Sunday, July 19, 2015

2014 Road Trip to Poland

As mentioned in a previous post, I have been looking for my great-grandfather Paul Primas for a long time.  When I started my family history research for a school project in 6th grade, he had already been gone for over 50 years.   As a teenager I wrote to the German Consulate to ask how to find records I was looking for and was told all the records were lost in the war (World War II) and any that did survive were now behind the Iron Curtain and unavailable.  I kept looking and asking.

Paul Primas Death Certificate

In 2012 I decided I needed to go to Poland and try to find out more information about my elusive great-grandfather Paul.  I still had many questions.   Having previously used his services for obtaining documents, I contacted Dr. Lukasz Bielecki of Discovering Roots in the fall of 2013.  I engaged his services to help me plan the trip as well as conduct some research prior to our arrival.   My sister Donna and I bought our tickets in January 2014, but probably would have had a better selection of seats if we had bought them sooner.  Because of some other touring we wanted to do, we chose to fly in and out of Berlin, Germany.  From Berlin, our destination, Poznan, is a 3 hour train ride through beautiful country.

Caron at the Poznan train station

In April 2014, we traveled to Poznan, Poland to see sights related to our family history and to conduct additional research at the local archives.  We stayed at Hotel Włoski Poznań as Lukasz recommended and found it to be well-located, clean, reliable and reasonably priced.  While Donna is fluent in German (which was the language of our ancestors who lived in the Posen area during the Prussian Empire) and I can read “genealogy German” neither of us speak nor understand Polish.  Having Lukasz to interpret during our visit was very helpful!

Planning the day with Lukasz in the hotel lobby

During our three day visit Lukasz guided and chauffeured us as we made daily trips to the ArchiwumPaństwowe w Poznaniu (State Archive in Poznań) in the city and the surrounding areas specific to our ancestors. 

State Archive building in Poznań

At the Archive, he assisted us to complete the necessary paperwork to access the Archive’s materials and used his knowledge of the local geography to determine which records to access.   It was obvious that Lukasz is well known at the Archives as well as knowing his way around the resources!  The Archive’s rules are that only a limited amount of items can be accessed and at restricted times.  We were able to triple the numbers with three of us there.  Donna and I took many pictures of pages of old church records of our known ancestors and “suspect” ancestors. 

Lukasz and the records at the Archive  

Caron looking at a church record book 

Church record book with Paul Primas baptismal record

Page with Paul Primas baptismal record
Paul Primas baptismal record

During the afternoons, Lukasz used his excellent knowledge of the area and its history to take us down mostly unmarked roads to access the rural areas where our ancestors had lived.  He also used some maps from the 1980s Communist military.  He told us they were very detailed and accurate. Had we been on our own, we never would have been able to navigate the area.

Map used by Lukasz

We visited the churches where our family baptisms and weddings were performed, family cemeteries and the areas where our ancestors worked or owned mills and had their homes.   The Lutheran churches no longer exist; they have been converted to Catholic churches, community or art centers or torn down, usually with a park in its place.

Circles indicate all the places we visited

Church in Rejowiec, formerly Revier, where Friedrich Primas and Amalie Petrich
 (my 2nd great-grandparents) were married in 1857, still in use as Catholic Church

Picture of inside of the Rejowiec church

Church at Murowana Goslina, currently abandoned


Church at Nekielka, formerly Nekla Hauland, being remodeled as a music arts center

Inside view church at Nekielka (Nekla Hauland)

Church at Pobiedziska, formerly Pudewitz

Inside of the church in Pobiedziska

Church in Skoki, formerly Schokken.  It is now a community center.
It looks like they play basketball inside.

While we drove through the beautiful countryside, Lukasz related information about the general history of the villages and area. He also took us to charming local restaurants each day where we were able to taste the local cuisine.

Lunch stop in Skoki – wonderful pirogi!

Typical view from the car when there were no farms, this near Nekielka

Farm land near Glinka Panska

One road we went down did not look like a real road.  It looked like a track through a farm field.  Lukasz assured us it was a real road, it was on the map!

This is a real road!  On our way to Czerniejewo, formerly Schwarzenau

Site of Gottfried Primas’ (my 3rd great-grandfather’s) water mill at Borowo Mɫyn

There was something spiritually moving and a bit mysterious about walking on the same land that my ancestors walked on.  There was a feeling of comfort and familiarity. 

