Fearless Females 17 March 2016: Social Butterfly?

The prompt for 17 March 2016 is to write about a female ancestor’s involvement with a social organization and what role she played in that group


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.

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

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 and social media. For my parents and grandparents, these fraternal benefit societies and lodges provided the “social networking” opportunities.


Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 15 March 2016: Six-Word Memoir Tribute

The prompt for 15 March is to write a short (six-word) tribute that characterizes a female ancestor.

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.”

Here is mine for my grandmother.

Elizabeth Alzo. Photo privately held by Lisa Alzo


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


I wrote six-word memoirs about some of my other ancestors too. Click here to read more.


Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 14 March 2016: In the News

The prompt for 14 March 2016 is to write about a female ancestor who was written about in a local or other newspaper. 

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?

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

Most of 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. My mother had a wedding announcement in the paper and some of my aunts appeared in the social columns. I do have a 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. I was 2-years-old when my grandmother passed away so I don’t remember her.  I have a photograph where I was sitting on her bed with her not long before she died. 

Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 13 March 2016: Moment of Strength

The prompt for 13 March is to share a story that reflects a female ancestor’s moment of strength during a difficult time or situation. 

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

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

For this post, I am remembering my mother, Anna, and the grace and dignity she showed during the final years of her life. In 1997, my mother had triple bypass heart surgery, and simultaneously was diagnosed with renal failure, resulting in her having to endure a three-year regimen of kidney dialysis. During this time I served as her primary caregiver and watched her suffer through all of the side effects associated with the procedure. She showed tremendous courage and strength through it all. My mother passed away in 2000, but she fought until the very end.

Anna Alzo, 2000, Photo privately held by Lisa Alzo


The above photo of my mother was taken on the deck in my backyard not long before she passed away. She loved to sit on the deck and feel the warm sunshine and listen to the birds (especially the cardinals–her favorite bird). There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think of my mother.

Copyright 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 12 March 2016: Working Girl

The prompt for 12 March is about work and our female ancestors.

March 12 — Working girl: Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

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.


Anna Alzo
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.

Copyright, 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 10 March 2016: The Role of Religion in Female Ancestors’ Lives

The prompt for 10 March asks about the role of religion and faith in the lives of our female ancestors.

March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]
Both of my grandmothers had a deep faith in God. Both were baptized in the Greek Catholic rite. After coming to America, my dad’s mother married in the Greek Catholic church but then followed her husband to the Roman Catholic church. My maternal grandmother attending the Greek Catholic church in America but then switched to Russian Orthodox. By doing so, she was then able to continue to observe Christmas on January 7th].

My dad’s sister was a Roman Catholic nun–she spent most of her adult life in a convent in Victoria, Texas. Our family always looked forward to her visits–usually at Christmas and for a few weeks in the summer. Here is a photograph of her once she took the name of Sr. M. Camilla.

Sr. Mary Camilla Alzo

Most people wouldn’t think it was “cool” to have a nun in the family.  For anyone who attended Catholic school, nuns were the teachers you typically revered, but mostly feared. Dressed in their long habits and stiff veils, with rosary beads in one hand and a long yardstick in the other, they could intimidate even the most pious child.  For me, however, my father’s sister, a Roman Catholic nun, was one of the coolest people I knew.  She didn’t scare me in the least.  In fact, I admired, respected, and simply adored her.

Born on January 7, 1918 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, a young Anna Alzo knew from the time she was 13 that she wanted to follow this vocation.  Her father, John, was Roman Catholic, but her mother, Elizabeth, had been baptized Greek Catholic, but followed her husband to the Roman Catholic faith upon marriage.


On June 25, 1934, at age 16, Anna followed her calling and entered Nazareth convent in Victoria, Texas to begin her journey as a sister in the order of the Blessed Sacrament of the Incarnate Word.  She chose the name Sister Mary Camilla.  Mostly everyone just called her “Sister Camilla.”  I called her “Auntie.” 

My Auntie died in 1986 in Victoria, Texas. I miss her very much.

You can read more about my Auntie’s story in a post I wrote for The Catholic Gene blog back in October 2011.



[Photo from the Alzo family collection. Held for private use by Lisa A.Alzo, Ithaca, New York. Used with permission]

Copyright, 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 8 March 2016: Diary, Journal or Letters?

The prompt for 8 March 2016 focuses on the writings of female ancestors.

March 8 — Did one of your female ancestors leave a diary, journal, or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.

I don’t have any diaries or journals from any of my female ancestors. I do have a special keepsake from my mother–a notebook she kept while planning her wedding in 1947.

Wedding notebook of Anna Alzo. Photo privately held by Lisa A. Alzo

In this notebook, she kept a detailed description of all the things she purchased for the big day–from the rings, to the blood test, to how many pounds of ground meat for the stuffed cabbage to be served at the reception! She noted in detail how much each item cost. My mother was meticulous when it came to keeping track of expenses and good at math. I love looking at this book–it reveals so much about my mother’s personality.

