Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taking a Break: See You in 2007!

I am taking a few days off from blogging. I will be away enjoying the last few days of 2006 with family and friends.

The end of the year is a time for reflection. Professionally, 2006 was an exciting year for me. I published numerous magazine articles and two books—Pittsburgh’s Immigrants (written in partnership with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh), and Slovak Pittsburgh—both with Arcadia Publishing. I also started this Blog! In addition, I participated in numerous book signings around Pittsburgh as part of “The Blue Collar Book Tour” formed with my fellow Arcadia authors, Dan Burns and Sandy Henry. We even appeared on TV in Pittsburgh in September on a live local morning show!

In addition to writing I was fortunate to be able to travel to new places to speak at
conferences and also for vacation. I went to Connecticut, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and
even Winnipeg, Canada!. I had a great time visiting with old friends and meeting new

I hope 2007 will be at least as good. I look forward to many more exciting opportunities!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Hidden Genealogical Gems Part 4

Sometimes when we are performing genealogical research, we come across items I like to call "Hidden Genealogical Gems."

I found another of these recenty--an envelope addressed to my paternal grandfather.

On it there's his address, and a name and address on the back from someone in Slovakia.

Don't overlook even the smallest of items which could lead you to clues about your ancestors!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Start Your Own Traditions

Perhaps you spent the past several days celebrating the holidays with your family and participating in some long-standing traditions. However, not everyone today is that fortunate. Sometimes life's circumstances force us to adjust, change, or start new traditions. This was the case for me this Christmas. My husband and I did not return to Pittsburgh for Christmas with my extended family. Work and other circumstances influenced our decision to stay home. And while I missed the old familiar celebrations, it was kind of nice to start our own traditions. Like going to the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve mass and then coming home and opening one gift each while having a cup of tea. Or, sleeping in on Christmas morning and not having to be someplace at a certain time. Enjoying a Christmas breakfast and watching movies all day while sipping wine and eating Christmas cookies and chocolate candy!

If, like me, you found yourself away from the familiar this year, you may be interested to read an article called "Start Your Own Tradition" that I found on MSN the other day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Slovak Christmas Greetings!

“Vesele Vianoce a Stastlivy Novy Rok!”
“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Rusyn Greetings!

“Christos Razdajetsja!” “Christ is Born!”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Modern Day Vilia/Vilija

For Slovaks and Carpatho-Rusyns Christmas Eve is a solemn day - a time to gather with family and share in beautiful traditions and special foods in a Christmas Eve Supper. Some of my fondest memories are entwined in the Slovak and Rusyn customs that my family celebrated on Christmas Eve. My mother and grandmother would spend several days preparing for this feast (see below).

As much as I love the traditions of my heritage, my "modern day" lifestyle does not afford me the luxury of being able to spend days in the kitchen. Also, not only do many of these dishes take hours to prepare, but the recipes are usually for large amounts and not easily decreased for smaller servings (it takes a lot of practice to get the proportions of ingredients just right so as not to alter how the foods look and taste).

So, this year, I had a dilemna. I wanted to partake in the traditional Christmas Eve Supper, but I would only be cooking for my husband and me so this was going to be a challenge. Well, with some creative thinking and the help of modern technology (the Internet) I was able to pull together a "modern day vilija" without a whole lot of effort or time in the kitchen. I used a combination of some homemade dishes and pre-prepared foods. I started by making homemade mushroom soup - it's pretty easy to do. The recipe is included in my book, Baba's Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions.

But for the bobalky, I cheated just a little bit. My secret? Rhodes "Dakota Hearth Recipe" white frozen roll dough. It comes in a package of 12 pre-formed small balls of dough for rolls and I discovered it in the frozen food section of my local grocery store. You let it thaw and rise. I followed the directions on the package and once the dough had risen I was able to roll it into a long tube and then slice it down for the size of the bobalky (into little balls). I baked the bobalky as I would if I had used dough made from scratch. They turned out perfectly! I was then able to combine them with butter and sauerkraut for my husband to enjoy (for me, just butter because I don't eat sauerkraut). And with the leftover dough, I was able to even make a nut roll (using my grandmother's recipe for the filling).

Next, thanks to the Internet I was able to enjoy both oplatky and pirohi. I purchased the oplatky from Slovak-Shop on eBay.

The pirohi I bought from Zum Zum Foods (see my posting from several weeks back about their delicious pierogies!). The only dish I did not prepare this year was pagach (maybe next year).

I know it isn't exactly the way my mother or grandmother would have prepared the supper, but it worked for me and everything tasted great! I've learned that it doesn't really matter how you get there, but that making the effort to keep the traditions alive that really counts!

For those of you who may be interested, below is a description of the traditional Slovak Vilija!


Traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper Menu

Oplatky Honey
(Christmas Wafers)


Mushroom Soup Pagach



Beans Peas Sauerkraut

Mixed Dried Fruits or Stewed Prunes

Assorted Fresh Fruits Mixed Nuts

Nut and Poppyseed Rolls Rozky (cookies such as Cold Dough)


The “Slovak” Supper

The Vilia/Vilija or traditional Christmas Eve Supper was typically prepared with home-grown crops. The menu varies in different parts of Slovakia. The type of soup served may not be the same in one region as another. For example, some Slovaks serve mushroom soup, while others serve sauerkraut soup with mushrooms poured over mashed potatoes and browned onions, or lima bean and prune soup.

The Christmas Eve supper, which begins with the appearance of the first star, is filled with benevolence and mystery. With roots in the Passover supper of the Old Testament, the meal is filled with ritual and meaning. Each of the various regions of Slovakia has its own culinary specialties.

In some localities, it is the custom to set the tablecloth over clean straw. In other places, straw is laid upon the floor. This reminds the family that the Christ child was bedded upon straw in the manger.

The father and mother come to the table, carrying a lighted candle (the symbol of Christ, the light of the world), holy water, and honey. Once at their places, they extend good wishes and greetings as a type of festive toast.

Maternal Blessing

Before serving the meal, the mother sprinkles holy water on the table and the rest of the house that the blessing of God might rest on them. The father serves an oplatka (wafer), or unleavened wafers imprinted with scenes of the holy birth, to each family member starting with his wife. He asks her forgiveness for any hurt he may have caused and invites reconciliation with an embrace and a kiss. The mother returns the gesture to her husband. The father then takes a little honey and makes a small sign of the cross on the foreheads of all present as a reminder to keep Christ in our thoughts and to live and work so that harmony and pleasant fellowship might sweeten our lives.

The word oblatky comes from the Latin word oblata, which means “offering.” These wafers are common to Slavs living in the Tatra Mountains. Because of the often snowbound conditions of the region, which may have prevented the villagers from traveling to church for the Midnight liturgy, the wafers were usually blessed by the village priest after baking and given to the faithful by the so that this symbol of Christ and the Eucharist might serve as their Christmas Eve spiritual nourishment. The oplatky are eaten with honey and remind the family of the unleavened bread of the Passover supper of the Israelites. Today, many Slovak churches will sell packages of oplatky wafers to the congregation in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Following the oplatky, a soup of tart quality, usually made of sauerkraut brine and dried mushrooms, continues the exodus theme of recalling the bitterness of slavery-life without Christ.

Next come opekance-pupacky-bobalky, which generally are sweet, raised dough or may be a biscuit type dough sweetened with honey and sprinkled with a pleasant preparation of poppy seed. The use of poppy seed recalls a pagan tradition in which poppy seed was strewn at the portal in order that the evil spirits might be occupied with picking up each morsel and thus would not enter the house. Some areas serve bobalky with browned butter and sauerkraut. My grandmother Figlar followed this recipe.

Pagace or pagach is the next course. It is thin raised dough baked either in a single or double layer filled with sweet cabbage or mashed potatoes. After baking, it is brushed with butter and cut in pie wedges. In addition, lokse, a potato pancake type of specialty is also enjoyed.
Fish is generally used, as Catholics in Eastern Europe observed a strict fast on the vigil of Christmas.