We knew many of our great-grandparents had been millers – we have “wind millers” and “water millers” in the family.  We did not see any water mills, but we did see a “wind mill” that looked like one our family might have worked.

Old windmill building in Czerniejewo on the road to Nekla

This is what it might look like new or in use

We were very pleased with our visit and would highly recommend Lukasz and DiscoveringRoots in Poland for local or long distance research and on-site guided tours in Poland.   We thought his fees were very reasonable for the flexible and personal services he offers. 

Here are my tips for a successful research trip, based on this and other excursions:
  • Plan well in advance.  For overseas, at least 3 months in advance.  Check if a visa or other special permission is needed.  None were needed for Poland, but when I checked for Russia, you needed to request a visa at least 3 months prior to travel.  Know Before You Go.
  • Travel during off-season if you can.  Because we traveled in April, we missed the summer crowds and prices.
  • Check the weather in the location you are traveling to before you pack!
  • Note any holidays in the location you will visit.  The Monday after Easter is a holiday in Germany and all the stores were closed.  We had planned to shop that day!
  • Check ahead on sites you want to visit for any special events or other changes in availability.  When we visited Wittenberg, the Luther related churches were shrouded and one was closed in preparation for the 500th Anniversary in 2017.  The only picture of the churches we got were on a postcard!
  • If you will be in a country where you do not know the language, seriously consider hiring a guide.  It will be worth the money!
  • Do advance research for the location you are going.  Know the hours and rules of any repositories you want to visit.   Can you take pictures?  Scan?  State Archive of Poznan only pulls records three times per day and only 5 records per person per pull.  No scanning or copies, but you can take pictures.
  • Have a research plan before you go.  Take any reference materials you may need.  Do NOT assume you will have an internet connection available.  I printed out family trees and family groups sheets of the families I was looking for and had them spiral bound into a book at Office Max.  I made 3 copies (me, Lukasz and Donna).  We used them!  I also had my netbook with FamilyTreeMaker loaded in case we had questions not answerable by the print outs.  We used it!!
  • Have a scanner and/or camera with you.  In our case, we could not use a scanner, but I used a camera for the records.  Donna and I both had cameras and took over 3,000 pictures between us – scenery and records.
  • Pack light.  Donna and I each took a 22-inch carry-on suitcase and a fully-loaded backpack.  That was all for 14 days!! 
    • Lay out all the clothes that you think you will need and leave half of them home.  We had a few basics in solid colors and changed it up with shirts, scarves and such.  Hotels had laundry services or equipment.
    • Dress in layers.  April in Poland/Germany was rainy and 45-55 F.  We layered turtlenecks under fleece jackets/sweaters and those under raincoats.  When we went inside or it warmed up, we could peel off a layer.  Also, remember that buildings and hotels outside of the US do not always have the same temperature control availability.  PS: I appreciated my gloves!
    • Have two pair of good walking shoes.  Wear one, pack one.
    • Unless you know you will be attending an official dress up affair, leave the fancy clothes and jewelry home.
  • Keep a daily journal of where you went and what you did.  Write it up each night before bed.  If you wait to write it up on the plane or at home, you will forget most of it!  In my case, I also noted the weather each day, as it was pertinent to our tours.

It is hard to believe it has been over a year since our trip!  I would go back tomorrow if I had the chance.

PS:  I have been writing this post since March 2015.  I keep thinking I will add more or perfect it.  I keep thinking of more items to add.  However, I have decided to address some of the other aspects of the trip in individual posts and just get this one posted!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dear Old Dad

On this Father’s Day I am remembering my father, Aaron Primas.  When he would call me he would announce himself by referring to himself as “Dear Old Dad."

As I was driving a very nice rental car last week, I was thinking about my Dad and how we shared an interest in cars.  He would have liked the one I was driving.  I also remembered my last visit with him before he died.

Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor on Dec 31, 2004.  He and Mom returned to their Florida condo the next week with the plan to have Dad in hospice care.  The prognosis he was given was 6 to 9 months.  Based on my experience as a nurse, I did not think it would be that long.  

Aaron Primas - Feb 15 2005

In February 2005, I traveled to Florida to spend a long weekend with my parents.  Even though Dad couldn’t really speak at that time, he could make his needs known.  He was able to watch TV and knew what was going on around him.  One sunny day, Mom said “why don’t you take him out for a ride in Buttercup?”

