1923 Metropolitan Street, Pittsburgh


The odd thing is the house at 1923 Metropolitan Avenue in Pittsburgh that my great-grandparents owned was listed in her name on town plot maps I found. I found out the deed was given to her, not both of them. It was the nicest house on the street and had two other small rental houses on the land.

Since their home no longer stands, I couldn’t find the records online thru the Dept of Real Estate for the county. It’s now part of a much bigger lot that is industrial warehouses. I contacted a guy there and he helped me figure it out. I found out the owner and he helped me access the file. He told me, “Helen took title individually from John Klein in 1922. She had to convey it to a third party, then in turn it was conveyed to herself and Fred on October, 1926.”

What the heck?? The home was valued at $5,000 – that’s a lot for a women in 1922 to have. She’d have been mid-20s then, this was a woman that had a 3rd grade education and was a homemaker. How did she end up with this house? More on my great-grandmother’s mystery,
The curious case of Helen Z. (or S.)

Two different views of the house and land my great-grandparents owned in Pittsburgh.

(click to make it bigger)


The curious case of Helen Z. (or S.)


I never met my great-grandmother Helen. She died three years before I was born and I’ve never seen a photo of her (2015 update – I have now!). By most accounts, she was a polarizing figure, unhappy in life. My mother remembers her father telling her never to dye her hair red because his mother did and it looked terrible. She remembers him saying he could never have people over because she was unpredictable and hostile. My great-grandfather Fred’s goddaughter confirmed that to me as well, said they only saw Fred at their home, that she hated visitors. They were also deeply disappointed in my grandfather’s desire to leave the priesthood.

All of that has made my mother a bit ambivalent whether I find anything about Helen but not me. Sometimes I think searching for the records can solve some of the mystery, perhaps explain what happened. I don’t know if the records will make anything more clear but I do know there are NO RECORDS of her before birth. Honestly we don’t even know her maiden last name for sure. But there have to be some family in the USA, there have to be some records somewhere of her parents. I hope someone is searching for her some day and stumbles into this.

So let’s talk about what do know – or at least think – we know. All the images are clickable to make bigger.

First name: Helen/Elena/Helena Stella.

Last name: has been listed as Zuravich, Zuravici, Zurawiec (update: daughter’s BC says Zuranei) and even Shore and Shorovich in her obit. (update: AR2 forms say Shorovitz) Technically there is no V in the Polish alphabet so it would originally the Zurawiec spelling. Another spelling I saw on some other non-family ones is Czerwiec. (Perhaps both are right and when they naturalized they changed the last name – my great-granddad for example kept his italian full name Alfredo Falconieri through Ellis Island but when he filed years later to be a US citizen, he changed it by choice to Fred Falconer. We’ve seen it written Faulkner, Falcone).

Birth: from census records, she says 1898. From death stuff, 29 May 1898. (update: AR forms say May 1895) Some stuff says Warsaw, some says Wainwo di Lublin which we think is “Wieniawa Lublin” a town that no longer is a town and has folded back in Lublin. Lublin and Warsaw are not very close. I suspect Lublin is correct.

Parents: From the Diocese of Pittsburgh I was able to find some records that list her parents as Wojciech and Franciszka. Wojciech often became George or Albert in the US and Franciszka would have been Frances or Francesca. There are not records for them, anywhere I can find, outside of those Pitt ones. ZERO. (Update: AR2 form in 1941 says 0 parents were living in the US )

US Arrival: Census data says 1903 but new 1920 census says 1908 now. (update: AR2 forms now say April 1909)

Education: 3rd grade. Ouch.

Religion: My mom remembers my granddad saying Helen was jewish. She’s told me that seriously and once that he said it jokingly. But she did marry a Catholic in the church and raise her kids Catholinc.

Marriage: Marriage to Alfredo Stanislao Falconer, April 29th, 1913 Age: 14, a month before she turned 15. Supposedly at Holy Family Parish Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, USA. Witnesses were Angelo Rych and Valentine Wisiniski (spelling uncertain). The priest for the marriage and baptism was Fr. A. Smetoz. (Source: Catholic Church records). Boy that seems young. In census stuff she says she is 16 when they get married.

