Fearless Females Blog Post: March 21— Tender Moments

March 21 — Describe a tender moment one of your female ancestors shared with you or another family member.

When I think of tender I think of my Grandma Verona.  While Grandma shared kisses and hugs with us, she didn’t overdo it on the affection.  But, she had this quiet way of letting you know how much she loved you.  Things like letting me have the last slice of lemon pie, baking me my own small paska bread for my Easter basket, or slipping a few dollar bills into my pocket when my mom wasn’t watching when she knew there was a toy or treat I wanted.  Whenever we would all gather at her house on Friday evenings, or on holidays, sometimes she would sit quietly in her chair and just watch all of us.  We were a large, noisy bunch, but she was always delighted to have her children and grandchildren around.  When you walked in that door you just knew you were welcome and that Grandma was truly happy to see you.  

My grandmother has been gone for nearly 26 years and I still miss her very much.

Copyright 2010, Lisa A. Alzo


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 20 — Elusive or brick wall ancestor?

March 20 — Is there a female ancestor who is your brick wall? Why? List possible sources for finding more information.

I’ve actually been pretty fortunate that my female ancestors have been fairly easy to trace.  This is in part due to the excellent collection of microfilmed records available from the Family History Library –church and census records from my ancestral villages in Slovakia. I would like to learn a bit more about my great-grandmothers if possible.  In particular, I’m hoping to learn more about my maternal grandfather’s mother.  Trying to locate information about her death and also her second marriage.  I plan to do research in the one of the Slovak archives during a forthcoming trip and am hoping to locate the necessary documents there.  I also hope to make it to the ancestral village while there (I have four of them to visit so don’t know if getting to my grandfather’s village will happen…but I’m going to try). 

Copyright 2010, Lisa A. Alzo


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 19 — Surprising Fact

March 19 — Have you discovered a surprising fact about one of your female ancestors?  What was it and how did you learn it?  How did you feel when you found out?  

One of the more interesting facts I uncovered was my grandmother’s hospital stay upon arrival at Ellis Island in August 1922.  I first learned about this from the story my mother told me over 20 years ago,when I first began researching my family’s history–that my grandmother was suspected to have tuberculosis (she did not–she suffered from asthma most of her life). I then saw a notation “hospital discharged” on the passenger list.  Then, I found her listed on a “Record of Detained Aliens.”

Of course it’s a relief to know that my grandmother was eventually released.  Had she not been released, and perhaps even sent back, it’s pretty likely I would not be here today!

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 18 — Shining Star

March 18  — Shining star:  Did you have a female ancestor who had a special talent?  Artist, singer, actress, athlete, seamstress, or other?  Describe.

Anna Alzo (right) with her cousin Mary, baking cookies for a family wedding.

I always said that my mother should have opened her own bakery.  She was a great cook, but she had a real talent for making cakes, cookies, and other desserts.  Her specialty:  Lady Locks–dainty puffed pastry with creme filling.  She made them for every wedding, baptism, graduation, and other special event in our family and they would disappear from the cookie table in a flash!  Making these cookies requires patience and precision and I remember watching my mother labor for hours–working to get the dough just right before wrapping it around the special pins, and then after they came out of the oven would carefully fill each one using a pastry bag, and then delicately coat them with powdered sugar from her “magical” powdered sugar can.  They weren’t just cookies–they were works of art!  

Copyright 2010, Lisa A. Alzo

Fearless Females Blog Post: March 17 — Social Butterfly?

March 17 — Social Butterfly?  What social organizations or groups did your mother or grandmother belong to?  Sewing circle, church group, fraternal benefit society or lodge?  Describe her role in the group.

My mother and grandmothers socialized mostly with their neighbors or friends they knew from church.  My mother belonged to the Ladies Penna. Slovak Catholic Union and the Roman Catholic Parochial Beneficial Society of Rosary of the Blessed Virgin.  


When our immigrant ancestors arrived in the New World, they often settled in enclaves within cities and towns and tended to cluster in specific regions in the United States.  It was common for immigrants, particularly those who did not speak English, to travel together and put down roots among relatives, friends, or neighbors from their native land.  These so-called “cluster communities” offered a place where the immigrants could transplant and preserve their culture, lifestyle and traditions as best they could in their new surroundings.  Seeking to keep their culture as it existed in the homeland, immigrant groups frequently founded their own churches, schools, boarding houses, and other institutions, as well as forming their own academic, athletic, or charitable groups, and fraternal, occupational, and social organizations.  Many also established their own ethnic presses that published newspapers and histories to highlight specific communities.