Pirohy are generally enjoyed at the Christmas Eve supper. They are dough pockets, pastry filled with fillings of sweet cabbage, sauerkraut, lekvar, prunes, or potatoes and cheese and boiled.
Other foods eaten include dried prunes, apples, nuts, and other items as dictated by family, village or regional customs. The meal concludes with the traditional Slovak pastry, known as kolace or strudel-like rolls which are filled with walnuts, poppy seed, lekvar (prune butter) or cheese. Red wine is served with the meal.

Traditional "Vins"
In addition to a place for every member of the family at the table, a place is left vacant for the welcome traveler. In rural villages of Slovakia, a shepherd went from house-to-house making his Christmas wish or "vins" to all in the household:

"On this glorious feast of the birthday
of Christ our Lord,
I wish you from God,
good health, happiness
and abundant blessings.

May it be yours to enjoy comfort
from your children,
salvation for your soul.
The kingdom of heaven after death,
and for the family's welfare, may you have
whatever you ask of God."
Virtual Holidays, Family Dinners, and Other Reunions?

Are you unable to travel to be with family for the holidays this year? If so, some new technology that's being developed may (in the future) help you share a meal with them, or open gifts together, or just spend some time visiting in the virtual world.

I just read this interesting piece on Yahoo! from the Associated Press about a new system called "The Virtual Family Dinner" that would allow families to get together -- virtually -- as often as they'd like. This would be especially useful when there are elderly family members who are not able to travel and whose loved ones may not be able to make it home for the holidays or frequent visits.

It's a simple concept. For example if you have an elderly man or woman living in Florida or California, ready to sit down for dinner. The system, consisting of speakers and a screen (as big as a television or as small as a picture frame) detects it and alerts (possibley through a message on the TV) a son or daughter in New York. The son or daughter would then go to the kitchen, dining room, etc. with a similar set-up where a small camera and microphone capture what he or she is doing. The system allows the cross-country folks to hear and see each other.

Some experts think the system could address a growing problem with the elderly who live alone. But others argue this could pose a problem with privacy issues so some type of care must be used when setting up the system so that the person could have control over turning the system off.

Cost may also be a consideration, at least initially. When a prototype becomes available, possibly in about two years, it likely will cost $500 to $1,000 per household.

I am a big fan of new technology. Although I can appreciate the privacy issues, I think that if used properly this type of device could be great for families who can't always reunite as often as they'd like. In fact, I could use one of these devices today as I will be missing out on the traditional Slovak Christmas Eve Supper (Vilija) with my extended family in Pittsburgh this year. This tradition was such a big part of my family for so many years, so it would be nice to have a way to keep it going long-distance even if just virtually.

I will be keeping my eye out for further announcements about this forthcoming technology!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Need a Last-Minute Holiday Gift?

Are you running out of time for your holiday shopping? Don't want to face the crowds in the malls or stores or pay for overnight shipping from online retailers? If you're a genealogy buff or trying to buy a gift for that genealogist family member or friend, why not give them the gift of learning for 2007?

Go to to purchase a great genealogy course for only $29.95 and no shipping and handling!!! Registration is quick and easy.

Courses begin on Thursday, January 4, 2007. The courses are taught by experienced instructors who are experts in their respective fields. Each class lasts for 4 weeks and consists of 8 self-paced Lessons and optional weekly class chats.

The January courses include:

  • Family Tree Maker 16 - The Basics
  • Jump Start your Genealogy!
  • Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
  • Native American Genealogy
  • Northeastern United States Genealogy

February courses begin on Thursday, February 1, 2007.

The February courses include:

  • Adoption Investigative Class
  • Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic)
  • Jewish Genealogy - Basic Introduction (Part 1)
  • Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class
  • Organizing Your Family History
  • Write Your Family History Step-by-Step

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an instructor for GenClass, and I would enjoy "meeting" you in one of my classes in the coming year! My fellow instructors are a great group of people committed to teaching others how to research their roots.

So, why not consider the gift of family history this year? It is definitely a gift "that keeps on giving!"

Friday, December 22, 2006 Changing its Name

Here is a recent press release from announcing its name change.

Press Release Source: The Generations Network, Inc., Inc. Changes Corporate Name to The Generations Network
Tuesday December 19, 8:08 am ET PROVO, Utah, Dec. 19

/PRNewswire/ --, Inc., the leading online network for connecting families across distance and time, today announced that it is changing its name to The Generations Network, Inc., effective immediately. The company will continue to serve families online through its portfolio of leading brands and websites.,,, and together form the No. 1 network of family history websites in both the United States and United Kingdom; Ancestry's OneWorldTree(SM) is the world's largest online family tree
*,, and were recently launched to extend the company's presence into Canada, Australia and Germany
* Family Tree Maker® remains the world's No. 1 selling family tree software
*, online since 1998 as a place for families to connect and share photos and news, is being overhauled and relaunched in early 2007
* The company also publishes Ancestry Magazine and over 50 book and CD-ROM titles

"The Generations Network has a powerful mission to connect families across distance and time," said Tim Sullivan, the company's President and CEO. "Our company was founded over two decades ago as a publisher of genealogy products. Today, we are a multi-brand company focused on providing families with unique, interactive online experiences that help them research their family history, share and publish their stories, and find and stay connected to family members throughout the world.

"We felt now was a good time to establish a company identity expansive enough to encompass everything that we do, but also completely focused on the family ... across the generations. Over the past year, we've improved through the addition of millions of new records, enhanced tree-building and family networking technologies, and by giving our members the ability to save and store their precious family photos and memories online. We've grown rapidly in the UK and expanded our presence into new international markets.

"In 2007, we are looking forward to the upcoming relaunch of, an exciting new release of Family Tree Maker, and our plans to make even more mainstream and indispensable to families around the world. And we're thrilled to be moving forward as The Generations Network."

For more information on The Generations Network visit

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Family Holiday Traditions: The Powdered Sugar Can

One of my favorite family treasures is an aluminum can my mother used for storing the powdered sugar she sprinkled on all of the wonderful cakes and cookies she baked at holidays and for special occasions. I will be carrying on the tradition this Christmas, using this special can to add some delightful powdered sugar to the cookies I have made this year (see my previous post for a recipe).

Below is the story about this family heirloom:

Family Story: The Powdered Sugar Can

My mother had a special aluminum can for storing the powdered sugar she used to decorate her cakes and cookies. Whenever my mother would bake cakes or cookies for special occasions such as holidays, weddings, graduations, etc. she would take this can with her so that the items would be “perfect” when placed on the cookie trays. One time, while driving from Pittsburgh to Cleveland for one of my cousin’s bridal showers, my mother realized that she left this powdered sugar can behind and cajoled my father to turn the car around so she could retrieve it. Perhaps it was our imagination, but those cookies always did seem to taste better with a sprinkling of powdered sugar from that “magic can.” I now have the can in my kitchen cupboard.

For more recipes and traditions, see my Baba's Kitchen Web Site.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Favorite Family Recipe: Auntie B's Christmas Cut-Out Cookies

Over the weekend I participated in a longstanding family tradition - baking Christmas cookies, using a recipe that my dad's sister Betty (Auntie B as I called her) used and passed down to us. Ever since I was a young girl I have looked forward to this tradition every year. I have many fond memories of baking these cookies, especially with my "Auntie" - my father's other sister (Sr. Camilla) when she came home to Pittsburgh from Texas during the holidays. Here are a few photos of one of our baking sessions during Christmas 1972. I still have the same cookie cutter too! Great memories!

If you like to bake and are looking for a new recipe for cut-out cookies (you can make these for any holiday using the appropriate cookie cutters), here's the recipe. The secret to their great flavor is the almond extract. This recipe, along with many others can be found in my book, Baba's Kitchen Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press).

Auntie B’s Christmas (Cut-Out) Cookies

Ever since I was a young girl these cookies have been a “must-bake” at Christmas! The almond extract provides a unique flavor.

1 c. butter or oleo 4 c. flour
1-½ c. sugar ½ tsp. baking soda
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract

Cream together butter (or oleo) and sugar. Beat in eggs; add vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. Mix together flour and baking soda. Add to mixture and mix well.
Let stand in refrigerator for about 30 min. Roll out dough with rolling pin on floured board. Use cookie cutters to cut out cookies.
Bake at 350 °F for 15 minutes. Using parchment paper helps to prevent cookies from sticking to pan (or you can use non-stick cooking spray—lightly coat pans).

