Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: June 30, 2010: More Beauty of Slovakia

The following photos were taken in Milpoš, Slovakia by Andy Rabatin. A big thanks to him for letting me use them for this post.

Digital image. Owner: Andy Rabatin. Digital copies privately held by Lisa Alzo [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 2 (Part 4)

Sorry for the brief interruption...I had a busy week with no opportunity to write.

As we were walking to the cemetery in Milpoš, the rain started to come down a bit harder, but it didn't dampen my spirits or my hopes of finding out more about my Straka ancestors. Miro met us there and pointed to some of the graves--mostly in the newer section of the cemetery. It was a bit muddy (glad I had on good sneakers for walking and sloshing around but wished I had brought my boots!). The rain then slowed a bit as we started to look around.

Miro also told me that he is working with several colleagues to chronicle the history of Milpoš in a book. I look forward to obtaining a copy. I was not able to go inside the church because the priest was not there that day. Also, I was told that the records for the village are located in another village--Ľutina (something I also knew already from researching microfilmed records at the Family History Library). Miro had to get back to work but gave us each an energy drink and bid us a fond farewell.

Next, we tried a few more houses to track down the remaining Straka descendants. It was still raining. We met a woman who had married into the Straka family. Luckily for us, her granddaughter was visiting from America to attend a family wedding and she was able to help with translation as I explained who my grandmother was, named her siblings, etc.

They had some photographs too (we took digital images of them) and I hope to be able to eventually sort out the connection.

Next, we moved on to talk with the other Straka family. The man we spoke to said his grandfather was Stefan Straka who was a soldier in the army (my grandmother's brother--Istvan (Stefan) had stayed in Slovakia and was a soldier). The man thought he recognized the picture I showed him of my grandmother's brother although it was a bit hard for him to see it clearly on the book page. I took down his name and other information and he and his wife posed for a picture for us before we left.

By this time, it was getting late in the day and time for us to be on our way. I was so grateful to my travel companions, Ginny and Andy for being there with me and to Stevo for all of his help knocking on doors and translating the conversations with everyone we met.

As I watched Milpoš disappear behind me I felt a variety of emotions. There was joy because I had finally made it to Grandma's village, but a bit of sadness too that I did not get to meet anyone who knew my grandmother or her family. This was a bit disappointing, and as I thought about the situation I wondered had I made the trip 10 or 15 years ago would there have been a different outcome? Perhaps I would have made that tangible connection. But, I guess I will never know. It just drives home the point that you need to make these trips sooner rather than later before everyone who remembers your family passes away.

I tried to focus on the positive aspects of my visit and not dwell on what I didn't find. I still had two more villages to visit during my stay and I knew I would be meeting family then, so I now turned my thoughts to my paternal ancestors.

to be continued...

All photos in this post by Andy Rabatin

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Monday, June 28, 2010

Oops! I Almost Missed My Own Blogiversary!

I've been so busy that I totally forgot the Blogiversary for this Blog, which is today--June 28th! But Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers didn't forget (Thanks, Thomas for including it on the calendar!)

I'm happy that after four years I can still find things to Blog about and still have readers!

Thanks to everyone who follows this Blog and for all your positive comments!

Fun at the Family History Expo

I just returned yesterday from the Family History Expo in Loveland, Colorado held Friday and Saturday, June 25-26 at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center. As usual, Holly Hansen and her amazing staff put on a fabulous event! I gave two presentations on Saturday, June 26th: Websites You Might Be Missing and Immigrant Cluster Communities: Past, Present, and Future. I would like to thank those who attended my sessions and I appreciated all of the favorable comments and positive feedback.

I was also able to attend several great lectures given by a few genealogy colleagues, including: Beau Sharbrough (keynote), Gena Philibert Ortega, Michael John Neill, Gordon Atkinson (of Footnote), and Maureen Taylor (who presented virtually via Skype). I have been doing genealogy for more than 20 years, but I never claim to know it all, so I was thrilled to have a chance to listen to and learn from these excellent presenters!