Buttercup was a 1988 Rolls Royce Corniche convertible that was Dad’s pride and joy.  The pale yellow color inspired the name of Buttercup.  

Dad and Buttercup

It was too cold to put the top down, but we went for a ride.  I headed out to I-75 so we could cruise for a while.  Once on the highway, Dad kept leaning way over to look at the speedometer.  His vision was affected, so he had to really almost get in front of me to look at the dashboard.  Now you need to understand that no one in our family drives slowly.  We aren’t crazy drivers, but we appreciate the “need for speed.”   After about the third time he leaned over, I asked him “how fast have you driven this car?”  He said “eleven hundred” which I interpreted to mean 110 mph and he agreed.  At the time I was doing 75 mph as that was the speed limit and traffic was heavy.  He started waving his hand forward as if to say “go faster” and so I sped up a bit.  He still didn’t seem happy but at 90 mph I told him the traffic was too heavy to go any faster.  If I could have made it to 100 mph I would have, just for him.  He leaned back and seemed content.  So we cruised down the interstate and then at a convenient interchange, I turned around and headed back.  He didn’t say anything else during the trip but seemed to enjoy himself.  When we returned, Mom asked if we had a nice ride and he nodded and smiled.

The day I left, Mom walked me to the elevator and told me “I will bring him back to Villa Park in May” which was their usual time to return from Florida.  I just nodded as I could not speak, but I knew that I would not see my father again alive.

I drove their family car to the airport, locked it up with the key under the floor mat and made note of the parking space.  I called my sister Amy and let her know where to find the car.  She was flying down the next day and would drive the car back. 

Dad died in hospice care on March 4, 2005.  I still miss him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

60 Minutes to Better Genealogy at the Newberry

Join me on Saturday June 27, 2015 for my four sessions in the "60 Minutes to Better Genealogy" series.

Registration begins April 21, 2015.

Check here to register and for more details.

Day 2: Saturday, June 27
5. FamilySearch Primer with Caron Primas Brennan
9:30 – 10:30 am
We will tour the free site, reviewing its research opportunities and newer areas for sharing family trees and pictures. Additionally, we will discuss RootsMagic and Legacy Family Tree, the genealogy programs certified to interact with FamilySearch.
6. What’s New on the Internet? with Caron Primas Brennan
11 am - noon
This seminar is a tour through new and little-known resources for genealogical research and networking on the web. In addition to exploring Newberry-based offerings, we will identify useful free and fee-based local, regional, national, and international genealogical resources.
7. Primer with Caron Primas Brennan
1 – 2 pm
We will examine today’s and consider what it offers beginners as well as advanced genealogical researchers—including records and tools, AncestryTrees, and the various features available through the free site, library edition, and paid subscription choices.
8. and with Caron Primas Brennan
2:30 – 3:30 pm
This guided tour will lead you through two sister products from the family:—the web’s premier collection of original military records—and, which houses 3,500 newspapers digitized from across the country.
Caron Primas Brennan is a member of the Genealogical Speakers Guild and the Association of Professional Genealogists and blogs as “Your Cousin Caron.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #7 Amelia O. Primas

Amelia O. Primas:  My Paternal Great-Aunt “Millie”

According to the Primas family Bible, Amelia O. Primas was born 22 January 1891 in Chicago, Illinois.  She was the third child and only daughter born to Paul and Emma (Stroschein) Primas.  It is possible that she was named for Paul’s mother Amalia.  The Chicago City Directory for 1891 shows her father Paul listed as a Tailor.  I always knew her as “Millie” and have never found her middle name in any records or documents.

Millie had one older brother and three younger brothers.  Paul and Emma’s first child died before Millie and her younger siblings were born.  Between Millie’s birth and that of her younger brother the family moved to Menomonie in Dunn County, Wisconsin. 

Why did they move to Wisconsin?  It appears that Paul Primas’ uncle and godfather Benjamin Petrich was living in Menomonie at that time with his family.  Perhaps they were lonely or struggling.  Paul and Emma had no other family in the USA at that time.  When Millie’s brother Otto is born in 1893, Paul is listed as a laborer on the birth certificate.  When Millie’s youngest brother is born, Paul is listed on the birth certificate as a Lumberman.  In that area of Wisconsin there were several large lumber companies at the time.

