The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Family Tree in Eastern Europe
And now for something entirely different...Although I don't have Polish, Czech, or Slovak ancestry (that I am currently aware of), I do have an interest in all facets of genealogical research. Which is why I was delighted to read the most recent book by Lisa Alzo, published in February of this year.
Lisa Alzo is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and genealogist. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of ten books.
In chapter 1, Alzo explains the “scope” (10) of the book and what it will do for genealogists in aiding their research. She accurately describes her book as a “roadmap” (10) that will enable those with Eastern European ancestry to navigate through the complicated history and geography of this region in order to find their ancestors. She begins with Polish immigration and includes an informative timeline of their arrival in the United States in 1608. A timeline for Czech and Slovak immigration is also included; these resources are important for providing context for when a person’s ancestor may have left Europe and traveled to the United States.
Chapter 2 leads researchers on their “first steps” (17) to successfully conducting Eastern European research. It not only includes a helpful flow chart that illustrates how to begin the research in Eastern Europe, but also describes basic genealogical practices to help researchers get started on the right track. Alzo also provides research plan suggestions and provides worksheets to help track progress.
Chapter 3 is all about identification. If you can’t determine your ancestor’s “original” (32) name, then your search may be stalled. Alzo expertly helps make sense of possible name changes and differences in spelling that can hinder the search for immigrant ancestors. Once the ancestors name is determined, research can move on to find the ancestors origin in Eastern Europe. Alzo includes numerous helpful tips and internet links that can aid in a successful ancestor search. Again, worksheets are included, this time to record and to help sort out possible name variations and spellings.
Chapters 4 and 5 are history lessons which are so vital to successful genealogical research. Even if you don’t have Eastern European ancestors, but simply love history, these are fascinating chapters. For example, Chapter Five talks about the “Velvet Divorce,” a term I had never heard before but now know refers to the dissolution of the Czech and Slovak republics in 1993. Not only does this event speak to history, but to geography as well, which is the subject of chapter 6. Genealogists tend to love maps, and this chapter is full of information about how to use old European maps, gazetteers, and atlases, as well as numerous links for online maps. These are three well-researched and well-explicated chapters on subjects that are so necessary to successful genealogical research.
In chapter 7 Alzo returns to the issue of names and naming patters. This time she expands on the topic considerably by the inclusion of a language section. Chapters 8 – 11 are about specific records, such as census and military records. The chapters discuss the various types of records that are available and how to find them. The fluid geography of the region makes finding records a challenge, but Alzo provided enough information and research tips to help with a successful search.
Chapter 12 discusses how to research on-site in Eastern Europe, which she has done, and includes travel tips. In winding down the research narrative, chapter 13 is full of interesting and engaging case studies in Eastern European ancestor research. Chapter 14 concludes the book with a discussion of research strategies for overcoming the inevitable brick wall, a problem that all genealogists can relate to.
The book is rounded out with nine appendices which included Polish, Czech, and Slovak language lessons. Other appendices list United States archives, historical societies, and genealogical societies relating to Eastern European research, as well location of archives and records locations in Eastern Europe.
Alzo’s latest book is much more than a simple genealogy how-to guide. From the beginning of the book, beautiful pictures are included that demonstrate history, culture, and family and how the three are connected. Her own experience in the difficulties of researching her ancestors due to “border changes” and “language difference has provided her with her the knowledge to lead researchers through the intricacies of Eastern European genealogy. The end of each chapter includes a “Keys to Success” section, which include quick, helpful tidbits on how to begin or to proceed with genealogical research of Polish, Czech, or Slovak ancestry. Alzo emphasizes the importance of historical context in understanding your family tree and leaves no research stone unturned. This book is a must-read for those with Eastern European ancestry.
You can visit Lisa's website here: www.lisaalzo.com/
On November 22, 1903, the Springfield Republican announced the imminent construction of "a very fine residence" for Paul Nicholas. The builder was A.R. Bowman who projected a cost of $16,000 to complete the beautiful home that would be known as Humboldt Place. Work was completed in 1904.
Paul Nicholas was born in England on Christmas day, 1855. He arrived in the US in 1877 and was naturalized in 1890 while living in Graham County, Arizona. In 1893, he married Roselle Tierney in Morenci, Arizona. Nicholas was almost 38 years old and Roselle was 18.
Though Nicholas was the "superintendent of mines" at the Arizona Copper Company, a trip through Springfield in 1902 led him to buy land west of town and to be a farmer in addition to his work as an engineer. Today, his 176-acre farm is no more, but the house still sits peacefully in a park-like setting on the remaining seven acres.
