Memorial Day 2010 - In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~John McCrae (1872-1918)~

Photograph thanks to John Beniston and Wikimedia Commons.

Books of Interest: The Life of Billy Yank

Two years ago my family and I visited Charleston, South Carolina. While we were there I thought it would be interesting to visit Fort Sumter National Monument. I figured it would be interesting for my husband and myself, and at the very least my then five-year-old son would enjoy the ferry ride over to the monument. Well, my son did enjoy the ferry ride, at least the first five minutes of it. After that everything was "old news." By the time we got to the fort my son was pretty bored. As a result, my husband and I took turns alternately entertaining the child and looking around the fort.

During our visit I did manage to check out the gift shop. I picked up a tiny toy cannon for the son and The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier for the Union by Bell Irvin Wiley for me. The book provides an interesting overview of a Union soldier's experience during the Civil War. It discusses the daily camp life and routine of the typical Union soldier. It also discusses the relationship and attitudes of the soldiers towards Rebel soldiers and African American slaves, fighting and battle, the all too abundant miseries of war, and profiles of the average and not so average soldier. The book includes an extensive bibliography and an index. The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy, a companion book by the same author, is also available for those interested in the typical life of a Confederate soldier.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978, 1952.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Memorial Day!

Henry A. Shenette. Photo circa 1950s. Service: U.S. Army 1936-1941; U.S. Navy 1942-1957. Rank: Corporal in the Army; Gunner's Mate, First Class in the Navy. Major Honors: two silver stars; two bronze stars. Thanks Dad!

Tombstone Tuesday: Francois Chenette, Civil War Soldier

Given that Memorial Day is only a few days away, I thought today would be a good day to write about and remember Francois Chenette, Jr. Francois died of disease at the age of 19 while serving as a private with the Company K, 11th Vermont Volunteers during the Civil War. He is buried at the Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia. Two years ago, as my family and I drove back to Massachusetts from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, we stopped in Winchester to visit Francois' grave. Young Francois was my paternal grandfather's half-brother, the son of my great-grandfather, Francois Chenette (18 Apr 1813-22 Mar 1886) and his first wife Maguerite Charon.

I know little of Francois' life other than he was born on 02 May 1845 in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. He was baptized the same day at Notre Dame-du-Rosaire. Interestingly, Francois Jr. and Francois Sr. both enlisted on 10 December 1863 in Woodstock, Vermont. Francois Jr. was 18 and Francois Sr. was 50. Father and son mustered in on 16 Dec 1863. The Vermont 11th fought in a number of major battles in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, including the battles of the Wilderness, Spottslyvania, and Cold Harbor.

Sadly, Francois Jr. died of disease on 03 Nov 1864, less than a year after enlisting. According to statistics compiled by the Army Medical Department after the war, four soldiers died of illness and disease for every one soldier killed in battle. A sobering statistic. Francois was originally buried on someplace called Braggs Farm. I have looked for information about Braggs Farm without luck, and would love to hear from anyone with knowledge of it. Francois body was eventually moved to the Winchester National Cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for soldiers who fought and died in the battles of Winchester, New Market, Front Royal, Snickers Gap, Harper's Ferry, Martinsburg, and Romney. Francois' name is listed on the gravestone, and in military records as Francis Chenette.

I felt a great sense of sadness while visiting the cemetery, looking at the graves of all the men who died. Francois Jr. died young and hundreds of miles from home. I've often hoped that his father was with him at the end. My guess is family circumstances were probably such that, financially and/or logistically, it was impossible to have Francois' body returned to be buried at home. I did feel a little sense of happiness that we were able to visit Francois's grave, and occasionally wonder if anyone else has visited his grave in the last hundred and fifty years.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and remember the fallen, those who gave their lives for us so that we may be free. It's a day to remember the soldiers--to remember the thousands of men like Francois--who died fighting a war far from home.


  • Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. Baton Rouge: Louisana State University Press, 1978.

What's In A Name? (An Ongoing Series): Radziewicz

Is it just me, or do you love when you have one of those, "A ha!" moments? That happened to me two nights ago. I've been looking for information on an ancestor I've been recently tracking, Victoria (Szerejko) Radziewicz. After much hunting I finally found her in the 1900 U.S. Census.

Radziewicz is another one of those names for which spelling variations are endless. Doing a Soundex or "sounds like" search hasn't been helpful because any kind of a "sounds like" search returns too many results. Very frustrating. Victoria was related to my grandfather Adolf Szerejko somehow. My best guess is that she was either his aunt--the sister of Adolf's father Leonard Szerejko--or a cousin. Two cousins, both fellow genealogists, and I are currently trying to figure out how Victoria and Adolf were related to then trace our family origins back in Poland.