There was a sizable Polish population that ended up in Tyler PA where my Italian great-granddad first went. Supposedly those were the only two ethnic groups there. Did they meet there?

Pittsburgh: They settled in Pittsburgh and owned a nice home there eventually. They rented at 199 Laurel Ave and 1905 Juinata Ave. Then they bought a home. The house was listed in her name on town plot maps I found. 1923 Metropolitan Avenue.

Children’s records:

Death: They must have sold the house after the kids left because they were living in a different location when she passed away in 1967. My granddad went back for the funeral but was told he was only allowed to come in through the backdoor because of the “shame” he brought on the family.

And that’s all I have so far. Someone or somewhere out there has more, I just have to keep digging.


-Filed for search request on an Alien Registration Form at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It’s a two step process, you have to file for the search first and then get results. FOLLOWUP, she does have an AR2 form filed in 1940 but not a A file. So 01/20/14 I filed for a copy of the AR2 file. I also filed for a search on her husband (my great-granddad) eventho I have his naturalization papers.

-In a twitter chat with Ancestry, they suggested Walentovia Wisniewski might be a sibling and to check those records.

01/22/14 Update on Walentovia/Valentine. My contact at the Diocese of Pittsburgh was really helpful but as I expected, we’d need more info for them to do anything. He did suggest we try to get a civil record from Alleghany County. I filed for it but I don’t have a lot of hope because Alleghany never had my great-grandparents marriage docs either. There is a town/area somewhere that does but I just don’t know. You can get a license anywhere in PA for getting married. “If the search is successful, you should receive the records in the mail in approximately ten (10) days.” My contact there also suggested checking census records for Wisniewski, which I did lightly before but will try again

02/07/14 Update on the AR2 Alien Registration forms. Not a ton of info – no photo. But the last name listed is Shorovitz which is super rare. I think that’s a misspelling again – there is no V in Polish anyway. SIGH. The birthdate is three years earlier which would make her closer to 18 at marriage and not 15. 5-4, Brown hair, green eyes. DOB the same but a new arrival date in the US of April 1909 but no ship. She lists NO parents as living in the US. Did they go back to Poland? Did they die? This was 1941 so she was 43ish. Either is possible. (A kind poster in the polishorigins.com forum suggested a third option – that she came alone and they never immigrated at all. Very valid, so there are really three scenarios.

Nothing matching shows up in ancestry.com or anywhere else as Shorovitz or Shorowitz. A few Shorovitch who were in Pittsburgh but they were Serbian or Czech.

I continue to be baffled. Last thing left is her daughter Stella’s birth certificate.

02/11/14 Update on Stella’s birth certificate – it was a vague form with yet another spelling, Zuranei. Back to the drawing board as that was the last document I was waiting on.

03/01/14 Update on property records – I’ve searched the plat maps and can’t find anyone with similar names on any of the streets around them. In fact there is a real lack of ethnic names in general.

Since their home no longer stands, I couldn’t find the records online thru the Dept of Real Estate for the county. It’s now part of a much bigger lot that is industrial warehouses. I contacted a guy there and he helped me figure it out. I found out the owner and he helped me access the file. I sent him the money for the documents but he had to pull them to confirm we were looking at the right lots and this is what he told me, “Helen took title individually from John Klein in 1922. She had to convey it to a third party, then in turn it was conveyed to herself and Fred on October, 1926.”

What the heck?? The home was valued at $5,000 – that’s a lot for a women in 1922 to have. She’d have been mid-20s then and this was a woman that had a 3rd grade education and was a homemaker. I hope the actual documents tell me more but I’m not hopeful. Pre-1920s records for Allegheny County aren’t great either.

03/04/14 Update on gedmatch – I sent my raw DNA files to gedmatch which has some amazing tools and a more international participation than other DNA sites seem to have. It’s free and can be hard to figure out but the effort is worth it. I found some interesting matches to people still in that part of Europe. I’m still working on grasping all the autosomal/X DNA/cMs/etc terminology but there are two promising matches I’m pursuing. One Russian guy has 15 kits there and I matched with a common ancestor between 5 and 7 generations ago on 12 of his 15 kits. Another match says she has ancestors from the Ukraine/Belarus/Poland area and that is just where Lublin was. So crossing my fingers these lead to some more info.