In the late 1890s, while working for the copper company, Nicholas began to "prospect near Humboldt hill," which was located near the town of Morenci. It is from this mining operation that Nicholas found the name for his new home in Springfield. Initially, the copper vein in Humboldt turned out to be "small and the ore poor in grade." However, the mine eventually made a fortune for the Arizona Copper Company and likely for Nicholas as well.
Even while living in Springfield, Nicholas continued his work in Arizona, where he went on occasional visits to "look after his copper interests." Nicholas and his wife were also busy in the local social scene; in 1908, Nicholas was listed as an "old member" of the Springfield Club, a social organization formed in 1901.
In addition to their frequent activities at the Springfield Club, Paul and Roselle participated in numerous other social events with Springfield's leading citizens. In April 1909, they attended a party at the home of the Frank Fellows family on East Walnut. The guest list also included F.X. Heer (Heer's Department Store), H.B. McDaniel (McDaniel Bank), Holland Keet (Holland Bank), J.T. Woodruff (Woodruff Building), and Miss Annie Abbot.
The couple were members of the Country Club and they also attended numerous events at the Colonial Hotel. Paul Nicholas just happened to be on the board of directors of the Colonial Hotel Building Company. This social whirl appears to have been the norm for the Nicholas family throughout their lives.
In the autumn of 1911, Paul and Roselle took their daughter Murillo to Boston where she planned to attend Chevy Chase College and Seminary. The school opened in 1903 and was known at the time primarily as a finishing school. I don't know if Murillo graduated, but two years later she was back in Springfield attending a bridal shower given for her (and two other young ladies) at the Colonial Hotel. Later that week, the three young women were entertained again at the home of Mrs. Holland Keet.
On October 5, 1915, Murillo Nicholas married prominent Springfield banker James Claud McDaniel in her parents "spacious suburban home...west of the city. The wedding was a quiet home affair, but beautiful in its simplicity. The drawing room was beautifully decorated in palms, ferns and baskets of Southern smilax, with large baskets of pink roses."
The wedding march began at 3:30 and the bridal procession descended the stairs (pictured above). Then the bride appeared, with her father, looking "exquisitely dainty in her gown of white satin, made short and draped with tulle, over which the court train of white, embroidered in silver and seed-pearls, hung in graceful folds. She wore a tulle veil with clusters of orange blossoms encircling the head. Her bouquet was of white orchids and lilies of the valley."
The wedding cake was "made in the form of a ring" and was a "marvel of the confectioner's art, with a monogram of the bride and groom upon it in icing. Its center was filled in with white roses and lilies of the valley, out of which a dainty miniature bride emerged."
The wedding was attended by about 150 guests and was likely one of the main social events of the season.
Nicholas is said to have loved plants and added a small greenhouse (pictured above) to the east side of the house. The former greenhouse is still home to numerous plants and is a cozy spot for reading and relaxation.
Paul Nicholas died in 1936 of pneumonia. He was 80 years old. Roselle continued to live in the family home until around 1944, when she sold Humboldt Place and moved to a home on S. Weller. She died of pancreatic cancer in 1954 at the age of 81.
Humboldt house is a two story brick structure and was built in the Neoclassical Style with a main central block and two wings. The front gable is supported by six Corinthian columns. The gable is decorated with a round, stained glass window. This is an uncommon house style for the Springfield area and we are fortunate that this beautiful house is still extant. It is currently on the market; information and more interior pictures are available here.
Ancestry.com. Census Records and Springfield City Directories.
Colquhoun, James. The History of the Clifton-Morenci Mining District. London: William Clowes and Sons, 1924.
Missouri Digital Heritage. "Missouri Death Records, 1910-1964."
Patton, James Monroe. "The History of Clinton." M.A., 1945.
Taylor, Mabel Carver. "Cavalcade of Homes, Part 15." Springfield Magazine.
Photos courtesy of Alyson Yen. Used with permission.
Copyright 2017 by Connie Yen
This gem in the heart of Springfield was built in 1881 by J.E. Tolfree. Two years later, Springfield banker and businessman, James E. Keet, purchased the house from Tolfree and transformed what was originally a fairly standard two-story, Italianate brick structure into the extravagant beauty now known as the Keet-McElhany house.
