Monday, May 26, 2008

Genealogy Weekend

Memorial Weekend is just about over. I spent time online doing a bit of unplanned research using the new Michigan vital records collections on the site and I made a trip to Belle Isle to visit the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. I learned a lot more than I expected to from both sources.

I rarely get excited over new online resources. It seems like they never have information of interest to me. I mean, who's putting databases online from the little villages in Poland where my families are from? Sure, sure, I'm third generation American so there are some domestic records of interest to me, but not a whole lot. Even the subscription databases that offer old newspapers don't include the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press. I'm not whining here, just stating the facts. My areas of research are very limited and all 4 of my grandparental lines overlap in time and place so much that just a few pertinent resources can give me new information for all 4 lines and entire websites like WorldVitalRecords will give me nothing at all (last I checked).

I was practically giddy when I went online to visit the new Michigan vital records collections at and was able to find some new information about my family members. Mostly what I was able to add was a missing birth date or marriage location, that sort of stuff. I did unveil a mystery of sorts though. That was my big discovery of the weekend.

My dad's godmother (who he was named for) was Josephine Lipa. She was one of my paternal grandmother's 10 siblings. I heard several stories that included "Auntie Josie" over the years. I probably met her when I was young but I don't remember her. When I started doing genealogy research I was told by at least 3 people in my dad's family that Auntie Josie never married or had kids. She always came to family events alone and relatives often dropped in on Auntie Josie to check on her "because she had no one else". She lived until 1992 so people didn't have to remember back all that far to remember her. Anyway, I was able to find birth and baptismal records for Auntie Josie but I never found any death or burial records. I figured it was just one of those things and that they would turn up one of these days.

So this weekend I do a search for "Lipa" using the new site and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a marriage license entry for a Josephine Lipa (from 1917), same birth date as Auntie Josie and the names of my great grandparents were listed as names of the bride's mother and father. Hmm. I check the record and it gives the name of the groom as Bronislaw Ronowski. That's a new surname to me. So then I'm thinking maybe Auntie Josie was only married for a brief time, maybe she became a widow shortly after she married and just never remarried. I checked the SSDI database and discovered that Bronislaw Ronowski lived until 1976. Hmm. This is getting more and more interesting. I checked the SSDI for a Josphine Ronowski and bingo, there she is with the correct birth and death years. Well, this explains why I was never able to find her death certificate. I was looking for Josephine Lipa not Josephine Ronowski.

So what ever happened to Bronislaw? How come no one in the family ever mentioned him? Did they get a divorce? (Can't imagine that in this strict Catholic family.) Did Bronislaw and Josie separate early on in their marriage? I checked Heritage Quest for the 1920 Census and there they are with a 2 month old daughter! This is getting curiouser and curiouser. Unfortunately, Heritage Quest doesn't have the complete 1930 Census in their collection so I'll have to wait until I can get to the public library tomorrow where I can access Ancestry. I hate to leave you hanging... no I don't! LOL! If I've got to hang, you can hang with me!

So, about that trip to the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. I went there hoping to learn more about the Great Lakes steamships that carried passengers on the Detroit - Buffalo route, the one my parents took on their honeymoon. And I hit the jackpot! As it turns out, that ship I used on my digi-scrap page (City of Detroit III) was dismantled in 1956 and some of the interior was sold to a private collector. He later sold it to the Dossin Museum. So just as you enter the museum you see the authentic "Gothic Room" from the City of Detroit III (it was the lounge on the top deck). It consists of tons of beautifully carved oak, a stunning chandelier, and a stained glass window to rival that of any church. It's hard to capture in words the beauty and elegance of this room. Fortunately, I have photos to share with you. :-)

It's not that I was unaware of how lavishly some ships of this era were decorated but I thought this sort of extravagance would be reserved for cross-Atlantic ships not local "day trippers" and "overnighters" on the Great Lakes. I was just blown away with the beauty of this ship. The sketches of the private quarters and dining areas show an equally lavish style. I learned that if someone in Detroit was Buffalo bound, they would board the ship at the dock on the Detroit River at 5:30 p.m. Then the ship would sail all through the night and arrive at the port of Buffalo first thing the next morning, hence the term "overnighter". There were photos of other ships that traveled this route during this same era (1900-1950s) and they appeared to be equally lavish.

Wouldn't it be cool to be able to take a trip on one of these steamers?! Unfortunately, there are none of these beauties still sailing the Great Lakes as far as I can determine. Some of these passenger ships were commandeered by the U.S. Navy during WWII and refitted for troop transport. Those that continued to sail throughout the war years (like the City of Detroit III) were scrapped in the early to mid 1950s. After the war people wanted to buy automobiles and vacations were planned using that mode of transportation. The auto industry grew at the expense of the Great Lakes steamers.

Sunday was a great day to spend on Belle Isle and I learned a lot (including that the casino is still intact and being used as a conference/banquet center). I have lots more photos, perhaps I'll share them another day. I just love when I can immerse myself in history!