year. 

Some Interview Tips:
  • I found, when not just interview them but many people, not many recalled specific dates. Ask but always confirm from other documented sources.
  • When searching for a date, and they do not recall, try asking about the time of year or any special events, like the World’s Fair.
  • Never ask a yes/no question. Always allow for a story.
  • Write down everything. You never know how something so little will mean so much later on!
  • Who, what, where, and when are very important questions. Why and how are usually the most interesting ones.
Next week:
Next week (week 3) we will focus on tracking and conducting research. I must admit – I do love research! 


Genealogy Do-Over is a 13 week challenge from Thomas MacEntee, of GeneaBloggers.
I am aiming to publish these Do Over posts on Sundays. 
© Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman, 2015
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.