James Elijah Keet was born in Washburn, Missouri, in 1849 to Josiah Thomas and Elizabeth West Keet. At that time, Washburn was known as Keetsville and was named after Josiah and his brother, James T. Keet. Josiah later moved his family to Springfield where he became a merchant, first in partnership with William Massey, and subsequently with Newton Rountree. Their business became the well-known Keet-Rountree Dry Goods Company. James E. Keet worked for many years as the secretary and treasurer of the family business and eventually served as its president.
By 1886, James Keet and his wife, Katherine Holland, had made substantial changes to their new home. The porch was enlarged and became considerably more elaborate. They added the turret on the west wing, as well as an additional building in back that contained a kitchen and servants quarters. They later added a third floor to the house with a Queen Anne-style roof.
Though the primary renovations were done in a couple of different phases, there were ongoing changes to the house that are typical of long term home ownership. Since the Keet family was prominent in Springfield business and social circles, some of those changes were considered newsworthy.
And indeed he did have a "substantial" cellar, one that included a tunnel! The tunnel extends from the basement of the house to the servants quarters in back. Its arched roof is visible above ground.
Now let's take a look inside the house.
The house contains over 6,000 square feet, including the basement and tunnel area. It contains 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, and numerous fireplaces. Though it is over 100 years old, the house has been excellently maintained and even retains many of the original features.
It may have been in this dining room that the Keet's held their Thanksgiving dinner in 1899. The Springfield Republican reported that "Mr. and Mrs. James E. Keet's guests at Thanksgiving Dinner were; Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Holland, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Holland, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Holland, Mrs. E.J. Robberson, Mrs.Arthur Taylor, Miss Lida Robberson, Miss Emily Otterson and Mr. Jamie Holland." The Holland family were prominent in Springfield business and banking and were relatives of Katherine Keet.
The activities of the Keet family were consistently reported in local newspapers. In June 1888, an "elegant reception" was held in the home of Mrs. L.A. Campbell "at the home of her father, Major McElhany." Mrs. James Keet wore "blue and white French gingham, puffed sleeves and front fichu style, garnished with picot edged ribbon." Major Robert J. McElhany was a Springfield banker; his grandson, Claude, would later marry Katherine E. Keet, one of the daughters of James and Katherine.
Three prominent Springfield families, the Keets, Hollands, and McElhanys, all three bankers and merchants, intersected in this one house. Though this beautiful home is now surrounded by businesses and parking lots, she was once surrounded by numerous beautiful homes. Those homes are no longer extant. Somehow, this house alone survived the expansion of the central business district.
James E. Keet died in July 1900. The St. Louis Republican took note of his passing: "James E. Keet, one of Springfield's most prominent businessmen, died today. He was president of the National Exchange Bank, president of the Keet-Rountree Wholesale Dry Goods Company, and a moving spirit in a number of other [illegible] concerns."
In his 1895 will, James stated that he had complete "faith and confidence in [his] wife, Kate," and believed that she would ensure the welfare of their children; therefore, he left the entire estate to her. In a codicil, written barely a month before his death, he bequeathed one thousand dollars to each of his siblings.
Katherine Holland Keet lived in the house until her death in 1920. James and Katherine's daughter, Katherine E., was already living there with her husband, Claude McElhany. Claude died in 1956 and Katherine E. remained in the family home until her death in 1983.
Now that I have my tickets to the homes tour I'm even more excited to get an intimate look inside some of Springfield's fabulous historic houses! I'll be taking lots of pictures this weekend and will post an update next week. Until then, here is a look at some of the homes opened for the 2013 tour.
The homes tour was especially lovely in 2013 thanks to a blanket of snow. Built c. 1910, the Hawkins-Radecki house was beautifully decorated for the holidays.
This striking Queen Anne home was built c. 1895 and now serves as the Drury University presidents home. The house was threatened with demolition in the late 1970s, but was thankfully saved and restored.
It's not too late to get tickets for this years tour! Click here for information.
In anticipation of the upcoming Midtown Homes Tour, I decided to share a few lovelies from a previous years tour. This neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Roulet house was built in 1895 as a one-story Queen Anne, but was converted to a Foursquare style in 1924.
A bungalow style, the Klingner house was built in 1907. The Klingner family has owned a mortuary business in Springfield since the late 1800s.
The Mayes house began life as a typical Victorian farmhouse in 1886. It was "modernized" into an Ozarks giraffe house around 1930.
The majestic Coover house, a Foursquare style home, was built in 1907.
This darling T-plan house was owned by Rose O'Neill, of Kewpie doll fame. Built in 1900, the house has elements of Queen Anne style architecture; the spindle-work porch detailing shows elements of Folk Victorian style, as well. The house is now owned by Drury University.