Frosting and Decorating

1 egg white
1 c. powdered sugar
Few grains salt

Beat egg white with electric mixer and add 1 tsp. cold water; beat again. Gradually add powdered sugar to beaten egg white and beat until smooth, with a consistency to pour slightly. For colored icing, divide into small bowls and add few drops of food coloring of desired color.
You can make these cookies for any holiday (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, etc.) using the appropriate cookie cutters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

FEEFHS 2007 International Conference/Workshop

The Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies will be holding its 2007 International Conference/Workshop in Salt Lake City, UT July 12-14, 2007. The event will feature expert speakers, one-on-one consultations, and hands-on research time in the world famous Family History Library. I am pleased to announce that I will be a speaker and track leader at this conference/workshopt.

If you have roots in Eastern Europe this is one event you won't want to miss! Register early to reserve your spot!

Here's a link to the registration form.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ancestry Magazine Relaunches

Ancestry Magazine has a new look. The publication has relaunched with all new content and design. A premier issue is now available on the newsstands. As a subscriber (and sometimes author for them), I received my copy in the mail a few weeks ago and I liked what I saw/read). issued a press release about the relaunch which you can read online on the 24/7 Family History Circle.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Congratulations, You are the "Person of the Year!"

Time Magazine has announced its "Person of the Year," and it's YOU! Yes, if you have a blog, have posted video to YouTube, have a MySpace account, you had the qualifications to make you eligible for this honor!

“For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you,” the magazine’s Lev Grossman wrote about the choice.

The issue will be released on Monday. Congratulations!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Have You Tried GenealogyBank?

If you haven't tried the new online family history site yet, now's a good time to see what it has to offer. If you like to search historical newspapers (especially obituaries), this site has an extensive collection that is growing daily! There's also a section on Historical Books, Historical Documents, and a version of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) that has new content added weekly!

The monthly membership price is $19.95, but the site is running a "Holiday Special" - sign up for a yearly membership and for a substantial savings. You will save even more by signing up for two years. But, hurry...this offer expires on January 5, 2007!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stupidest Genealogy Moves

The other day I read an article on entitled, "Your Stupidest Money Moves." This article offers tips for how to avoid major financial flubs and includes some confessions from readers admitting their own critical mistakes. After reading this piece, I thought how this could possibly be applied to genealogical research.

Have you ever spent months (years???) researching a specific surname, only to find you were chasing down the wrong family line? Did you ever order the wrong microfilms from the Family History Library? Or perhaps you overlooked a key detail in a vital or census record that may have saved you hours of research time?

Now it may be that you're such a meticulous researcher that you don't make mistakes. If so, congratulations. And, can you tell me, "What's your secret?"

I am ready to confess some of my own "genealogical missteps," and in the 16 years I've been an avid researcher, I've made plenty of them. For example, I was once so convinced an ancestor came to America via Ellis Island that I spent a year searching the online database, only to finally discover she actually arrived through the port of Baltimore. Another mistake I made more recently was searching for a paternal ancestor's burial plot in one cemetery (based on family and obituary information) but then discovering he was buried in another (after eventually tracking down his death certificate).

If you feel like fessing up to some of your own genealogical research mistakes, dumb moves, regrets, etc., I would like to hear from you. Feel free to post comments on this blog (if you're not shy) or click here to share them with me via e-mail. I may use some of them in a future post or article.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"My Baba"

During the Christmas season, my thoughts can't help but turn to my maternal grandmother (Baba in Slovak). Here is an essay I wrote for the 2004 Write Your Memoir Contest. The theme was "Someone Who Made a Difference in My Life" and I wrote about Grandma Figlar. I received an "Honorable Mention" for my entry. I thought I would share it here in loving memory of my grandmother.



by Lisa A. Alzo

Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times spent in my Grandma Figlar’s kitchen. I remember spending many Friday evenings in her two-story house on Hill Street in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, surrounded by my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Dressed in her blue and white cotton housedress, quilted slippers, and a white babushka (scarf) around her head, my Slovak “Baba” stood over her stove for what seemed like hours, preparing chicken soup, mouthwatering golden buns dusted with flour, and lemon pie—all made without reference to a written recipe. Even today, I can recall the delightful aromas of fresh bread baking in the oven, the chicken soup slowly simmering in the large, "bottomless," white enamel pot on the stove, and browning butter in the old black iron skillet.

I grew up in Duquesne, a steel-producing town near Pittsburgh, where large numbers of Slovaks settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My grandmother came to America from Slovakia in 1922. Although she left behind her own mother and the world most familiar to her to start a new life in America, she brought with her all of those aspects of her Slovak heritage that were an integral part of her identity.

In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas and Easter, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed. For example, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated with a meatless Vilia Supper (to honor the Christian practice of fasting) and ate foods like bobalky, perfectly baked little balls of dough browned in butter and mixed with sauerkraut, and pirohi, ravioli-like pillows of dough filled with cabbage, cottage cheese, potato, or prunes. At Easter, we ate paska, a round bread with a golden crust and yellow center made from eggs, butter, and white raisins (indicative of living bread come down from Heaven) and hrudka, a bland, sweet, custard-like “cheese” made from cooked and separated eggs and milk (as a symbol of moderation).

Then there were the home remedies. Some I continue today, like adding a shot of whisky to a cup of hot tea when I have a sore throat; others I try to forget from my childhood, such as wearing cooked sauerkraut wrapped in a cloth around my neck to reduce the swelling from the mumps.

Whatever the occasion, “Baba’s” kitchen functioned as the center of her home. It was where this soft-spoken Slovak woman spent the majority of her days as wife, mother, and grandmother, preserving the traditions of her homeland. There, in her domain, she also assumed other important roles of comforter, teacher, disciplinarian, financial manager, and instiller of religious teachings, morals and values.

The kitchen also became the place where some of life’s most important lessons were taught and learned. Simple principles of generosity and honesty and, above all, a genuine love for her family that Grandma taught by example. Moreover, for me it was in this kitchen where the genealogical seeds were planted, eventually sparking a quest to discover facts about this amazing woman, along with the desire to preserve our family’s history for future generations.

While neither of us realized it at the time, my “Baba” would inspire me in my adult years to write a book, Three Slovak Women. When my grandmother passed away in 1984, my mother took over the roles of "expert cook" and cultural "torch passer." Our kitchen became the gathering place for Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday celebrations. Mother would don her own babushka, pull out Grandma's large wooden board and rolling pin and prepare the various Slovak dishes to perfection. Although she opted to keep her "recipes" handy, my mother probably could have prepared all of the dishes without reference. Of course she had a great teacher.

My mother passed away in 2000, leaving my family one more step removed from our heritage. While we try to preserve our Slovak traditions, it becomes increasingly difficult in today’s hectic world, as my family becomes more scattered and time spent with loved ones is limited to holidays and special occasions.

It is often said that you do not truly appreciate a person until he or she is no longer present. I am so grateful to my grandmother for passing down her recipes and her life’s lessons. Yet, in all the time that I spent with my “Baba” before she died, I never thought about her as someone who had her own identity or interesting stories to tell; I saw her only as my grandmother. Until a few years ago, I knew nothing about my grandmother’s life as a young girl back in Slovakia, the story of how and why she came to America, or her experiences as an immigrant trying to survive in a culture that was new and different from her own. Symbolically, my grandmother’s story represents the stories of other Slovak women that were never told.

For her inner strength, integrity, and unfailing devotion to family, my “Baba” is undoubtedly the person who has influenced my life the most. Through my book, I found a way to pay tribute to her and relay her experiences to show, above all else, that she mattered. My grandmother’s story has now touched the lives of numerous individuals throughout the U.S. and the world, serving as an inspiration for other women to recognize the importance of their own female ancestors.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Dear Santa..."

Since it’s the time of year for holiday “wish lists” I came up with a few items I wouldn’t mind seeing this season. Problem is that most of them really can’t be wrapped or placed under a tree or in a stocking. But here’s my list anyway.

1. A 48-hour day. I would really like to have more hours in a day to accomplish all of the tasks on my “to do” lists—both my professional/personal list and my family history research list. While I feel I am pretty good at multi-tasking and getting things done, I always seem to want to take on more jobs and more responsibilities. My husband also tells me that I have so many great ideas, which may be true, but I don’t have sufficient time to carry them all out.