I have Victoria's marriage record from the Schuylkill County Courthouse. According to the certificate, Wiktorja Szarejko married Stanislaw Radziewicz on October 15, 1891 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Apparently Radziewicz is a fairly common name, and their were lots of Radziewicz's living in Shenandoah around 1900. Until now I haven't been able to find Victoria in the 1900 census. I did find her in the 1910 census. In 1910 Victore (Victoria) Radziwicz was living in Dudley, MA with her children--Helen age 16, Alex (Alexander) age 14, Stella age 12, Vera age 9, and Charles age 6. Also listed are Victoria's daughter Mary (Maryanna), age 18 and her son-in-law Dominic Pasky (correct spelling Piascik or Piasczyk) age 21. All of Victoria's children were listed as born in Pennsylvania. What happened to Stanislaw? The notation on the census is unclear, but may indicate Victoria is a widow at this point.

If Victoria was married in Pennsylvania and her last son Charles was born in Pennsylvania in 1906, it makes sense to me that they were probably still living in PA for the 1900 census. I searched Heritage Quest, Ancestry, and the Family Search pilot. I tried Radziwicz, Radsavage, Radzewicus, Ruscavage--all variations on the Radziewicz theme. The spelling for Radziewicz was probably so mangled by the census taker I'd never find it by the last name. I decided to try searching by first names. I tried Stanislaw, Stanislav, and Stanislow. I tried Stiney, Staney, and Stanny. How about Victoria, Wiktoria, or Wiktorja? Or Victore or Vickie or Stan? On the verge of a Dr. Seuss moment I gave up. I was exhausted. I needed a cup of tea.

Then on Tuesday night it happened. I found them! Bingo, just like that! Well almost just like that. I had a brilliant thought. I decided to try searching for Victoria's kid's names. First I tried Stella on the Family Search pilot. No luck. Then I tried Alexander. No luck again. Then I tried Alex. Bingo! There they were, the Radzavoge family, and they were living in Shenandoah! Listed were Shiney (Stanislaw), Amelia (Victoria), Mary (Maryanna), Ellen (Helen), Alex (Alexander), and Astella (Stella). All the other particulars were correct so I knew I had the right family! I did learn one new piece of information. The immigration date for both Victoria and Stanislaw was listed as 1883. Up until now, my cousins and I believed they immigrated in 1891.

From what I've read about Shenandoah, at the turn of the century there were more people people in Shenandoah per square mile than New York's Chinatown. My guess is that some poor overworked census taker, with little or no knowledge of Polish and Polish names, went from house to house. Whatever a name sounded like, by the resident answering the door and with a heavy Polish accent, is what was written down. It was the census taker's best guess so to speak.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to have finally found Victoria and Stanislaw, or Amelia and Shiney as I now like to think of them. I'm currently trying to find Victoria in the 1920 census, so far she has remained elusive. I'll keep trying though. Victoria, Wiktoria, Wiktorja...

Surname variation in my records include: Radziewicz, Radziwicz, Radsavage, Radzavoge, Radzewicus, Ruscavage.

Wordless Wednesday

The Dance Recital. Mom, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, is on the left. Dancers in the center and on the right are unidentified. Photo, circa 1927, taken in Worcester, MA.

Meditation: The Strength of Ordinary Women

(Digital Image. Photograph Privately Held By Cynthia Shenette. Text Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) 

I can't count any female innovators among my ancestors. I don't have any female doctors, lawyers, pilots, suffragettes, inventors, abolitionists, or famous sports figures in my family. There are no female famous firsts. With the exception of a royal connection several generations back, most of the women in my family were wives and mothers, peasants, immigrants, and well, ordinary. They were women typical of their time, kind of like me. 

I am constantly impressed with these "ordinary" women, the decisions they made, and the lives they led, given their sometimes limited circumstances. I am lucky to live today and not in the past. My female ancestors, struggled against illness and death, war, political strife, poor nutrition, and economic difficulties, often with little or no education. They persevered. Their hard work, persistence, good health, and in some cases good luck, paved the way for me to have a better life.

How is my life better than the lives of my ancestors? I have access to education, good health care, and better food. I have the ability to vote. I have the freedom to marry the man of my choice, not someone chosen for me or forced upon me by circumstances beyond my control. I have the opportunity to work in a professional career and the ability to achieve financial independence, if I want to. I have modern conveniences. I live without fear, political oppression, and war in my homeland. Many of my female ancestors did not.

Take for instance my great-grandmother Ewa (Kowalewska) Bulak. In 1897 Ewa boarded a ship in Bremen and traveled to meet her husband Antoni in America. She arrived at Ellis Island with her two daughters in hand and five dollars in her pocket. Up until that time Ewa had probably never ventured outside of her small village in Lomza province. How difficult was life in the old country that immigrating to the U.S. was the best option for the family? What kind of courage did it take for Ewa to travel beyond her village, across the Atlantic, and leave everything and everyone, including her mother, behind? I'm thankful that Ewa brought my grandmother to America. While life in the U.S wasn't always easy, the family left in Poland didn't fare nearly as well given the political situation with Russia, two major wars, and a constant struggle against poverty. Ewa set her fears aside and made the decision to follow her husband to America to embark on a new life, hopefully a better life, for her and her children.

