COLUMNISTS

Filing out the branches of our family tree

Susan Manzke
Susan and Kathy James on working Familysearch.com.

For quite some time, I’ve tried to navigate through Ancestry.com and set up my family tree. This started when my son, Rob, took the Manzke family information from his Aunt Ginny (Bob’s sister). He plugged in all the family data she gave him, which was quite extensive.

My side of the family wasn’t touched until I went to the website and added a few names.

I made many mistakes, but I learned. First lesson concerned names. It’s the birth name that identifies a person. Names changed at marriage are not used, or not officially. I’ve seen posts that had an Also Known As (AKA) listing.

Somewhere along the way, my friend Kathy James and I started discussing family trees. Kathy turned out to be a wealth of information. Her family tree goes back at least seven generations—some distant relatives of hers arrived early in this new land.

Unlike Kathy’s family, most of my known relatives came to the states around the turn of the Twentieth century from eastern Europe—I’ll be happy to find a few great-greats if I’m lucky.

One morning, Kathy came to my home to help me find my way around my family tree. I pulled up Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com. (There’s a fee for Ancestry but FamilySearch is free to use.)

Kathy’s first question to me was, “How much documentation do you have?”

I hesitated. “Umm. Not much.” When looking back beyond my parent’s generation, I had no documentation.

With a few clicks of my computer mouse, Kathy found more information on my parents and through those files, she showed me how to discover more about my family.

I was spellbound by the information we pulled up on my great-grandparents. Up until now, I only knew they existed, but I wasn’t even sure of the spelling of their names—Eastern Europeans often changed their names when they came to the states. Sometimes the spelling even changed from one listing to another. Many couldn’t read and all they cared about was starting their new life in a free country.

Susan’s family tree (so far) on Ancestry.com.

My mother’s side came from Poland. Her birth name was Fuchs. After marrying my dad, the rest of her family changed Fuchs to Fox—I think some were tired of being teased because the spelling was too close to an American swear word.

So, Mom would be in my family tree as Isabelle Fuchs, not her married name, Paska.

The crazy thing was that my dad wasn’t born Charles Paska. His last name at birth was Poska, but when he went into the army for WWII they misspelled it, changing his name to Paska. Dad said he’d have to go to court to change it back and he wasn’t about to spend money for that. So, I was born Susan Marie Paska.  

My Aunt Lynn told me that my grandfather Henry’s mother was a midwife. In our search for information on the internet, we came across a census that also showed that she was a midwife. Now I have some documentation on my great-grandmother. It may take me a little extra time to find that entry again, but I know it’s there so just some more digging for me. If I’m lucky Kathy added it to my family tree information.

I have so much to learn about digging on the internet for family material. There are newspaper notices that document births and deaths. Findagrave.com is a website that allows a person to search an online database of cemetery records. Photos of grave markers can even be added to a specific cemetery site.

Without a research staff, I have to do the work myself with input from my friend, Kathy. This is another winter project. I expect I could get lost in the work, but then spring will come and only rainy days will get me back to my family tree. Still, even one piece of new information is one more than I had before.

Susan Manzke, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net/blog.