By the time of the 1900 US Census, the family is back in Chicago.  Millie is enumerated on 12 Jun 1900 as Amelia, 9 years old with birth as Jan 1891 in Illinois.  She is in the household of her father Paul Primas (occupation = janitor) along with her mother Emma, and brothers Fred W age 11, Otto age 7, Waldemar age 5 and Oscar age 2.  They are living at 156 N Kedzie Avenue in Chicago.  The census shows that her parents have been married for 15 years, and immigrated in 1887.

1900 US Census: Paul Primas Head of Household

Two days after Christmas in 1906 Millie’s father Paul died.  The cause of death on the death certificate showed Chronic Nephritis.  He was 46 years old and listed his occupation as carpenter.  Millie was 15 years old.  Her youngest brother was 9 years old.  Paul was buried in Concordia Cemetery in River Forest, Illinois.

It took me a while to find the family in the 1910 US Census because the indexer interpreted the name as Thomas, not Primas.  I was able to find the family in the 1910 Chicago City Directory so I knew they should be in Chicago.  I used the address from the Directory to find the Enumeration District using Stephen Morse’s One Step process (  Then I had to page through the Census to find the family.  When I found them, I saw the name as Primas easily, but then that is my name too!

On 15 April 1910 in the US Census for Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, Millie is listed as Emilie, age 19, single, working as a clerk for a telegraph company.  The head of the household is her mother Emma, age 45, widowed along with the other children:  Friedrich, age 21, operator at a telegraph company;  Otto, age 17, a door boy at a department store; Waldemar, age 15 and Oskar, age 12.  They are living at 417 N Sawyer in Chicago.

1910 US Census: Emma Primas Head of Household

Millie is in the 1914 Chicago Directory as Amelia, a clerk, living at the same address as Emma and Fred.

1914 Chicago Directory detail

Three of Millie’s brothers were drafted and served in France in World War I from 1917 to 1919. Fortunately they all came home but I imagine Millie had to work to help the family during that time.

Postcard sent to Millie from her brother Frank in the Army

On 8 January 1920 in the US Census for Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, Millie is listed as Amelia A. Primas, age 28, single, with “none” listed for occupation.  The head of the household is her mother Emma, age 54, widow, no occupation.  Others in the household include all her brothers:  Fred W., age 31, single, a department manager for a furnace company; Otto M. J., age 26, single, salesman for an ice cream company; Waldemar F., age 24, single, salesman for an ice cream company; and Oscar R., age 22, single, salesman for an ice cream company.  Also in the household are Edward Stroschein, age 65, widower, brother to Emma Primas, born in Posen, Germany, arrived in US in 1917 with occupation listed as carpenter in a department store.  Edward’s son Ernest, age 14, single, born in England, is also in the house.  They are all living at 133 N Long Street in Chicago.

1920 US Census:  Emma Primas Head of Household

I know from other research that Edward Stroschein had emigrated from Germany to Australia.  He had been living there for many years prior to his arrival in the US in November of 1917.  He had a wife who had died there in 1908 and older children still living in Australia.  One of his sons died in July 1917 during World War I in Ypres, Belgium.  His son Ernest never returned to Australia to live after arriving in the US in 1917.  He remained close with the Primas family.

On 17 August 1928 Millie’s mother Emma died at the age of 63 years at home in Maywood.  Cause of death was determined to be breast cancer.  Emma was buried in Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois.  The death certificate indicated she had the breast cancer for four years.  At that time there was not much treatment available for the disease.

Emma Primas with sons Otto, Oscar and Frank circa 1927

In the US Census dated 15 April 1930 for Proviso Township, Maywood Village in Cook County Illinois, Millie is enumerated as Millicent A. Primas, age 39, single, sister to the head of household and nothing listed for occupation.  The head of the household is her brother Otto M., age 36, single, a chauffeur (driver) for an ice cream company.  It also indicates that the house is owned with a value of $15,000.  Others in the household are:  Frank W [Waldemar], age 34, single, brother to head of household, and a clerk for an ice cream company; Louise J. Piel, roomer, age 69, widow and her daughter Marie, age 24 years, single, working as a bookkeeper for a wholesale druggist.  They live at 217 N. Second Ave in Maywood.