2. A winning lottery ticket. Boy would it be nice to be independently wealthy so I wouldn’t have to worry about things like health insurance premiums, depleting my savings account, or whether I can afford the trip to Slovakia I would like to take this summer. And, I am not greedy. I don’t need “Mega Millions” – I’d take even just one or two mil. I am not that interested in buying flashy material things or a bigger house or fancier car. I would just like the freedom to do the things I love to do while my money earns interest in the bank or my stock options soar. These favorite things include: write, give lectures on genealogy and writing, and travel to do research or see new places. While I do all of the above on a much smaller scale now, it would be nice to have the flexibility to do so full-time.

3. A magic fairy. It would be great to have someone I could call on to help me organize the boxes of unlabeled family photographs I inherited from my parents and relatives and have stored away in our spare room. Oh, and I would like that same fairy to wave a magic wand and sort the 40+ boxes of items I brought from PA to NY when I sold my parents’ house this summer. What on earth did my mother think she would do with the more than 100 vases she collected over the years? Then there’s Dad’s endless collection of tools, nuts, bolts, and nails, from his carpenter days working on the railroad. I swear I could open the next “Home Depot” in my garage.

4. A chance to see my parents again. I really miss my mother and father. And I while I realize how fortunate I was to have them in my life for as long as I did, there are still things I wish I could share with them on a daily basis. For example, I wish my dad could be here to see the research process for my current book project, Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania (my dad was not interested in genealogy, and it figures the year after his passing I sign a book contract for a book he would be interested in reading!). Then there’s my mother. I know that she would be proud to be in the audience of one of my genealogy talks, or see my articles in print, or excited to accompany me to her mother’s ancestral home, Milpos, Slovakia, this summer. I recently read Mitch Albom’s book, For One More Day, and it really made me wish I could have one more day with my parents.

5. An agent. During a recent book fair I had a discussion with a fellow writer who told me that I “must get an agent.” I admit that I have thought about it, but not all that seriously. I’ve been going the self-publishing route for quite a few years now and have done well with my target audience. But, perhaps 2007 will be the year when I will find an agent to market my new projects. So, if you’re an agent looking for new clients and like my writing, I’d welcome the opportunity to chat with you!

Well, that’s my list. Items #1 and #3 are wishful thinking. And because of my faith, I believe that one day #4 will happen—that one day I will be reunited with my parents. I’ll keep working for #5. And as for the #2- “Hey, you never know!” There’s always a chance I could win the lottery, so excuse me now while I go buy my ticket!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Believing in Your Book

Every now and then I will receive an e-mail or phone call from someone who has just read my first book, Three Slovak Women and wants to tell me how much they enjoyed it. I received such a phone call today. The gentleman said there were many parts of my book he could identify with and recalled similarities with his own Slovak family while reading it. He complimented me for my honest, "told it like it was" account of the experiences of Slovak immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and how religion, work and culture influenced behavior and actions. As a writer, receiving this type of compliment gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction. And, even after publishing five books, TSW will always be the one that I hold as my personal favorite for several reasons--most especially because it was my first book and the one that I most believe in.

Three Slovak Women is now in its eighth printing and one of the top sellers for Gateway Press. I also recently learned that it will be used in a class at the University of Pittsburgh next year, and it is currently being used for a course in another college--St. Francis (Loretto, PA). I am also glad I made the decision to self-publish this book because it gave me the freedom to write the book I wanted to and be selective about how and where I sell it.

I believed in this book. If you are a writer, having confidence in your work is a critical part of the publishing process.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Looking For Photographs

Although my latest book, Slovak Pittsburgh, was just released on December 4th, I am already looking ahead to my next project, which just also happens to be for Arcadia Publishing, and I can use your help!

I am in search of photographs to be included in a forthcoming book I am working on: Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania.

This book will be a bit of a departure for me from my usual genealogy-themed writings, but I look forward to the challenge! Plus, I am looking forward to working with a great co-author, Pittsburgh TV sports anchor, Alby Oxenreiter!

If you have any photographs you would like to share for this project, I would love to include them in the book. The publisher is unable to pay for images, but a full credit line will be given to the owner or copyright holder. Should you wish to send digital images they must be scanned at 300 d.p.i. and saved in TIFF (.tif) format.

If you prefer to submit hard copy images (clear, high quality photocopies), please contact me by e-mail me for further instructions.

All images should be submitted no later than January 15, 2007. Please provide the following information with the photographs:

Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
Date of the photograph (if known, or at least the time period, e.g. early 20 th century, late 18 th century, etc.
Who is in the photograph (if known) and the occasion or a brief description
Name of the copyright owner.

Due to space limitations, not all photographs submitted can be chosen or used. The publisher will be selecting all photographs to be included - the author assumes no responsibility for use or for loss or damage to any materials provided.

If your photograph is selected you will be notified prior to publication of the book(s).

Many thanks, in advance.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Need Pirohi (Pierogies) for Christmas Eve?

If you're Slovak (or Polish, Rusyn, Ukrainian, etc.), and want to have some delicious pirohi (pierogies) for Christmas Eve (Vilija) supper this year and don't have time to make them, I would like to recommend I found them on the Internet (their store is actually Zum Zum Foods) and their physical location is in Pittsburgh.

When I first looked at their site I was impressed that they sold Sweet Cottage Cheese pierogies (my favorite!) - not many other places make these. So, I had to order some!I am not going to have time to make pirohi myself this year, so I ordered a dozen each of potato & cheese, sweet cottage cheese, and lekvar.

The prices were reasonable for the pierogies, but the shipping cost was a bit high because they are packed in ice packs. You can freeze the pierogies once they arrive.These pierogies are very good - the closest to my Baba's (Grandmother's) that I have tasted and they even look like the ones she used to make. I would buy from them again. They sell other foods too, like stuffed cabbage, mushroom soup and more.

You can order by phone or internet and they accept Visa/Mastercard and PayPal (for those of you who use it perhaps for eBay or other purchasing).But hurry: To get them in time for Christmas Eve, you must place your order by December 15th!

Here's the address:

Route 56 East Allegheny Township, PA 15068
Phone/Fax: 724-337-7030
Store Hours: Mon-Fri: 11 am - 7 pm; Sat: 11 am - 4 pm; Closed Sunday

I am not sure what grandma and mom would think (probably rolling their eyes up there in Heaven) but as much as I would like to I simply don't have time to cook this year. But thanks to modern technology, I was able to find this store and now at least can have some traditional Slovak food for Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday Ghost Walks

If you live in or near the Bedford, Pennsylvania area and are looking for a different kind of holiday activity, why not join Bedford Ghost Tours for their Holiday Ghost Walks?

The walks will take place on two nights only: Friday, December 15th & Saturday, December 16th, 2006

6:30 PM & 8:15 PM in Historic Downtown Bedford

Get into the holiday spirit and join BGT guides as they explore the spooky myths and legends of historic Bedford and beyond. Your guide will lead you by lantern light on a ghostly adventure that celebrates the holiday season.

Tours are 80 minutes long and start from the Bedford Common School at 322 S. Juliana Street,
where there is plenty of free parking.

Admission is $9.00 per person and includes refreshments.
Reservations required and space is limited to a first come basis.

Click here to register online or to get more information.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Excuse Me, But I'm in a Hurry...

I had one of those experiences yesterday that made me pause for a little "food for thought." My husband was dropping me off in front of the building at the university where I work the "real job that pays the bills." He typically stops our vehicle in front of the sidewalk which divides two sides of parking spaces, but yesterday there was a truck blocking the usual stop. So he pulled over a few feet before the sidewalk, which just happened to be in front of a couple of parked cars. We were only to be there for about 2 minutes. As I got out of the van, I bent down to pick up my bag from the floor of the van and all of a sudden heard this irritated voice say, "Excuse me, but I'm in a hurry." It was a gentleman sitting in one of the parked cars. We did not see him when we pulled up. And, he did not say this politely, he was actually quite rude about it and it took me by surprise. I mumbled something like, "Okay, sure, just a second," and then he proceeded to shoot me a very digusted look. My husband promptly moved our vehicle and the guy hurriedly backed out of the parking space and sped off. My husband later told me that he followed this person for a few blocks and he didn't get very far ahead in the traffic. To be fair, I don't know where he was rushing off to--perhaps he got an emergency call about a loved one (I've been there many times, but even at the worst time when my father was in a hospice last year before he died, and I got the call to "come right away", I never used it as an excuse to be rude to others). I've been in situations where I need to get somewhere but I have always tried to treat others with respect even in those instances.

