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!