1930 US Census:  Otto Primas Head of Household

Two interesting items concerning this document:  Otto would marry Marie Piel in 1931 and Millie was arriving on the ship MS Milwaukee in New York on 15 April 1930, having departed from Hamburg Germany on 4 April 1930.  Family recollections indicate that she had gone to visit family in the Posen area of Germany (formerly Prussia) where her parents had been born.  Stories also suggest she had traveled there around 1919 with her mother as well, but I have no documentation for that.

Ship Listing for Mille's arrival in New York 1930

I also had trouble finding Millie in the 1940 Census.  I found all her brothers but not her.  I knew she was in Villa Park at the time, so I went to the 1940 Census for Villa Park, read the district descriptions and choose the one I thought she would be in.  I was correct, however once again the transcription of her surname was not correct!  No wonder I could not find her.

1940 US Census:  Amelia O. Primas Head of Household

On 21 April 1940, Millie is enumerated as Amelia O Primas, head of household at 47 S Villa Avenue, Villa Park in DuPage County, Illinois.  She is listed as 49 years old, single with a sixth grade education.  She is the operator of an ice cream shop.  It also indicates she was living in the same place (Villa Park) in 1935, but not same house.  At the same address and in the same household, there is Cora Sides, 69 year old widow and her daughter-in-law, Hazel Sides, age 38 years, also a widow.  Hazel is listed as a saleslady in a confectionary.  Both are recorded as living in Maywood in 1935. 

I knew that Millie and Hazel Sides were friends.  I found on the 1930 US Census, they lived around the corner from each other in Maywood.  Perhaps they also both belonged the Eastern Star together.

Hazel Sides and Millie, Eastern Star Event Mar 1949
Millie and niece Marilyn Primas,
Eastern Star Event Mar 1949

The building at 47 S Villa Avenue is a commercial building with several store fronts, a precursor to what we call today a “strip mall”.  I am told Millie lived in the back of the ice cream shop.  Later she moved to a house at 209 S Yale Avenue in Villa Park with her brother Fred.  They were the only siblings not married.  Fred died about three months before Millie.  Hazel Sides also lived at the house, perhaps to help care for Millie.

47 S. Villas Avenue, Villa Park, Illinois, circa 2010

Millie’s brothers established the Primas Brothers Ice Cream Company in 1934 at the 47 S. Villa Avenue location.  The ice cream was made in the back of the shop.  They started the business with a five-year contract with the CCC camps south and west of Chicago.  There was also a route that included deliveries to the Brookfield Zoo.  In the front of the building was a small ice cream store which their sister Millie managed.  The manufacturing of the ice cream was moved to 105 W. St Charles Road in Villa Park about 1940-1941. In 1943 the name was changed to Medorose Ice Cream Company. The business remained at the same location until 1959 when it was sold to Schoeps Ice Cream from Madison, Wisconsin.  All the Primas siblings lived in Villa Park while they ran the business and retired when they sold it.  

Medorose Ice Cream Company in Villa Park, Illinois.  The Primas family business.

Besides owning a business together, the Primas family spent a lot of time together.   I have many pictures of family events showing everyone together.

Primas Family, April 1948, probably Easter Sunday.

Millie and her niece Marilyn circa 1956.
They were the only Primas females of their generations.

Villa Park ladies:  Millie Primas, Hazel Sides,
Rose Dreckman, Hazel Primas, late 1940s.

My mother told me that Millie had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer before 1952.  At that time radical mastectomy was the recognized treatment for breast cancer. 

Millie and her great-niece Donna Primas in 1956.

Millie died at Westlake Hospital in Westlake, Illinois on 30 March 1961 at the age of 70 years.

AMELIA PRIMAS – Villa Park Argus, Press Publications, Mar 31, 1961
     Funeral services for Amelia Primas, 70, of 209 S Yale av., Villa Park, will be held Saturday, April 1 at 9:30am in the Johnson Memorial Home, 305 S. Princeton av.  
     The Rev. Harvey C. Lord, pastor of the Christian Church of Villa Park will officiate and interment will be in Mount Emblem cemetery.
     A 28 year resident of Villa Park, Miss Primas died Thursday Mar 30 at Westlake Hospital.  She was born in Chicago.
     Miss Primas was a 50-year member of the Order of the Eastern Star.  She was a charter member of Cleveland Chapter 698 and for 20 years belonged to Villa Park Chapter 963.