Throughout history mothers have sacrificed for their children. My grandfather, Adolf Szerejko, came to this county in 1913 from Warsaw, Poland. He was 18 years old. According to the family story, he sat down at breakfast one morning and his mother, Jozefa, and their father told him that they had made arrangements for Adolf and his older brother Aleksander to escape from what was then Russian Poland and to travel to the United States. The brothers left Warsaw that night, jumped the border, and made their way to Holland where they caught a ship to America. If they didn't leave when they did Adolf and Aleksander would have been conscripted into the Russian army just in time to fight in the First World War and possibly the Russian Revolution. When the Russians took their older brother, Wincenty, he disappeared into Russia and the family never saw him again. Jozefa probably knew that she would never see Adolf and Aleksander again, but it was more important to protect them than to keep them with her in Poland. What a difficult decision that must have been.

For hundreds of years mothers sacrificed their lives just giving birth. In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century America maternal mortality was still high, despite better nutrition and living conditions. Around 1900 out of every 1,000 live births, 200 children died before the age of five. 

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon the burial record for two ancestors I had never heard of--sisters Alena and Sophia Bulak--my grandmother's first cousins. Alena died on September 4, 1908. She was five months and three days old. Her death record states that she died of meningitis. What probably started out as strep infection or virus developed into meningitis or some kind of swelling of the brain. Today, that illness would probably be treatable. Alena's sister, Sophia, died on July 4, 1909, less than a year after Alena. Sophia was one month, 17 days old. The primary cause of death listed on the death certificate was bronchitis, with a contributing cause as cholera infantum. How sad, two babies born to the same mother dying less than a year of one another, and both dying of illnesses that could probably be prevented today. Where did their mother Maryanna find the strength to handle the loss of two infants in less than one years time? Despite her losses, Maryanna put aside her grief went on to have more children and live to the ripe old age of 94. Even though she had other children, I'm sure that she never forgot those two little girls whose lives ended before they had a chance to really begin.

For my grandmother's family and my grandfather's family back in Poland, life was difficult. Two world wars and the stress of the Soviet occupation took their toll. Even though we live in a time of political unrest, thankfully, war has not been fought on American soil since the 1865. Much of my grandparents' family lived in Poland during World War II. Some of the family survived the war. Some didn't. I have a photo of my grandfather's cousin, Celina Gzell, taken in Warsaw in 1943. I've often looked at the photo and wondered what her life was like. What was she thinking about at that moment in time when the photo was taken? I see Celina standing on a Warsaw street holding her three-year-old son's hand. In the background there is a man who appears to be a German soldier in uniform. What was her life like during the war? What were her fears, for herself and for her son? Celina and her son survived the war, but her parents did not. I am grateful that I live where and when I do.

I admire all the women, all the mothers and grandmothers in my family. They were women who made tough decisions and lived their lives to the best of their ability despite trying times and circumstances. I admire their courage and ability to persevere and to be the best mothers they could be for their children. Women like Ewa, Jozefa, Maryanna, and Celina were by most standards, "ordinary" women. They weren't doctors, lawyers, or suffragettes. Their names won't be found in a list of who's who. When I get aggravated because I'm stuck in traffic or because I have to stand in a long line at the pharmacy, I try to put things in perspective. My life is easy compared to theirs. When I think about their lives, I like to think I too would have the grace, dignity, and courage to do what they did. I don't know if I would, but I'd like to think so. By remembering our "ordinary" women we honor them. It's our way of saying thank you. 

Thanks ladies.

Named Persons: 

Alena Bulak (1 Apr 1908-4 Sep 1908)
Antoni Bulak (1868-19 Feb 1940)
Ewa (Kowalewska) Bulak (1873-20 Mar 1924)
Maryanna (Bialobrzywska) Bulak (1867-26 Dec 1961)
Sophia Bulak (20 May 1909-4 Jul 1909)
Celina (Szerejko) Gzell (Abt. 1911-Aft. 1978)
Adolf S. Szerejko (11 Apr 1895-19 Dec 1959)
Aleksander D. Szerejko (11 Nov 1892-21 Jul 1962)
Jozefa (Bielska) Szerejko (1867-1920)
Wincenty Szerejko (Abt. 1890-Aft. 1931)


Celina (Szerejko) Gzell and son. Warsaw, 1943. Author's private collection. 


Maine, Deborah, and Katrina Stamas. "Maternal Mortality." Encyclopedia of Population. Ed. Paul Demeny and Geoffrey McNicoll. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. 628-631. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 May 2010.

Pebley, Anne R. "Infant and Child Mortality." Encyclopedia of Population. Ed. Paul Demeny and Geoffrey McNicoll. Vol 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. 533-536. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 19 May 2010.

Submitted for the 94th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Wordless Wednesday: Dad, Somewhere Cold

Dad. Henry A. Shenette (18 Feb 1916-11 May 1985), Gunner's Mate First Class. Somewhere cold...

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Mother's Day!

Mom. Christine (Szerejko) Shenette (20 Jul 1921 - 29 Oct 2008). "Glamour shot," circa 1947.