At any rate, this incident made me think of our "I want it now" society. We're always in a rush--whether it is sitting in traffic at the red light with our foot ready for the accelerator, waiting impatiently while trying to get through the express lane at the grocery store, or pushing ahead to be the first one off the airplane. Perhaps we even apply this "in a rush" mentality when searching for our ancestors. Because of the wealth of online databases that give us data with a click of the mouse, we tend to want results right away, and when we can't find what we are looking for in 10 minutes or less, we get impatient. We also get frustrated if the resource we want is not online and we have to write away for the record, search microfilm, or spend hours in a library or courthouse. I am as guilty as the next genealogist when it comes to being in a rush to get results. But, my recent encounter with the unidentified "man in a hurry" has given me reason to pause.

I plan to slow down a bit--both during my daily activities and my genealogical research. Remember the lesson of Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and The Hare: "After that, Hare always reminded himself, "Don't brag about your lightning pace, for Slow and Steady won the race!" "

Tuesday, December 05, 2006



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If there's a class you'd like but its not listed, let GENCLASS know.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

On the Road Again

I will be on the road for several book signings this weekend in Pittsburgh. I probably won't have time for any postings. Will be back online on Monday!
A Guide to Slovak Genealogical Research

For those of you researching your Slovak Roots, here's an article I wrote for the Federation of Eastern European Family History Societies Journal (FEEFHS) in 2003. Click on the blue underlined link for access to a PDF version.

Happy Hunting!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My New Book: Slovak Pittsburgh

I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest (and 5th) book, Slovak Pittsburgh (Arcadia Publishing). The book will officially be released on December 4th and available at many bookstores in the Pittsburgh area, and online at and Barnes and Noble, or through the publisher's web site: - retail price $19.99. This book contains many photographs donated by individuals and families throughout Western Pennsylvania, and pays tribute to the Slovak immigrants who settled in Pittsburgh during the late 19th and early 20th c. Anyone with Slovak roots will enjoy the nearly 200 photographs included in this work.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Upcoming Events

I will be in Pittsburgh for some book signings November 30-December 2nd. Here's an update of the schedule:

Thursday, November 30th - Barnes & Noble, Monroeville, PA 7-9 p.m.

Friday, December 1st - Barnes & Noble, South Hills Village, Pittsburgh, PA 7-9 p.m.

Saturday, December 2nd - Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center Book Fair, Pittsburgh, PA 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area I would enjoy meeting you!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Remembering Dad

Today is the one year anniversary of my father's passing away. It is hard for me to believe that a whole year has gone by. I still look for him in my house--sitting in his chair watching football, at the dinner table reading the newspaper, or in his bed at night when I used to check on him to make sure he was okay...

I couldn't let the day pass without paying tribute to this wonderful, gentle man--my Dad. Below is the eulogy that I wrote for my father last year that was read by my cousin (and Godfather) Jack Berta.

I miss you Dad. Rest in peace.


Written December 2, 2005

Thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of John Alzo.

John was a wonderful son, husband, and father; a kind and caring brother and uncle, and a loyal friend and neighbor. He was a skilled carpenter and a fantastic basketball player. John served his country in the Navy during Word War II, and more importantly, he served God by his kindness to others whenever and however they needed him.

John was a man with simple tastes. A bowl of homemade chicken soup would satisfy him, as well as potato pancakes with buttermilk, and any other Slovak food my mother prepared for him. He would also enjoy a “shot and a beer” at the Slovak Club or Union Grill after a long day on the job at the Union Railroad.

John loved to laugh, enjoyed watching sports, reading the newspaper, and having fun at family gatherings and basketball tournaments. You are here today because John touched your life in some way, and I would like to briefly share with you a few words about how my father shaped, influenced and inspired my life.


Dad worked as a carpenter on the Union Railroad. Every weekday morning he rose at dawn to put in eight hours of hard labor. Although his job was not glamorous, he earned a decent salary and took pride in the fact that he worked hard for an honest living. It also gave him great satisfaction to know that he helped to construct many of the buildings and bridges in the area. Dad's appearance at the end of each day showed how dedicated he was to earning the money necessary to look after his family.

For the last 13 years I served as the primary caregiver for my father. I took on this role after my father suffered a stroke in 1992 from which he made a near full recovery except for impairment to the peripheral vision in his left eye. Two years later, my father was diagnosed with cancer which required extensive regimens of chemotherapy and radiation. I would drive him to and from his appointments and there were times when I wondered if he would make it until the next day. But he did. He survived 11 years in complete remission. Then, in 2001 circulatory problems nearly caused the amputation of his right foot, but he survived that too. The Lord had other plans for him and granted him more time. Still, the arms which used to powerfully wield a hammer or saw became thin and fragile like a delicate piece of glass. The fingers which could maneuver any tool so effortlessly became bent from the effects of rheumatoid arthritis. The muscular legs that carried him up and down the basketball court for over 20 years, were reduced to slow and deliberate movements with the aid of a walker. Over the years, I watched him overcome these debilities - and others - with grace, dignity, a sense of humor and a strong, sound mind.

Not long before Dad was hospitalized, we shared a special moment one night that upon reflection I think was Dad’s way of letting me know that he would soon be leaving this earth. He remarked how the Lord had been good to him his whole life, but then the illnesses knocked him down, and he was no longer able to do the things he used to do. Dad said that his only regret was that he wasn’t able to do the “Lord’s work” in the ways he desired. But the truth is, my father was a steadfast and faithful servant to the Lord. Right up until his last days he was still showing love and kindness to those who cared for him—thanking his nurses and me for helping him. He kept smiling even though his strength was weakening. I believe it was fitting that he died on a Sunday–the Lord’s day–and also on the first Sunday of Advent, when the scriptures tell us we all need to be “alert and watchful for the Lord.” My father did not once indicate to me that he was afraid of dying. His faith was a great source of inner strength and comfort.

I know that my father was an exceptionally strong person both physically and emotionally because of how he dealt with all of the circumstances life handed him. Today, I want to express gratitude to God for my father. I am grateful for so many things—for the stable and loving home he and my mother provided for me growing up, for teaching me right from wrong by example. I want to thank my father:

For tucking me in at night.
For riding the roller coasters and Ferris wheel with me when I was a child.
For serving as arbitrator during my teenage years when my mom and I did not agree.
For driving 30 minutes each way every Tuesday to pick me up after my classes during my graduate school years.
For lending his shoulder to cry on during the most difficult moments in my life.

I want to express thanks for these and so many other things that made my father “my dad.”

My cousin, Cathy, recently said the following about my father:

“If all the people in the world could have someone like him in their lives, the world would be a much better place and there would be peace through out.”

I am sure those of you who are here today will agree. And to Dad, who now knows what it is like to be free from worldly cares, pain and suffering, and to experience the joy and reward of being the faithful servant to the Lord, I say,

God bless you always.

Although we – who are gathered here today – are all sad to let you go, we’re happy in the knowledge that you are with loved ones in the company of our Lord.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Great Gifts for Genealogists

As a follow-up to my previous post, I thought I would continue to write about gift giving for genealogists. If you're looking for something to put on your wish list this year, or looking to buy a gift for your favorite family history sleuth, check out my article, "20+ Great Gifts for Genealogists" in the November/December 2005 issue of Ancestry Magazine for some unique ideas. Additional suggestions can also be found in the current issue of Ancestry Magazine (November/December 2006).

Whether you plan to fight the crowds in the malls and chain stores this year, or order your gifts online, there are plenty of great genealogy items out there to please the beginner, the part-timer or even the most avid researcher.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

If you survived the chaos that is Black Friday (the big "day after Thanksgiving" shopping frenzy) and still haven't found that perfect gift for your favorite genealogist, there's still a chance for some great bargains online waiting to be snatched up on Cyber Monday which is this Monday, November 27th (it's always the Monday after Thanksgiving).