1961-03-31 Chicago Tribune (IL)  
Amelia O. Primas of 209 S. Yale avenue, Villa Park, beloved sister of Otto and Frank Primas. Services Saturday, 9:30 a.m., at Johnson Memorial home, 305 S. Princeton, Villa Park. Interment Mount Emblem. Charter member of Cleveland chapter, No. 696, and Villa Park chapter, No. 953, O. E. S.; 50 year member of Eastern Star. TE 4-6656.

Being one of three sisters with no brothers, I am not sure how Millie felt about being the only girl in the family.  She probably had babysitting responsibilities as well as household chores as a young and teenage girl.  The family moved a lot, from rental to rental, especially after the death of her father.  Her brothers went to work early in life to help support the family.  I found no evidence that her mother ever worked outside the home.  Millie may have had a close relationship with her mother and was fortunate to go to visit her parents’ families in Germany, although it may have been a little bit intimidating traveling alone. I am not sure if she learned to speak German at home.  She seemed to have many friends and was active in the Order of Eastern Star.  She was close to her family and appeared to have a good relationship with her sisters-in-law, as well as her niece and nephews.  Perhaps others in the Primas family have memories of her to share.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Week: #6 Friedrich Wilhelm Primas

Friedrich Wilhelm Primas was born 10 May 1833 in Sanniki in the Poznan Province of Prussia to Gottfried Primas and Anna Elisabeth Heimann (also found Heymann).  He was baptized on 27 May 1833 in Pudewitz [now Pobiedziska, Poland].   Friedrich was the fifth born of 10 known children, the second son.  He had 5 brothers and 4 sisters.  One of the sisters died before he was born.

Pudewitz Church record book

Friedrich baptismal record

Friedrich married Amalie Petrich on 3 May 1857 in Revier [Rejowiec]. 

Transcription of marriage record:
Revier #6 (1857) - 3rd of May - [Pastor] Huber - Miller Friedrich Primas from Wiekowko near Witkowo, second son of the deceased miller from Nekla, Gottfried Primas, with virgin Amalie Petrich, second daughter of the deceased farmer from Pidda, Gottlieb Petrich.  Both groom and bride under tutorship.  He - 24 ys old, she 16 ys 4 mths old.  Both Lutheran. With consent from court and mother.

Church in Revier where Friedrich and Amalie were married

Friedrich had two known children with Amalie.  A son, Paul, born 24 Oct 1860 in Orchowo and a daughter Emilie Henriette, born in 1863 in Nekla. Both children survived to adulthood and married.

Residence records for Nekla indicate that Friedrich Wilhelm Primas died in Nekla in 1865.   He was 32 years old and left a 24 year old widow with two young children.  Paul was 5 years old and Emilie was 2 years old.

Friedrich was my great-great-grandfather.  He died too young.

Monday, February 2, 2015

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #5 Stephen Francis Brennan

Stephen Francis Brennan is my “brick wall”.  He is an enigma, seemingly appeared out of thin air.  Here is what I know and do not know about him.

I believe Stephen was born in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois on 26 Dec 1873.  He has reported his birth place as Illinois consistently in all the documentation I can find.  He has also given ages at various times that do not add up to 1873.  His birth year could anywhere from 1872 to 1884, if one believes the documents.

There is no birth certificate – his daughter Marion and I have each requested one from the Clerk of Cook County several different times and in different ways over the past 30 years and one is never found.  So was he really born there or not?  Marion thinks that Stephen’s parents were Michael and Annie Brennan over from Ireland, based on family stories.  Marion met Mary Brennan, her father’s sister, when she was a child, but has no information on her birth or death date.  We have a picture of two women that Marion was told were her grandmother Brennan and Aunt Mary, but no “proof”.  Marion also believed that her father came from a large family, and thought she remembered there were relatives in West Chicago, Illinois.  All good clues, but no facts or other details.

Possibly mother and sister Mary to Stephen Brennan

The first documentation I have found of Stephen is the 1908 Chicago City Directory.   He is listed at 2087 Wilcox Ave as a motorman.  In 1909, he is at 2157 Wilcox Ave and motorman.  

Stephen F Brennan is found in the 1910 US Census (enumerated 19 April 1910) at 4242 Wilcox St as a lodger.  The head of the household is Berjetta Marcusen, widow, 48 years old, no work listed.  Her daughter Anna is listed as single, 21 years old, and a seamstress in a department store.  Stephen is listed as male, white, single and reports his age as 31 (making birth year 1878/79).  He is listed as being born in Illinois, both parents born in Ireland.  He is a motorman of a street car.   Another lodger is Charlie Leander, male, white, single, 24 years old, born in Norway as were his parents.  Charlie arrived in the US in 1905 and is listed as a bartender in a saloon. He does not seem to be related to any of the others.