03/06/14 Update on Lublin records – FamilySearch has several Catholic church records from Lublin digitized but nothing showed up when I searched. I went thru to see if I could find anyone with her parents FIRST names as well and even a close last name nothing. A lot of the records included marriage and death records so I could rule a lot of people out. But there were a ton with her folks first names. I guess I was hoping to find siblings to people with her parents’ first names and a similar last one.

I did find out IN Lublin there is a place called “Żurawiniec”, Lublin Voivodeship, Poland. Something to file away.

I tried a bit on Josephine Jaskowiak too there in and US records but nothing definitive. I’ve emailed a guy who has a tree at ancestry but he hasn’t been there in a year.

08/01/14 Update I now have DNA from my mother and her sister (my aunt) on ancestry and gedmatch as well. That’s a generation back on that side and since my father’s is there as well, I can at least eliminate some people based on matching with me and mom or me and dad.

05/01/14 Update I have found my great-grandfather’s cousin in Italy! Giovanni Falconieri is a charming retired Naval officer living on the coast of Tuscany. He actually had old photos and gave me the holy grail of pics – one of Helen and Fred! I see my mother in her face, quite amazing. I’m so grateful to Giovanni!

helen and fred

02/25/16 Update I’ve got some interesting DNA matches with a very pleasant lady on ancestry and she has some polish links. She doesn’t show up as a match to my dad so it has to be my mom’s side (she matches my mom).

10/01/16 Update Filed a request through Social Security Admin for her SSN under FOIA but they responded back that they found no record of a SSN for her.

12/01/16 Update Well a DNA hit on my aunt C’s DNA test came up with a family with some Polish links. I reach out to anyone matches and has some Polish stuff. Well I lucked out and a very nice person responded. It was her husband’s side and they were in fact from the SAME TOWN. They had a Helen in their tree too but didn’t know much else. Years are close, dad’s name is the same too. But the name is not similar… I don’t know but there is something there.

02/10/2017 Update Found a great note about her husband Fred getting arrested for having five gallons of moonshine whisky during prohibition. Also their boarder had gun and brass knuckles – scary to think they had two kids living in the house with people like that. Also found Helen’s estate notice.


Genealogy note


Screenshot at Oct 30 22-32-19

This is one of my favorite genealogy finds. My grandfather’s senior yearbook photo and info.

I really need to be logging my work for more efficient research so I’m going to be posting it all under the Genealogy section on the right side. I’m not going to have it show up on the front page most of the time because there can be a fair amount of it. I’ll post interesting things if I come across them but no one wants to read the logs of microfilm research I do Tuesday mornings.

My tree at ancestry.com

Specific interests right now – Falconieri / Falconer (Italy & Pittsburgh) | Zuraweic (Poland and Pittsburgh | Pugh (Iowa & Ireland) | Donahue & O’Donoghue (Boston & County Clare specifically Doolin)


End of October Genealogy


I’ve decided to start posting about my genealogy stuff in the hopes of keep better track of it and that someone else might come along and find it.

–Reviewing Tyler PA 1910 census docs looking for Helen Zurawiec, my great-grandmother.

–Reading this interesting Rutgers oral history transcript from John Pino whose father was born in Tuglie near the time of my great-grandfather and also immigrated around the same time to the same town in PA (Tyler). Pino’s parents left eventually for NJ while my great-granddad left for Pittsburgh.

One of the more interesting notes from that his answer to a question if there any other ethnic groups represented in the Tyler mining community, “I believe the only other ethnic group that I recall them speaking about was Polish people.” We have often wondered how my Italian great-grandfather Alfredo ended up with a 16 year old Polish wife, perhaps they met there. I’ve had problems getting info on them in Pittsburgh and we have NO info on her family – barely a spelling that might be right (Zuraweic, not the Zuravici or Zuravich) and Wainwo Lublin (but I’ve also seen Warsaw). I still think that Wainwo is Wieniawa Lublin. It was folded back into Lublin eventually.