I also enjoyed hanging out with fellow Geneabloggers: Ruby Coleman (thanks for letting me ride in "Little Red"), Gayle Gresham, Becky Jamison, and Thomas MacEntee (thanks for the ribbons and beads!).
Back row (l-r) : Gayle, Ruby, Thomas. Front row (l-r): Lisa, Becky

My favorite part of the entire conference was the "Friday Night at the Movies" where we got to view the documentary Forgotten Ellis Island by Lorie Conway. We were even treated to some wonderful refreshments (popcorn, soft pretzels and Root Beer floats!). Watching this film was a moving experience for me since my maternal grandmother was hospitalized upon arrival at Ellis Island in 1922. She suffered from asthma--they were worried she had tuberculosis. How frightened she must have been to be separated from her niece, Mary for so many days not knowing what might happen next!

After the film ended, Holly Hansen gave me the opportunity to briefly share my grandmother's story with the audience. I had to hold back the tears as I told them how during the movie I kept thinking "what if my grandmother had been turned back...I wouldn't be here in this moment!"

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. The Expos have some of the nicest attendees and the atmosphere is so welcoming. If you've never attended, you should. You'll hear first-class lectures, meet wonderful folks, and most of all, will have fun! The next Expo will be the Midwest Expo July 30-31 in Kansas City, MO. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: 06/23/10: The Beauty of Slovakia

Digital image. Privately held by Lisa Alzo [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] New York, 2010

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 2 (Part 3)

For the longest time I imagined what it would be like to actually set foot in my grandmother's village. I had seen pictures of and heard what Milpoš was like from others who had visited, so I though I had an idea of what to expect. It was something of what I had pictured in my mind, and so much more--to walk on the ground where your ancestors once walked is simply the most awesome feeling--something you must experience for yourself.

Photo by Andy Rabatin

During the many years I've been a genealogist I've also heard stories from fellow researchers about how they went to their ancestral villages, knocked on a few doors and instantly found family. So, I was anticipating this is what would happen to me in Milpoš. Unfortunately, it didn't.

After taking the pictures of the village sign, we drove a bit further down the road until we spotted the Mayor's (and village) office on the right hand side and a the first houses in the village on the left.
Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

We got out of the car and our guide, Stevo, spotted a woman in her yard (I'll call her "Grandma A." and asked her (in Slovak) about any Straka families who might still be living in the village. I also had him ask about the Verbovsky family. Since I had a copy of my book with me, I was able to show her pictures of my ancestors. She didn't recognize them. Soon,
a few of the other babas (Grandmas) and neighbor ladies came out to see who we were so "Grandma A." tried to explain.

Photo by Andy Rabatin

We were directed to a few houses where Straka families still lived and told we should see the former mayor (Miro Straka) who had just come down the road driving a huge truck full of large rocks. Because of the heavy rain they were trying to take precautions against flooding.

Photo by Andy Rabatin
Miro stopped for few minutes and I introduced myself (thanks to translation help from Stevo). I had corresponded with him a few years back by e-mail (with help from a software translation program). He remembered me and greeted me with a hug and two kisses on the cheek. Miro told us he would have a 30-minute break for lunch and would meet us at the cemetery.

We were told there was one home that used to belong to the Verbovsky's but when we followed up later we were unable to connect with anyone in the home to confirm this. We decided to go in search of the Straka families and then to meet Miro at the cemetery. I was optimistic; still in search of my "Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA)" moment.

to be continued...

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Online Universities: 50 Best Blogs for Genealogy Geeks

I'd like to thank Online for naming The Accidental Genealogist to its list of 50 Best Blogs for Genealogy Geeks. What a nice surprise. I'm honored to have my Blog listed alongside so many other great genealogy Blogs out there. Congratulations to all my fellow Bloggers!

You can find the complete list of the 50 blogs

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Family History Expo Loveland, CO June 25-26, 2010

I'm excited to be a speaker (and Blogger) at the upcoming Loveland, Colorado Family History Expo, which will be held June 25-26th. This is my second time as a presenter at the Loveland event. I really enjoyed the Expo last year and the hotel and conference center were superb. Holly & Company always do an excellent job with the Expos--providing a wonderful educational experience with a personal touch!