Marriage License of Stephen and Ann Brennan

On 15 June 1910 Stephen married Anna Marcusen in Olivet Methodist Episcopal Church, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois.  This was Anna’s home church.  Family lore has it that Stephen’s family disowned him for marrying out of the faith and non-Irish.  That is the reason why Marion was told she never met his family.

Anna and Stephen Brennan taken by
Burritt Studio, 10 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

In the 1910 through 1916 and 1923 Chicago City Directories, he is listed as Stephen or Stephen F at 4242 Wilcox Ave and motorman.  

Stephen’s first son, Clarence Francis, was born 12 May 1912 and died 20 July 1912 at 2 Months 10 Days old.  Documented cause of death was “starvation due to pyloric stenosis” with a duration of 1 month.  On the birth certificate Stephen is listed as a street car motorman.

Stephen’s second son, Charles Joseph, was born 23 Aug 1914 and his only daughter, Marion Elizabeth was born 1 Oct 1917.  On Charles birth certificate Stephen is listed as a street car motorman.

1916 Chicago City Directory

In the World War I Draft Registration dated 12 Sep 1918, Stephen reports his birth date as 26 Dec 1873.  He is a native born citizen living at 4242 Wilcox Ave and a motorman for the Chicago Surface Lines.  His nearest relative is Anna Elizabeth Brennan.  It is noted that he is medium height, slender build with blue eyes and light brown hair.

Front Row:  Henry Hanson, Berjetta's nephew and Marion's Godfather; Charles Brennan,
Marion Brennan on her father's lap. 
Back row:  Berjetta Hanson Marcusen;
Anna Elizabeth Marcusen Brennan; Stephen Brennan. Circa 1918

Stephen F Brennan is found in the 1920 US Census (enumerated 6 Jan 1920) at 4242 Wilcox St as Head of the Household.  He is listed as age 36 (making birth year 1884, seems he aged only 4 years between the census years), motorman for Surface Lines.  In the household is his wife Anna E Brennan, age 31; his son Charles J, age 5; his daughter Marion age 2 ½; and his mother-in-law Berjetta Marcusen.  It shows that the house is owned with no mortgage on the line with Stephen’s name, but the fact is that Berjetta owned the house, not Stephen. 

Chicago Streetcar from Chicagology

In the 1928 Chicago City Directory, he is at 4242 Wilcox and listed as a janitor.
We see Stephen again in the 1930 US Census (enumerated 5 April 1930) at 4242 Wilcox St as Head of the Household.  He is listed as 52 (making birth year 1878) and janitor for an apartment building.   In the household is his wife Anna E, age 41; mother-in-law Berjetta Marcusen, age 68, a laundress out of the home and his children, Charles J age 15 and Marion E age 12.   Again it shows that the house is owned (with a value of $7000) on the line with Stephen’s name.

Stephen Brennan in front of 4242 Wilcox

On 1 May 1939 Anna files a suit in the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois, asking for separate maintenance from Stephen.  She alleged that in April 1938, August 1938 and February 1939, Stephen struck her and threatened her life.  According to the suit filed, Anna “maintained conjugal relations with the defendant until AD 1920” and that “for five year immediately prior to the filing of the complaint, the defendant…has pursued a morose, hostile and wrongful course of conduct toward the plaintiff”.  According to the document, it appears that Stephen had also been unemployed for most of the past 6 years (1933-1939) and contributed no support for Anna or the children, "not even enough for food".  It says that Stephen and Anna have been living apart since 12 April 1939.  It is also clear in the documentation that the property at 4242 Wilcox was not Stephen’s, but Berjetta and Anna’s.  The divorce was finalized 16 Aug 1940.

In the 1940 US Census (enumerated 5 April 1940) Stephen is listed at 2816 Warren Blvd as Head of Household.  He is the only one in the household.  He reports himself as married, 66 years old (making birth year 1874) with an 8th grade education and living in the same place as in 1935.  He is a janitor in an apartment building.  Anna and the children are still at 4242 Wilcox Ave with Berjetta listed as Head of the Household.  Anna reports herself as married.  The divorce was not filed until after the census was enumerated.