The next tour of home is only two weeks away. I look forward to visiting a few more historic houses and listening for the stories they may share.
On July 25, 1894, "George McLaughlin,the handsome young attorney, presented to the local department of the [Springfield] Leader today a tomato 15 inches in circumference.This gigantic vegetable was grown in his own garden."
That "handsome young attorney" was born in Springfield, Missouri, in 1873. He attended Central High School and Drury College and then moved to Lebanon, Tennessee, to attend the Cumberland School of Law.
In 1899, George married Rosa Nell Batch, who was known affectionately as "Nellie." The couple had three children that lived to adulthood: Stephen W., Lillian, and Anna.
Another house preceded the circa 1904 construction of the McLaughlin house on this lot in M.M. McCluer's addition, which was first platted in 1867. Local folklore says that George built the house for Nellie, but it does not appear that the McLaughlin's were the first occupants of the home. From 1903 to 1906, William J. Wood and his wife, Nellie, lived at this location. At the time, William was a travelling salesman for the McGregor-Noe Hardware Company, but he eventually became president of the Wood-Beazley Seed Company.
George and Nellie lived in this beautiful Queen Anne-style home from 1907 until 1914. Though George was an attorney, he also dealt in loans and real estate and, in 1909, had an office in the Union National Bank located on the public square. Curiously, he is listed as a farmer in Wilson Township in the 1900 census. Even more curious is his listing in the 1910 census living with Nellie and their three children in McDonald County, Missouri, where they were renting a home and even had a servant. The next record, from 1912, has the family back in their home on W. Walnut Street with George working in real estate. By 1915, they had moved to a new home outside the city limits. In 1920, they were back on Walnut Street, living near the Keet-McElhany house in a home that is no longer extant.
James L. Robertson and his wife, Mollie, were the next family to live in the house. James was the president of Robertson Grocery Company. By 1920, he was a merchant at a local seed company. James and Mollie lived in the house for several years before moving to Elm Street.
By 1925, Elizabeth Graffius was the new owner and by 1931 she had converted the former family home into apartments. As a widow, she may well have needed the money that renters would provide. The house experienced several owners throughout the following decades and remained an apartment building during most of those years. At any given time, the McLaughlin house was home to anywhere from four to six tenants.
The 1957 assessment shows the house contained 14 rooms, though how many of those were due to being divided into apartments in unknown. The house sits on a quarter of an acre near the downtown area and, despite interior changes, has thankfully been preserved.
This sad little house was auctioned recently and its fate is as yet undetermined. It has some interesting features, but is in need of considerable work, both inside and out.
The house is located in M.K. Smith's 4th addition which was platted in Springfield in March 1884. Smith was a well-known local businessman and was the owner of Springfield Woolen Mill.
The house was built at least by 1890 at which time it was inhabited by Thomas B. Lewis and his wife, Sarah. Lewis was a self-employed carpenter, though he later worked for Queen City Wood Works.
Lewis lived here until 1918 when ownership passed to J.E. White, who also owned the lot next door. James E. White, along with his partner, Loran C. Sechler, operated a grocery store located at 312 W. Commercial. In 1920, White sold the house to John W. Welch and his wife, Flora.
John Welch was a chairman with the General Council of the Assemblies of God, which is headquartered in Springfield. By 1925, Welch was the manager of the Gospel Publishing House and by 1936 he was president of Central Bible Institute, now part of Evangel University.
Welch owned the home only a short time before selling it to John C. Cramer and his wife, Ethel. Cramer, along with his partner, G.F. Smith, owned a lunch counter located at 444 E. Commercial. By 1927, Cramer had sold the house to grocer Fred Elliott and his wife, Bertha.
Fred Elliott owned a grocery store at 884 N. Campbell for several years, before taking a job as driver for the Springfield Special Road District in 1932. He was employed at several jobs over the next twenty years, including a position as a watchman at Oberman Manufacturing Company (Oberman's was a local garment factory.) and later as a custodian at Campbell's 66 Express. Ethel also worked at Oberman's for a few years as a machine operator. The Elliott family lived in the house until at least 1959.
The five-room house has approximately 900-square-feet with two bedrooms and one bath. The house has pine flooring and has a 10 x 12 concrete basement. There was once a one-car garage in back but it is no longer extant.
After the Elliott's moved, the house had several other owners prior to its recent auction. It appears to have been vacant for some time.
is a published author and historian who loves books, fountain pens, and old houses.