Someone out there has to be related to a Helen (Elena) Stella Zuraweic who arrived in the US as a five year old child in 1903 (census records). I recently found her parents names, Wojciech (changed to George or Albert often in the US) and Franciszka.

–I think I’ve exhausted the Pittsburgh Diocese for their info. They are nice but unlike some other ones, they charge and are very formal about their work.

–My Tuesday mornings still consist of working on Tuglie films. I’m waiting on more films from Nardo but I really need to get organized and go through all of them. It’s not going that well because I don’t read Italian – it’s fine form me to have the basics and forms translated but when I’m dealing with shifting names, etc it’s impossible.

–My friend in Tuglie Silvana has passed on the name and email of a distant relative. I’ve emailed him and can’t wait to hear back.

My tree at ancestry.com

Specific interests right now – Falconieri / Falconer (Italy & Pittsburgh) | Zuraweic (Poland and Pittsburgh | Pugh (Iowa & Ireland) | Donahue & O’Donoghue (Boston & County Clare specifically Doolin)




A friend of mine (in fact my former HS Brit Lit teacher) has been in Ireland the past few weeks and I was stunned to see she ended up in the town some of my family was from, Doolin in County Clare. Doolin is a lovely small town on the western coast of Ireland and she was kind enough to take some photos for me. There in/on Fisherstreet, my third great grandmother Mary O’Connor met and married Peter Donahue (O’Donaghue). Around the same time she married, someone in her family started the pub in town, Gus O’Connors. Not long after, Mary and Peter took off for the USA with their brood of three and settled in Boston. Three Peters later, along came my dad Thomas.

The pub has long since been sold outside of the family but it is still a working pub, renowned for it’s traditional Irish music, . We still have family in the county too, we’ve emailed some in our genealogy research.

More photos…

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She Answers The Call Beyond Duty


This is a wonderful old article about my grandmother Jeannette from the 1962 Chapel Hill Weekly. She and my granddad Jim were really remarkable people. I love the last quote in the story, “If there are two patients at the hospital needing extra care at night, Jim may be with one and Jeannette with the other. There just isn’t anyone else like this couple.”

View: PDF | JPG

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Bradford Township and Oman Hillison


From the Dixon Evening Telegraph

October 29, 1948

Bradford township is another subdivision of Inlet and it was in this township that the best and sturdiest of Lee county’s population was started – the Norwegians, now so populous and prosperous; the Germans too started in Bradford.

John Hotzell came here about 1842, and he and Oman Hillison kept bachelor’s hall (separately) a long while before marrying. Christian Reinhart’s daughter, Catherine married Oman Hillison and later John Aschenbrenner. The mother of Henry W. Hillison and Reinhart Aschenbrenner and Andrew Aschenbrenner came in 1845. Reinhart Gross came in 1847.

The history of the Germans is identical with that of the Norwegians. Friends back home desiring to come to America, came directly to the home of their old friend Hotzell. The latter was hospitable and he cared for them all as one by one more came over. A day or two was all that was needed; they they sought work and later lands, always under the guidance of Neighbor Hotzell whose counsel was always good. Thus early, Bradford took on its reputation for solidity which ever since has characterized the place.

Bradford was settled very early and Inlet was the point from which the settlers scattered into what is now Bradford.

For a long time Bradford contained its present six-mile square area and the present township of Ashton as well, and so it remained until 1861, when Ashton was set off as a township by iteslf. Bradford obtained its name from Bradford, Pa., whence many of its population came.

In 1850 the town was organized at the home of Ralph B. Evitts. At the town meeting Elisha Pratt was made chairman, Thomas S. Hulbert, Secretary and Charles Starks, moderator; George E. Haskell justice of the peace, swore them in.