Here is the announcement from Family History Expos. Hope to see you there!

Loveland, Colorado: Expo 25-26 June 2010

[Note: The following announcement was received from Family History Expos. Please address all inquiries to]

Embassy Suites Loveland Hotel & Conference Center
4705 Clydesdale Parkway
Loveland, CO 80538

Driving Directions

June 25, 2010 at 07:00 AM
June 26, 2010 at 06:00 PM

Just some of the highlights include:

  • Keynote address by Beau Sharbrough
  • Exhibit Hall with over 28 vendors
  • 89 presentations occurring over 2 days presented by expert genealogists
  • Opportunities to consult with professional genealogists about your brickwall for free
  • Bloggers bringing you the latest updates from Expo
  • and Much More...

We just added a Friday night event to our Expo schedule. Come join us as we view the documentary Forgotten Ellis Island. Produced and directed by Lorie Conway, this story of the Ellis Island hospital is a rare look at the experience of our immigrant ancestors.

"A century ago, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, one of the world's greatest public hospitals was built. Massive and modern, the hospital's twenty-two state-of-the-art buildings were crammed onto two small islands, man-made from the rock and dirt excavated during the building of the New York subway. As America's first line of defense against immigrant-borne disease, the hospital was where the germs of the world converged.

The Ellis Island hospital was at once welcoming and foreboding-a fateful crossroad for hundreds of thousands of hopeful immigrants. Those nursed to health were allowed entry to America. Those deemed feeble of body or mind were deported.

Three short decades after it opened, the Ellis Island hospital was all but abandoned. As America after World War I began shutting its border to all but a favored few, the hospital fell into disuse and decay, its medical wards left open only to the salt air of the New York Harbor."

This Friday Night at the Movies with Family History Expos is only $28.00 and includes a light buffet. You can register now from our website.

Finally, every registered conference participant receives the Colorado Family History Expo Syllabus on CD as part of their registration. If you would prefer to have a printed version of the Syllabus, you can purchase one for only $25.00. To purchase a syllabus, please see our website.

Want to look at the Expo Program or the Syllabus? You can!

To View the Colorado Family History Expo Program Click Here

To View the Colorado Family History Expo Syllabus Click Here

You will need the Adobe Acrobat reader to view these PDF files. To download this reader for free click here.

Register Now!

We look forward to seeing you at the Expo!


Holly T. Hansen

Family History Expos, Inc.

801 8293295

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Reflections

Today is Father's Day, and to honor my late father, John Alzo, I decided to post a few of my favorite memories of him.

Here is one of my favorite photographs of my father in his younger years (with this pose he looks like a movie star!)

Digital and print image property of LIsa A. Alzo

"Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash...."

My father wasn't much for outwardly expressing his feelings by saying "I love you," all the time, or by hugging and kissing. But it was by his actions that I knew he loved me. He was always there when I needed him. He was the guy you could always count on. I felt safe with Dad. Once in awhile, his softer side would show through his tough exterior, and he would wrap his strong arms around me and give me a hug. And, he would always tuck me in at night and give me a goodnight kiss when I was a little girl. He'd say, "goodnight, Mrs. Calabash--wherever you are." This was the signature sign off of comedian Jimmy Durante. It always made me smile.

When He Had a Hammer…

I believe that my father was the Ty Pennington of his generation. While he didn't have spiked hair or a soul patch, an entourage, or use a megaphone when he started a job, he could definitely work magic with a hammer. Dad performed his own version of "Extreme Makeovers" on a number of houses throughout his hometown of Duquesne, Pennsylvania and its surrounding areas. His talents were reflected in the countless roofs, paneling jobs, cabinets, decks, and more. Dad's job on the railroad was not glamorous, but he took great pride in his work.

Things I Miss Most about Dad...

His smile

His laugh

His ability to understand without having to use a lot of words

His sense of humor

His genuine kindness and regard for others

His generosity

Love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day!