I'll admit I had no desire to shop or fight any crowds yesterday, so just stayed home. However, I may be tempted to do a little Internet bargain hunting come Monday.

And speaking of genealogy-themed gifts, you may want to check out JMK Genealogy Gifts for calendars, clothing, mugs, and other items related to genealogy and family history. Save 20% on calendars now through December 3rd. Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Different Kind of Thanksgiving

This year, Thanksgiving is going to be very different around my house than in previous years. It is the first Thanksgiving without my father. Dad passed away three days after Thanksgiving last year and my husband and I spent Thanksgiving with him at the hospice where he was staying at the time. Although Dad was very weak, he managed a last spurt of energy to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal I made for him and brought to the hospice. He laughed and joked with us and enjoyed watching football like he always did...When we were leaving that evening he said to us, He said, "Put the Pitt game on," and then we said we said "goodnight" to him. It would be the last time we would see him awake and alert. Dad was unresponsive the next two days until he took his final breath early on Sunday morning--I was right at his side.

My husband and I are spending a quiet Thanksgiving this year at home--just the two of us. Although we were invited to spend the day with family in Pittsburgh, we decided not to travel. My husband in British/Canadian so Thanksgiving does not hold the meaning for my husband as it does for me. I can fondly remember many wonderful Thanksgivings of not so long ago when I still lived in Pittsburgh and my parents were still alive (mom has been gone for 6 years now). My family would go to my Aunt Helen's house and we were joined there my Aunt Margie and her family. The ladies would prepare an unbelievable Thanksgiving dinner--a large turkey, chestnut stuffing, the smoothest gravy I have ever tasted, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (see my 11/22 posting for recipe), green bean casserole, Sally Lunn bread, cranberry bread, and pumpkin chiffon and pecan pies. Great wine would accompany our feast. It was, without a doubt the perfect Thanksgiving. And I miss it.

But times change, and sadly so do our holiday celebrations. My mother passed away. Aunt Helen moved to Texas. I moved to New York. We all have our own families and busy lives now. But the memories of all of those special Thanksgivings will always stay with me.

My cooking skills don't quite measure up to my mother's or my aunts'--but today I will try. I won't be making all of the items (no baking pies or bread for me) we had at Aunt Helen's but I will prepare some of the favorite family dishes which will give me some comfort today as I think about the days gone by.

Yes, this Thanksgiving will be bittersweet. I will miss my mother and father, but at the same time I am grateful for the many blessings in my life: my husband, my health, family and friends, a great job, and most especially for my wonderful parents who taught me the importance of family and gave me so many great memories of Thanksgivings past.

I will stop blogging now so that I can put the turkey in the oven!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Thanksgiving Favorite

Favorite recipes are an often overlooked part of family history. Below is a recipe for Sweet Potato Casserole - an American favorite we adopted in our family for Thanksgiving courtesy of my Aunt Helen. I have made this dish to serve on my Thanksgiving table tomorrow. This recipe can be found (along with many others) in my book Baba's Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press). For more information about this book, click on the Baba's Kitchen Web Site.

Sweet Potato Casserole

3 c. mashed cooked sweet potatoes or yams
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
⅓ c. milk*
½ c. butter or margarine
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
⅓ c. butter or margarine
1-¼ c. flour
1 c. finely chopped pecans

Combine sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk and ½ c. butter. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. Spoon into greased (butter) 2 qt. shallow casserole dish. Combine brown sugar, flour, ⅓ c. butter and pecans. Sprinkle over top of sweet potato mixture and bake at 350 °F for 30 minutes.

*NOTE: Orange juice may be substituted for milk
(it gives a nice flavor).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Around the Thanksgiving Table

If you are attending a family gathering this Thanksgiving, why not include some genealogy in the conversation around the dinner table or while enjoying some pumpkin pie. Perhaps you can ask older relatives to reminisce about what Thanksgiving was like for them while growing up. Record these moments with an audio or video recorder. Get your family to share favorite holiday memories, or perhaps spend a few minutes paying tribute to a favorite ancestor or loved one who is not longer present at your table.

Finally, why not take some time to discuss family health history? Complete a My Family Health Portrait which is part of the U.S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative.

Thanksgiving Day is more than just the Macy's parade and football. So try to incorporate some meaningful activities into the time spent with your family members this year.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Check Out

If you are performing research in Canada, here's a new web site definitely worth a visit - - "Your guide to the best sources for genealogy research in Canada."

Here's the basic premise of the site according to its creator, Dave Obee:

"The theory behind CanGenealogy is that you shouldn't have to waste a lot of time sifting through thousands of links to find what you are looking for. We provide a digest.

Some sites, after all, are more valuable than others. On CanGenealogy, you won't have to dig deep to find the ones that matter the most -- they will be at the top of the page."

The site is organized so you can view links for Genealogy by Region, Genealogy by Category, Resources, etc.

You won't find every site of interest to family history research in Canada listed. The links are limited to the ones the site administrators feel will have the greatest value to researchers. and the sites are ranked, with the most important ones at the top.

The site will undoubtedly continue to expand. Take a look - you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Getting Ready for the Holidays

With Thanksgiving just a few days away, this is the time of year when we celebrate with family and friends. The holiday season also is a time for honoring customs and traditions. We eat familiar foods, watch parades, or football games, and participate in other activities that help strengthen our family ties.

My recent article "Customs Made" in the December issue of Family Tree Magazine discusses the role of folklore and tradition in family history. If you're interested in reading about it, a copy of the article is available (with kind permission from Family Tree Magazine) on my Web site.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Upcoming Events

This is my first post since coming back from vacation. I had a great time touring Las Vegas, but am glad to be back home. Of course it means back to deadlines, but such is the life of a writer...

I've got some upcoming book signings in Pittsburgh at the end of November/beginning of December. Hope to meet some of you at one of these events!

November 30, 2006 BLUE COLLAR BOOK TOUR Book signing Pittsburgh's ImmigrantsBorder's, Monroeville, PA. 7 P.M. (with fellow Arcadia authoS, Daniel J. Burns "Duquesne," "Pittsburgh's Rivers" and Sandy Henry "Carnegie")

December 1, 2006 BLUE COLLAR BOOK TOUR Book signing Pittsburgh's Immigrants Barnes & Noble, South Hills Village, Pittsburgh, PA. 7 P.M. (with fellow Arcadia authoS, Daniel J. Burns "Duquesne," "Pittsburgh's Rivers" and Sandy Henry "Carnegie")

December 2, 2006 Book Fair, 10:00 a.m. -3:00 p.m. at the Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center , Pittsburgh, PA

December 3, 2006 BLUE COLLAR BOOK TOUR Book signing Pittsburgh's ImmigrantsBarnes & Noble Bookstore at the Waterfront , Homestead, PA. 6 PM(with fellow Arcadia author, Daniel J. Burns "Duquesne," "Pittsburgh's Rivers")

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Taking a Vacation

I will be on vacation for the next four days (my first trip to Las Vegas!) and will not be logging on to blog during that time! This is my first non-working trip in several years so I think I have earned the break!

I will be back online after November 17th (but, of course, what happens in Vegas...) :-)


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Big Announcement from

While I usually don't like to repeat announcements about "what's new in the genealogical world" on this blog since so many other great genealogy bloggers out there pass along the information, I thought that this announcement from was worth posting. Here is the announcement I received via e-mail today:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------ANCESTRY.COM RELEASES THE WORLD’S LARGEST ONLINE COLLECTION OF U.S. HISTORICAL IMMIGRATION RECORDS

More than 100 Million Names on All Readily Available U.S. Passenger Lists from 1820 –1960; Includes the Complete Ellis Island Collection, as well as Records from Over 100 Other U.S. Ports of Arrival.