In the late 1800s, fraternal organizations became very popular.  Employed largely in difficult and often dangerous industrial occupations, immigrants sought financial protection for themselves and their families. As a result, they established their own fraternal/benevolent organizations to provide mutual insurance and to foster camaraderie and social interaction, and some even as a way to keep ties to traditions or ways of the old country. 

Today, we have the Internet. For my parents and grandparents, these fraternal benefit societies and lodges provided the “social networking” opportunities.


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 16 — Let’s Do Lunch!

March 16 — If you could have lunch (or another meal) with any female family member (living or dead) or any famous female who would it be and why?  Where would you go?  What would you eat?

I would like to spend the day with my mother Anna, my grandmothers, Elizabeth and Verona, and my great-grandmothers–Ilona, Borbala (Barbara), Maria, and Anna—all together in one place.  I imagine we are in Slovakia – in one of my ancestral homes.  Of course we would have Slovak food!  I picture us sharing a traditional Easter meal: paska, hrutka/syrek (Easter cheese), hrin (beets & horseradish), klobassy, ham, hard-boiled egg–each food symbolic.   I would understand and speak the Slovak language so I could listen to their stories and their wisdom and help them prepare all the delicious foods.  My family dream team!

Recipes and information on Slovak Easter traditions are included in my book, Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions.

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo

Fearless Females Blog Post: March 15 — Six-Word Tribute

March 15 — Write a six-word memoir tribute to one of your female ancestors.

This exercise is based on the book, “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”  My entries below were first published on my Blog in 2008.

Anna Figlar Alzo (my mother): Generous heart. Wonderful cook. Dearly missed.

Verona Straka Figlar (maternal grandmother): Family devotion. Inner strength. My inspiration.

Elizabeth Fenscak Alzo (paternal grandmother): Fine hair. Tough as nails. Enigma.

Copyright 2010 Lisa A. Alzo


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 14 — In the News

March 14 — Newsmakers?  Did you have a female ancestor who made the news?  Why?  Was she famous or notorious?  Did she appear in the social column?

My ancestors were working class immigrants so there wasn’t much of a chance for them to appear in the social columns of the local newspapers.  I have mounted copy of my paternal grandmother’s obituary from 1966 that appeared in the Daily News in McKeesport, PA.  The funeral home provided it to the family.


Fearless Females Blog Post: March 13 — Moment of Strength

March 13 — Moment of Strength:  Share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.

Verona Straka was 23-years-old when she came to America in 1922.  Her marriage to Jánoš Figlar was arranged.  Jánoš was a friend and co-worker of her brother-in-law, John Kolcun. Jánoš desperately wanted to marry, yet he would not settle for just any woman.  His prospective bride had to be Slovak, preferably straight from Europe.  Aware that Jánoš was in search of a bride, John believed he knew the perfect woman for him.  That woman was Verona.  They were married on November 1, 1924,and moved from Ohio to Wilkes-Barre, PA and eventually settled permanently in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.  They had seven children together.

Verona’s husband’s easily-provoked temper and his fondness for alcohol often made for a disastrous combination resulting in violent outbursts. For men like Jánoš, a stop at the local bar for a “shot and a beer” after work, was quite common.  Once home he began to make demands.  If his supper was not on the table—even if it was 2:00 a.m.—he would yell obscenities at his wife in Slovak.  Often he hit her.  On those occasions when the dish she prepared was not to his liking, he would hurl his plate across the table.

Verona was my grandmother, and to be frank, like many women of her generation, she put up with a lot.  I imagine it wasn’t easy to live as she did.  If we apply today’s standards, we probably look at her situation and ask why did she stay? Why did she take it?  From what I learned, the answer was a simple one:  for her children.  It couldn’t have been easy so I believe she had many moments where she relied on her inner strength to survive.  I wrote about her story in my book, Three Slovak Women.



Fearless Females Blog Post: March 12 — Working Girl

My mother worked part-time as a receptionist in an optometrist’s office.  She likely did not have to because my father had a steady job as a carpenter on the railroad and did other carpentry jobs on the side, but my mother worked to save money to help pay for my high school and college education.   I am so grateful.  

Both of my grandmothers also worked outside the home–my paternal grandmother at Kennywood Amusement Park and my maternal grandmother worked cleaning houses for families in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh and for a school superintendent.  I’m not ashamed to say that they worked hard and how I admire them for handling their jobs and raising their children.    Neither had an easy life, but they didn’t complain.  They taught by example, and I’m pleased to honor them, and my mother, with this Blog post.