In the 1945 Florida state census, Stephen is listed in Orange Park, Clay County, Florida in a long list of other men he same general age, probably all residing at Moosehaven. 

According to their web site, Moosehaven, known as the "City of Contentment," is located in Orange Park, Florida, 15 miles south of downtown Jacksonville. Situated on a wide expanse of the St. Johns River in northeast Florida, the 72-acre campus has been home to members of the Loyal Order of Moose and Women of the Moose since 1922.   In 1918, Director General James J. Davis proposed to that year's International Convention to find "a home in a warmer climate for the aged members and their spouses."  Supreme Secretary Rodney H. Brandon purchased the historic four-story Hotel Marion and its eight acres, located on the St. Johns River in Orange Park, Florida. He named the property "Moosehaven" and the new residents renamed the hotel, "Brandon Hall." Moosehaven was dedicated on October 3, 1922. During the first six months of operation, over 50 residents were admitted. By 1926, there were 144 residents. Known initially as the "City of Endeavor," Moosehaven residents performed all of their own work and operated a successful dairy and farm.  (More about Moosehaven here.)

Photo Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection 

In 17 Aug 1951, Stephen died at Moosehaven of coronary occlusion after 10 years of arteriosclerosis (probably a heart attack).  He is listed as retired motorman, divorced with a date of birth as 26 Dec 1873 making him 77 years old.  His parents’ names are listed as unknown.  His last known Chicago address was shown as 2816 Warren Ave.  Interestingly, the length of stay at Orange Park shows “19 years, 3 months” which would mean he had been there since 1932, but we know that cannot be true based on the other records, so it is probably a typographical error.  The physician of record says he has been attending Stephen since 15 Sep 1947 to the present. 

Stephen was not talked about by his immediate family after the divorce.  His daughter-in-law Alice, who married Stephen’s son Charles in 1946, thought he was dead, as her husband never spoke of him.  She was also told not to speak of him with her mother-in-law Anna.  In the early 1990s, Charles admitted he had visited with his father in Florida in about 1945-46.  Charles was stationed there in the service and went to visit his father.  He did not elaborate on the visit.

Marion was very interested in her father and his family, and wanted to talk about him but knew little.  She said that he did not live with the family during her school years much, but that he was “around” (this would have been 1930-1940).  So even though the divorce document says they have been living apart in 1939, it was probably earlier than that.  Around 1999, when she and I were cleaning up in the kitchen after a family dinner, she finally admitted to me (in a hushed voice so no one else could hear) that her parents had been divorced.  According to Marion, Anna’s mother Berjetta had strong feelings about marriage and divorce.  She encouraged Anna to maintain the marriage.  Marion said she felt that her mother Anna needed permission from Berjetta to file for divorce.   When Berjetta realized how bad things had gotten, she supported Anna in the divorce proceedings.

Other thoughts:
I have to wonder if Francis was a father or grandfather to Stephen, as it is his middle name and his first son’s middle name.  He consistently is found as Stephen or Stephen F in the known records when he is an adult.  Possibly he was known as Francis earlier in life. 

Over the years I have found some Brennan families in the census records that seem to possibly the right family, but nothing conclusive.  I have also found “likely suspects” that are possibly Stephen, but born in St Louis, or living in Milwaukee.  Without knowing his parents’ names, it is a hard wall to climb.

Stephen’s daughter, grandson and great-grandsons have had DNA testing.  The Y-DNA confirms an Irish lineage.  From the clan project at FamilyTreeDNA:  Grandson and great-grandsons are of theCorca Achlann tribe of central County Roscommon, Ireland, which includes the surnames Mulvihill and Brennan and their variants. Our Brennans are of the same stock as the Mulvihills, arising as a competitive entity for the Chieftainship of the tribe in about 1150 AD.  There are at least 4 other, completely unrelated, sources for the Brennan name, and part of the objectives of the DNA Program is to attempt to sort this out.  Initial Y-DNA STR results have been reported by FTDNA and appear to be members of the "Gael" branch of our Clan. This branch entered Ireland about 2000-2500 years ago, and is the dominant haplogroup throughout Ireland today.”  We are hoping to identify cousins in the Brennan line via DNA.  To get better odds, the grandson has also tested with AncestryDNA and 23andMe.