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 2 (Part 2)

I got out of the car to take a photograph of the sign. I brought my book Three Slovak Women so I could be photographed with it in Milpoš. I proudly held the book up to the sign to symbolically mark that the Three Slovak Women had finally come full circle--we were all finally home.

Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

I held back the tears as I thought how much my mother would have loved this moment. I know she was with me in spirit, along with my grandmother. What a journey it had been. One that had begun 88 years ago (88 years!), when my grandmother left her village to begin her new life in America. I am so thankful to her for her courage to leave her family, her beautiful village and all that was familiar to her. Any anxiety I had during my travels over to Slovakia disappeared as I thought of all my grandmother endured when she crossed the ocean. Instead of several hours on a plane, it took her several weeks by boat--not to mention a wagon ride out of the village and the train ride before she got to her port of departure. She had no modern conveniences and was just 22 years-old, traveling with her 16-year old niece.

All these thoughts raced through my mind as I stood on that road to Milpoš--eager to see who and what I would discover.

to be continued...

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 2 (Part 1)

Friday, June 4th--After a good night's sleep and a light breakfast, we set off on our Friday adventure--heading to Milpoš. At first things weren't looking so good. The steady rain had caused quite a bit of flooding around the area, including one of the roads in to Sabinov--one of the towns we needed to pass through to get to Milpoš.

Photo by Andy Rabatin

Thankfully, Stevo was with us--he was our guide and translator extraordinaire! Stevo knew another way to get through Sabinov and we continued on towards our destination. It was still raining a bit, but this did not dampen my excitement or anticipation of seeing the birthplace of my grandmother. I said a prayer that we would be able to get there. I'd come all this way and was hoping I would not be disappointed.

Photo by Lisa A. Alzo
Finally, we came upon the sign marking the entrance to the village.

I could already feel the tears wetting my eyes.

To be continued...

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Sojourn in Slovakia: Day 1

My first trip to Slovakia was a moment in time I will never forget.  The journey began on Wednesday, June 2nd.  My cousin, Ginny and I met our other traveling companion, Andy, at JFK airport in New York.  The flight departed at 5:00 p.m. and we had more than 8 hours in the air to Prague.  It was the longest flight I have taken to date.  I tried to sleep a bit, but found I was much too excited to truly rest.  I read, watched a movie, and listened to lots of music on my iPod.  We landed in Prague the morning of Thursday, June 3rd, and after a brief layover, we boarded our flight to Kosice, Slovakia.  It was a small plane and I was surprised about the boarding back to front.  The flight to Kosice took about 1-1/2 hours.  It was raining and a bit foggy, but when I saw Slovakia for the first time I started to cry.  Stepping off that plane was an emotional moment for me--to finally be on the ground of my ancestral homeland.  This trip has been over 10 years in the making.  After having to pass up several opportunities to visit Slovakia, I had finally made it.  FINALLY!!!  

We collected our luggage--my suitcase made it!  I was relieved!

Our wonderful hosts, Stevo, Marta, and Pavel were waiting for us on the other side of the doors, with hugs and kisses and warm smiles!  We picked up our rental car and then went on to Saris Park in Presov for a meal.  I ordered pirohy--some were filled with cheese--my favorite kind--and some with jam, and sprinkled with breadcrumbs.  I never ate pirohy with breadcrumbs on top--delicious!

Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Next, it was cappuccino and a piece of strudel.  I was full!

Photo by Lisa A. Alzo

Then we set off for Uzovské Pekľanywhere we would be staying for the week.  We had a lovely house all to ourselves.  

Photo by Andy Rabatin

We quickly learned that we would not have internet access and the cell phone coverage was very weak.  I could send and receive text messages but could not get a signal strong enough to make any phone calls.  After we settled in to our respective rooms, it was time to call it a day.  I wasn't sure how the time change would affect me.  There was a thunderstorm during the night.  I could see the lightning through the skylight and hear the rain, which was a bit heavy at times.  I was excited about the next day because we would be going to visit Milpoš--my maternal grandmother's village.  But, it didn't take long for me to fall asleep after such a tiring journey.