At the meeting Charles Starks was elected Supervisor; Ira Brewer, town clerk; E.W. Starks, assessor; Samuel B. Starks, collector; Ralph B. Evitts, overseer of the poor; Sherman Shaw, Stephen Clink and George Yale, highway commissioners; Samuel S. Starks and Daniel Barber, constables. Elisha Pratt and Lafayette Yale, justices; Jesse Woodruff was put in charge of the town’s litigation.

Meetings were held in private houses til 1856, when the schoolhouse at Ogle station, now ashton was used. As in INlet, Sherman Shaw was one of the first to build in Bradford, and Mr. Whitman in 1838. In 1840, Mr. Shaw built a frame house on the northeast 31. Egbert Shaw has the distinction of being the first white child born in Bradford. Oman Hillison built a house about 1840. In 1838 Charles Starks came to Inlet and in 1839 laid his claim on east one-half northwest 32 and west one-half northwest 32. The Whipple brothers came in about the same time. Starks began work immediately on his claim and in 1842 moved on it.

George and Milo Yale claimed the northwest 6. In 1842 their father, N.C. Yale, settled on section 1; Jesse Woodruff settled on 32; R.B. Witts on 29, Stephen Clink built a stone house. In 1842 Elias Hulbert claimed south one-half southeast 19, and very soon thereafter moved upon it. John Owen moved in at about this time.

At the very earliest period Lewis Clapp of Lee Center, firm in his regard to Bradford, took an interest in pushing the welfare of settlers and he furnished money for fully one-third of the early settlers to enter their land from the government. Others moved in rapidly; William Ross, Reinhart Gross, Conrad Reinhart and Conrad Hotzell.

Ira Brewer reached Lee Center Township in June, 1843. That same year he bought west one-half northwest 22 and east one-half northeast 31, Bradford. In 1845 he built a house, 19×24. He became a very large land owner in this and Lee Center townships. He was one of the fierest enemies of the banditti which infested Inlet and his son George W. Brewer owns the very compact which was signed by the regulators of those days.

Among the old settlers not already named were; William S. Frost, 1838; Lorin T. Wellman 1848; David Wellman 1853; Harlow A Williamson 1850; Philip Runyan 1850; Peter Eisenberg 1852; Luther Baldwin 1852; Edwin Pomeroy 1844; Frank and Nelson DeWolf 1837; Berghardt Albrecht 1855; Edward W. Pomeroy 1845; C. Bowen, L. Shumway, Samuel Cobel, William Warren, and Stephen Clink, 1841 to 1843; Ralph V. Evitts 1842, Sherman Shaw 1839; Elias Hulbert and Ebenezer Whipple, 1842.

The Germans which have predominated in this township ever since they began settling here, predominate today, and the descendants of these pioneers are tody rich almost to the last man. It may be said of them too, that the fortunes of the the first settlers have been preserved down to the third and fourth generation.

Bradford was a pioneer in the formation of a mutual insurance company for members of a particular community and this company, The Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Company has always been a model. The incorporators were Ira Brewer, Ralph B. Evitts, Thomas S. Hulbert, Charles D. Hart, Valentine Hicks, C.F. Starks and George Hulbert. It was incorporated March 30, 1869. At its first meeting of directors, held in November 1869, 54 applications were received and 51 approved and signed. For many years Ira Brewer was president of his company, Samuel Dysart secretary; C.D. Hart, Treasuer; William V. Jones, gneeral agent. A million and a quarter dollars of risks were written, and the losses at that time were remarkably few.

As early as 1850, meetings of the Evangelical church of Bradford were held at the house of John Hotzel, who built just over the line in China township. Hotzell fitted up a room for the purpose and very soon a successful Sunday school was started. These were the first German meetings of Lee county. The preachers came from Perkins Grove in Bureau county. A man named McLean was the first. William Kelp was the next. Among the original members of the congregation were Reinhart Gross, John Aschenbrenner, John Hotzell, the Conrad Reinhart family, and the Conrad Hotsell family.

In 1859 a church was built on Section 17 at a cost of $1,300. In 1874 an addition was made and a steeple erected at an additional cost of $2,700, making a total of $4,000. The membership today is very strong both in church and Sunday school.