PROVO, UTAH – November 9, 2006 –, the world’s largest online family history resource, today announced that it has added to its online service all readily available U.S. passenger lists from 1820 to 1960. An estimated 85 percent of Americans have an immigrant ancestor included in the passenger list collection which covers the height of American immigration, making the only source for the largest compilation of passenger list records available and fully searchable online. To commemorate the launch of the collection, is offering completely free access to its entire Immigration Collection through the end of November. The passenger list collection, which took more than three years to digitize and transcribe, celebrates the courage, hopes, fears and memories of more than 100 million passengers.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and the vast majority of Americans have at least one ancestor that is included in this extraordinary list of men, women, and children that came to this country to start new lives,” said Tim Sullivan, CEO,, Inc., parent company of “My own ancestors passed through these ports from Ireland and Germany, and it is a thrilling experience to see their names transcribed on paper the day they entered this country. The Ellis Island records are the centerpiece of this collection, but the Immigration Collection is so amazing because it is so complete. Browsing and searching these passenger lists is a perfect way for someone to start researching their family history”

Until the completion of this project, U.S. passenger list records could only be found on microfilm or in limited selections online at various dispersed locations such as libraries and museums across the nation. For the first time, people can look to a single centralized source online to find all readily available passenger list records. More than 100 American ports of arrival are represented in the compilation including the entire collection of passenger list records (1892-1957) from Ellis Island, a historic landmark and icon of immigration. The collection also accounts for popular ports in Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans and the Angel Island receiving station in San Francisco.

Fast Facts from the Passenger List Collection

The passenger list collection retells the remarkable stories of sacrifice, survival and success of America’s immigrant ancestors and also accounts for other travelers such as crew members, vacationers, business people and more. In total,’s passenger list records capture the legacy and unique stories of more than 100 million passengers.

- More than 41 million immigrants arrived in America during this great immigration era

- Passenger lists provide invaluable details in the original handwriting such as names, occupation, accompanying travelers, origin/port of departure, date and place of arrival, intended destination, place of birth and assets.

- The compilation features printable images of 7 million original passenger list documents and roughly 1,000 images of the actual ships.

- experts, including more than 1,500 paleographers (handwriting specialists), spent more than 1.8 million hours and typed 4.5 billion keystrokes to create the fully searchable passenger list index.

“Scarcely any phase of family history is as fascinating as tracking an immigrant’s voyage to this country, and perhaps no other collection of records better illustrates the lure of America,” said Loretto Dennis Szucs, Executive Editor, Ancestry Magazine and author of They Became Americans and Ellis Island: Tracing Your Family History Through America’s Gateway. “Each one of us has been touched in some way by the experiences, choices, attitudes and the genetic makeup of our immigrant ancestors. Now, has made it possible for us to sit behind a computer screen, reach back in time and get to know these people who contributed so much of the lifestyle that we enjoy today.

Celebrity Sightings

Celebrity sightings found in the passenger list collection include historical figures such as Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, Cary Grant, the Von Trapp Family and Annie Moore, Ellis Island’s first immigrant. The collection also records the arrival of immigrant ancestors of Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Donald Trump. Other notable names include –

- Magician Harry Houdini and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt sailed on the same ship from Southampton, England, to New York in 1914 and are both listed on the same passenger list page.

- Martha Stewart perhaps inherited her home decor skills from her immigrant grandfather Frank Kostyra who, according to the S. S. Iceland manifest, was a “basket maker.”

- Albert Einstein makes an appearance in a 1921 passenger list where his hair is subtly described as “grayish.” has invested more than $100 million to acquire, digitize, and make searchable online invaluable historical records such as the exclusive U.S. census collection (1790-1930), birth, marriage and death records, photographs, military records and more. The passenger list collection is the latest addition to’s 23,000 databases of more than 5 billion names, complementing and combining with other historical documents to enrich the family history experience. recently revamped its website, introducing enhanced features and functionalities that enable users to experience more efficient searching, better results and a more collaborative, social-networking environment. These advanced search, save and share tools have also encouraged an explosion of user-uploaded content, making exclusive family documents such as shoebox memories, photos, and personal histories available to the community.


With more than 5 billion names and 23,000 searchable databases, is the No. 1 online source for family history information. Since its launch almost a decade ago, has been the premier resource for family history, simplifying genealogical research for millions of people by providing them with many easy-to-use tools and resources to build their own unique family trees. The MyFamily network of family history sites, of which Ancestry is the largest, receive more than 9 million unique visitors worldwide and 450 million page views each month. (© comScore Media Metrix, September 2006.)

Media Contact
Julia Burgon
Coltrin & Associates for
212-221-1616 ext. 124

Tola St. Matthew-Daniel
Coltrin & Associates for
212-221-1616 ext. 101
Slovaks Settled Here: Identifying 20th Century Immigrant Cluster Communities

I recently lectured at the 16 Annual Slovak Festival held at the University of Pittsburgh held on Sunday, November 5th. It was a "standing room only" crowd with some folks not able to even get in the door. We were pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd and unfortunately did not have enough handouts to go around.

If you missed the lecture, click here to download a PDF copy of the 4-page handout.

Thank you to everyone who attended my talk and bought my books. I enjoyed meeting so many great people and hope to see you again next year!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Got a Novel in You?

If you've always dreamed of writing the "Great American Novel" this may be the month to finally do it. November is National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo began in San Francisco in 1999 by Chris Baty and 21 friends. This project is more about output over quality (an 175-page book or that's 50,000 words). To reach the goal, you have to write 1,667 words (about six pages) a day. Read more about it here.

I only wish I had the time to participate this year, but unfortunately, not this time around. But if you're game, click on the link above to get started.

Ready, Set, Write!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International

Since I serve on the Board of Directors for the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, I would like to take a minute to give a plug for this group here on my Blog. If you have ancestry in the Czechoslovak region as it was in 1918, including families of Czech, Bohemian, Moravian, Slovak, German, Hungarian, Jewish, Rusyn, and Silesian origin, why not consider joining? The society strives to promote genealogical research and cultural interest. There are over 3,000 current CGSI members. New CGSI members receive a welcome packet of research information including: Information on how to locate living relatives in the Czech and Slovak Republics; Procedures to obtain Birth, Marriage or Death Certificates before 1900 and after the year 1900; Listings in the United States and Canada of organizations that have historical records. Members also receive the Nase Rodina quarterly newsletter which promotes genealogy of the ethnic groups that comprise Czechoslovakia as it was formed in 1918, and Rocenka society journal comprised of articles of lasting value, independently selected and not duplicated from the quarterly newsletter (Nase Rodina), along with research assistance from society members and much more! All this for just $25.00 per year for an individual membership; $30.00 family or $45.00 sponsor. A membership form is available on the CGSI web site:

Monday, October 30, 2006

Virtual Cemeteries

Genealogists love cemeteries. And, thanks to technology, there are plenty of Internet sites out there that enable you to locate the graves of famous folks or your ancestors, create virtual memorials, add 'virtual flowers'and more.

In the "spirit" of Halloween, check out my article on "Virtual Cemeteries" in the current issue of Internet Genealogy Magazine.

A copy can be found on my Web site.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Book Recommendation: For One More Day

What if you had one more day to spend with someone you'd lost?

This is the premise of For One More Day, the recent release by Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven). I actually purchased the CD-ROM version to listen to in my car while on the road driving to speaking engagements. I found it to be a heartwarming story.

The book is described on Albom's Web site: "Albom’s tribute to family and particularly motherhood is his second novel and the first to feature a female protagonist. It explores questions of regret, divorce, and how we would spend one special day with the ghost of someone we loved." The site also goes into more detail about the plot.

Who wouldn't want to spend one more day with a loved one who has passed away? I know I have a long list of folks I would want to spend a day with, including my parents, and even more especially, my paternal grandfather, John Alzo, whom I never met (he died before I was born). I regret that I never knew him. I would love to just sit on the porch and listen to him tell stories and ask him questions about his homeland (Slovakia), his immigration to America, his family among others.

I highly recommend this book. It is an easy read (or listen), and although not a genealogical book in the "pure" sense, it does have some elements of family history and makes you think about your own life choices as well as those who have gone before you.

If you could spend one more day with someone, who would it be and why?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"I Ain't Afraid of No Ghost!"

I know this is not directly related to genealogy, but if you like ghost stories and live near Bedford, Pennsylvania, why not spend this Halloween night with Bedford Ghost Tours?

The tours are being conducted by two dear friends of mine, and I just thought I would give their new business venture a plug!