[This post appeared previously for Fearless Females 2010-2013]

Copyright, 2016, Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females: 7 March 2016 Favorite Family Recipe

The prompt for 7 March 2016 is to share a favorite recipe from the kitchen of your mother or grandmother.

[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010]

March 7 — Share a favorite recipe from your mother or grandmother’s kitchen. Why is this dish your favorite? If you don’t have one that’s been passed down, describe a favorite holiday or other meal you shared with your family.


[Note: This post originally ran during the Fearless Females series in March 2010, and I have included it during other years of the Fearless Females series]

My favorite meal was Palancinka (palacinky) – A Slovak crepe. I have this recipe in my book: Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions, 2nd Ed. 

My grandmother used to make them for me for lunch – they were and remain one of my favorites!

Palacinky

1 c. flour
1-½ c. milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. oil
⅛ tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients beat until smooth.

Heat a small amount of Crisco in a skillet (an omelet pan works nicely). Pour a small amount of batter into skillet and spread around in the skillet (like making a crepe). Cook until brown, then flip over and brown other side. Turn onto a plate. Repeat until all batter is used.

Fill with cottage cheese and jelly (any flavor)*. Roll. Then drizzle some melted browned butter on top.



© 2016, Copyright Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 5 March 2016: How Did They Meet?

The Fearless Females prompt for 5 March 2016 is:

March 5 — How did they meet? You’ve documented marriages, now, go back a bit. Do you know the story of how your parents met? Your grandparents?


John Alzo, Sr. (left) and Elizabeth Alzo posing with my father John Alzo (right)
in their backyard in Duquesne, PA, 1944.

In yesterday’s post 4 March 2016, I included my grandparents’ wedding photograph and a story about ordering their marriage license application.  The story of how they met is interesting. Family lore said it was in a boarding house in Pennsylvania, but the truth is more likely that they met when they were growing up in Slovakia.

In a short document entitled “Our Family Background” my aunt, Sr. M. Camilla Alzo, wrote down what she learned from a cousin:

“Cetka [Mary] came to America. She sent for Elizabeth (my mother) to come to America. She came, had a job working for a Jewish family, but visited Cetka [Mary] often. Dad came over to America and was a boarder at Mary’s house.  This is where Mom and Dad met and then married.”

When I traveled to Slovakia, I met my cousin Helen (daughter of my grandfather’s sister Anna who remained in Slovakia) and she mentioned how my grandparents had known one another growing up and that they worked in the same fields and celebrated together at the religious pilgrimages that included many people from their respective villages (located just miles apart).  

Field in Kucin, Slovakia, representative of  the land where my grandparents worked (and likely met) as children.



Whether it was the boarding house or the field, I am just grateful that my grandparents were matched to each other.  I never knew either of them (my grandfather died before I was born and my grandmother died when I was just 2-years-old), but my interest in genealogy has helped me to learn more about them.



© 2016, Copyright Lisa A. Alzo
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Fearless Females 4 March 2016: Marriage Records for Female Ancestors: A Lesson in Genealogy Persistence

The prompt for Fearless Females for 4 March 2016 focuses on marriage records.

Do you have marriage records for your grandparents or great-grandparents? Write a post about where they were married and when. Any family stories about the wedding day? Post a photo too if you have one. 

Below is the photo of my grandparents John and Elizabeth Fencak Alzo taken on their wedding day. They were married on 21 January 1915 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.

Wedding photograph of John Alzo and Elizabeth Fencak, 1915.
Image privately held by Lisa A. Alzo.

I have their marriage certificate. It was given to me by my cousin who had it in a box of her mother’s personal belongings.

Marriage certificate for John Alzo and Elizabeth Fencak, 1915.
Image privately held by Lisa A. Alzo.

When researching female ancestors (or any ancestors) we must always look for all records. So it was not enough for me to have my grandparents’ marriage certificate.  I wanted to obtain their marriage license application.  When I contacted the Orphans Court in Allegheny County, PA the first time I was told there was no application for the names I listed on the request form (John Alzo and Elizabeth Fencak). As it turns out, my grandparents wrote their names as what appears to be “John Olyzso” and Lizie Fenyisik,” so it is easy to see how someone might index those names in a book or database. 

Marriage license application, for John Alzo and Elizabeth Fencak, 1915.
Image privately held by Lisa A. Alzo.

But genealogists learn not to take “No” for an answer and to be persistent. So I wrote back to the Orphans Court and the second time I included the number listed on the bottom of the certificate. Sure enough, I eventually received an envelope with the copy of the marriage license application I had requested.

Tip:  Think like a transcriptionist. Even simple four letter names such as “Alzo” can have spelling issues. Always consider all the ways an ancestor’s name might be spelled or interpreted when searching databases or requesting records. Also, always be sure to include all important information on the application the first time!

This is one of the tips I will be covering in my Ladies First: Finding Your Female Ancestors Mini Boot Camp tomorrow 5 March 2016.  

[Note: The live boot camp session is sold out but watch this blog for an announcement of when the digital recording will be available for purchase.]


© 2016, Copyright Lisa A. Alzo
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