It may be interesting to know that Edwin Pomeroy introduced the reaper into this community and when he used it in the wheat fields, farmers from near and far came to see it operate.

In writing a history of things and conditions around Inlet, one cannot get away from the good works of Ira Brewer and good old Uncle George Russel Linn. There never was a crisis these sturdy pioneers feared to meet. Lighter affairs were managed with the same determination to succeed.

Mr. Brewer understood music. Singing schools were the common source of entertainment in every locality. One day Dr. Welch handed to Mr. Brewer a subscription paper with the request the latter head it and circulate it. Mr. Brewer did and very presently Mr. Brewer found himself teaching in six school houses. The tuning fork used he fashioned on an anvil of a blacksmith shop.

In 1843, when ?? had been raised by Daniel Frost and Russel Linn, with which to hire a teacher, it was tendered to Mr. Brewer for a winters work and he accepted it. He also taught night school. On one occassion when town members of the Grove association had been called together to settle a claim jumping ?? Brewer responded. The case was over on Temperance Hill, where a man deliberately jumped a settler’s homestead and when the association decided he must leave it “at once” he refused.

Uncle Russel Linn arose and said “Gentlemen we have come hee to make homes for ourselves and our families. The government has held out inducements for us to come, and we have made our homes, and we inted to defend them if we die on the defence. Then, we hope we have boys that will arise and avenge our deaths.”

The claim jumper saw Uncle Russel and his seven boys and he declared that he had to kill Uncle Russel and his seven boys before he could obtain possession of the land he would give it up and he did.

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Catherine (Reinhart) Hillison Aschenbrenner Biography


From the 1892 Portrait and Biographical Record Lee Co Pg 224

Catherine (Reinhart) Hillison Aschenbrenner,
Brandford Township

This lady, who is the owner of one of the finest places in Bradford Township, and which is situated on section 30, is an old settler in this county, and is highly esteemed in the community in which she has so long made her home. Her maiden name was Catherine E. Reinhart and she was born in Germany, October 24,1832. When she was twelve years of age her parents, Christian and Christina (Denhardt) Reinhart, emigrated to America; coming to Illinois and settling in China Township, this county, in 1845 where they both died.

Our subject was reared to womanhood in China Township and lived there until her marriage with Oman Hillison. Mr. Hillison was a native of Nor­way and emigrated to America when he was nine­teen years old, being one of the earliest settlers in Lee County. He built the first farm house be­tween Melugon’s Grove and Dixon, and which was a favorite stopping place for many of the pioneers on their journey to their new homes in the Western States. By this marriage our subject became the mother of two children, Henry W., and Betsey J., the latter being the wife of C. Bran­dau.

After the death of the first husband which took place in Bradford Township, our subject was married to John J. Aschenbrenner, of which union three children were born,Christian, Reinhart and Andrew. Mrs. Aschenbrenner is an intelligent, go-ahead woman. and is in possession of an excellent property, comprising four hundred and eleven acres of land, improved with first-class buildings and all the conveniences essential to rural life. She is an estimable woman and conducts her extensive estates in an admirable manner.

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Photos: Michelle’s maternal grandparents young


I took photos of photos of my grandparents when I was at my mom and aunt’s houses recently. These two of them young made me smile.

Grandma Falconer’s graduation from nursing school

Granddad Falconer’s Navy photo

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Hillison descendant line


The Hillison line from when his ancestor Oman arrived in the US from Norway to Hayley. Oman, born in 1814, arrived in the US and settled in IL. We visited his grave this summer.

Father-mother, child that line came from:

Halge Digranes and Britta Maakestad, parents of Oman Hillison, who came to America from Norway.

Oman Hillison – Catherine Reinhart, parents of William Henry Hillison

William Henry Hillison – Anna Roth, parents of John Henry Hillison

John Henry Hillison – Anne Seeback, parents of Howard H. Hillison

Howard H. Hillison – Edna Reid, parents of John Howard Hillison

John Howard Hillison – Sharen Lefferson, parents of Jeffrey Thomas Hillison

Jeffrey Thomas Hillison – Michelle Donahue, parents of Hayley Hillison

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