Here are the details:

Halloween Night
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
6:30 pm until 9:30 pm

This Halloween night, Bedford Ghost Tours will celebrate its grand opening in Bedford with our candle light walking tours at Old Bedford Village.

Beginning at 6:30 PM, groups will leave for a lantern lit stroll of the village every 15 minutes. As your guide leads you along the paths and buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, you’ll hear the tales of those spirits who are maybe not-so-dearly departed.

Discounted admission is
$7.00 per person.
Tickets are available at the door only; no advanced reservations required.
Tours will last approximately 1 hour.

The tours are appropriate for all members of the family, handicapped accessible and are conducted rain or shine.

It promises to be a ghoulish good time!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Hidden Genealogical Gems - Part 3

This is part three in a series of postings I haved dubbed, "Hidden Genealogical Gems," - items belonging to family members that I discovered while cleaning out my parents' house.

Mom's Autograph Book

My mother's autograph book showed up in a tin box that contained a few of her other personal effects. I found this little treasure to be both entertaining and informative - it provided a glimpse into my mother's life during her teenage years and long before she was my mother.

The inside page shows a date of April 22, 1940 and is in my mother's handwriting. It also contains her signature, and address at the time. She was in Jr. High School. Mom always had such nice handwriting - wish I could say the same about mine.

There were pages and pages of autographs from my mother's friends and classmates. The above is a sample page from a fellow classmate, John Petrisko, who actually was my father's best friend. My mother and father were in the same class at the same high school but did not date then--they only knew each other as fellow classmates. It wasn't until many years later that they would meet again and begin dating, and eventually marry. Many of the entries in my mother's authograph book contained common sayings or poems popular during that time.

I love finding these genealogical gems that help me to know my parents as young adults. It gives me a more well-rounded perspective of their life stories.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lecture by Steve Morse

If you live in or near the Syracuse, NY area, you may be interested in an upcoming lecture on Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by Stephen Morse, creator of the One Step Web Pages.

Dr. Morse has been dubbed one of the "unsung heroes" of the genealogical world. Below is the information for the talk:

One-Step Webpages: A Potpourri of Genealogical Search Tools"
October 24, 2006 7-9 p. m.
@ Most Holy Rosary Church lll Roberts Ave, Syracuse, NY
Sponsored by Irish American Cultural Institute of CNYIACI members--$7.00, general public--$l0.00
For questions, e-mail Anne Ruggeri at (

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Call for Photographs

I am in search of photographs to be included in a forthcoming book I am working for Arcadia Publishing, Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania .

Sports Memories of Western Pennsylvania will celebrate the best of both professional and amateur sports—highlighting the hometown heroes and famous faces, as well as those who played for the love of the game. The book is a salute to the athletes, coaches, announcers and fans who created a rich sports history for Western Pennsylvania.

If you have any photographs you would like to share, I would love to include them in this book.

The publisher is unable to pay for images, but a full credit line will be given to the owner or copyright holder. Hard copy images (clear, high quality photocopies) are preferred. Should you wish to send digital images they must be scanned at 300 d.p.i. and saved in TIFF (.tif) format and placed on a CD-ROM.

DEADLINE: On or before January 5, 2007

Please provide the following information with the photographs:

Your name, address, telephone number and e-mail address
Date of the photograph (if known, or at least the time period, e.g. early 20 th century, late 18 th century, etc.
Who is in the photograph (if known) and the occasion or a brief description
Name of the copyright owner.
Due to space limitations, not all photographs submitted can be chosen or used. The publisher will be selecting all photographs to be included - the author assumes no responsibility for use or for loss or damage to any materials provided.

If your photograph is selected you will be notified prior to publication of the book(s).

Please e-mail me at: if you are interested in sending along images.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Celebrate Family History Month

Since October is officially designated as "Family History Month" why not use this month to explore new ways for discovering your family history. For suggestions, read my article "365 Ways to Discover Your Family History," which appeared in the February 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine. The article is available (by kind permission) on my Web site. Go to "Read Articles" click on the article and then once you download it, go to p. 12 under October to read 31 great suggestions to make family history fun for the whole family.

Happy Hunting!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Upcoming Events

I've got a few upcoming speaking engagements in October and November. If you are in any of these cities, I would enjoy meeting you!

October 28, 2006 Annual Meeting, Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International, 1:00 p.m. Faith Presbyterian Church, 12007 Excelsior Boulevard, Minnetonka. MN "Slovak Genealogy"

November 4, 2006 BLUE COLLAR BOOK TOUR Book signing The Riverfront Shoppes, Speers, PA (with fellow Arcadia author, Daniel J. Burns "Duquesne," "Pittsburgh's Rivers")

November 5, 2006 Talk at University of Pittsburgh Slovak Festival Cathedral of Learning, Pitt Campus 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM "Slovaks Settled Here: Identifying Cluster Communities in Pittsburgh"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Getting Some Fresh Air

Yes, I haven't posted any entries for about a week. I took a few days for some R&R but then I admit I also got a bit lazy. I just couldn't find anything I wanted to blog about so I did not bother to log on.

Today, I enjoyed a long walk around my neighborhood, and it was one of those times when I felt really blessed to live where I do. Fall in the Fingerlakes can be absolutely breathtaking with all of the beautiful trees with their orange, red, and yellow leaves. The houses in our neigborhood are completely surrounded with these trees and I passed many during my walk this afternoon. The air was crisp, and cool. It's hard to believe that about 3 hrs. away at the other end of the state, the folks in Buffalo were digging out from an early blast of winter and over a foot of snow!

I like to take these long walks to clear my head, especially when I am having trouble writing or meet an impasse in my familyhistory research.

When I returned today, I sat down at my computer and worked on two articles that I have been struggling to finish for a couple of weeks. I also thought of some fresh ideas for future projects.

So, it's good to take a break once in awhile whether it's from genealogy or writing. Take a walk, see a movie, go shopping, or whatever else you enjoy. You'll return with a new perspective and it will make you a better researcher and/or writer.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Taking a Break

I haven't posted for a couple of days. I've been on the road for some talks and also a much needed break (my husband and I wanted to go away for a few days to celebrate our upcoming anniversary).

I tried to disconnect from my laptop, but I think I would have suffered withdrawal so I am only checking e-mail in short sessions.

I will be back to the blog in a couple of days.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

First Bi-Annual Ethnic Heritage Festival of the North Tonawanda History Museum

This weekend I will be participating in the the following event, as announced by North Tonawanda History Museum, Tonawanda, NY.

“North Tonawanda: A Celebration of our Ethnic Diversity!” set for Saturday, October 7, 2006, will be the first bi-annual ethnic heritage festival of the North Tonawanda History Museum. It will be held in the Sportsplex Family Entertainment Complex at 90 Ridge Road from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Intended as an all day family event, the festival will include entertainment, educational programming, displays and exhibits, and ethnic foods.

I will be giving a talk: "Identifying Immigrant Cluster Communities and Their Role in Preserving Ethnic Customs and Traditions," at 2 p.m. and signing and selling my books. If you are in the area, stop by. I would love to meet you!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Talk at Ontario County Genealogical Society

I will be speaking at the Ontario County Genealogical Society in Canandaigua, New York on Wednesday, October 4, 2006 on "Researching Eastern European Ancestors." The talk will begin at approximately 7 p.m. at The Ontario County Historical Society, 55 North Main Street.

Below is a summary of my talk:

"A vast number of immigrants came to America from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Border changes, language differences, political considerations, and exotic-sounding surnames often complicate the search for Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Rusyn, Slovak, Ukrainian, and other Eastern European ancestors. This talk discusses traditional methods and online resources for tracking ancestors both in the U.S. and the old country, as well as techniques for overcoming some of the most common obstacles and problems faced during the research process."

If you live in or Canandaigua, why not come out for this event? I would enjoy meeting you!

Monday, October 02, 2006

A New Genealogy Channel

For those of you who can't get enough of genealogy and like to keep up with what's new, check out the new Internet channel for genealogy: RootsTelevision.

This site is off to a great start with free video clips (shows) in several categories, including "How To" and "DNA" among others, blogs, vlogs, and a shop for purchasing books, DVDs/Videos and other RootsGear.

Family history research has just entered a new dimension. If you like computers and love genealogy, then I know you will enjoy RootsTelevision!