A Matter of Habit: Solving a Mystery

(Original Images and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) One of the things I love about COG is writing and researching topics that are relevant to my family history research but are not always something I would write about without a gentle nudge from Jasia to try something new and different. Well this month's COG offers that opportunity once again. At the beginning of October I started thinking about our current assignment for the 99th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. I considered writing about weddings, first communions, and christenings but had trouble trying to decide. No one topic jumped out at me. On the spur of the moment (or maybe out of desperation) I decided to dig through my rather large collection of mystery photos. As I was looking through the box one thing stuck out in my mind. I have a lot of pictures of nuns.

Who are all of these nuns, and why did my grandmother keep their photos all of these years? Interestingly, my mother and her siblings went to public school not Catholic school. My grandmother Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko and her sister Helen Bulak went to the Ascension School in Worcester, MA which pre-dated St. Mary's School, the parish school for St. Mary's Church (now Our Lady of Czestochowa) also in Worcester. My guess was the nuns served as teachers at either the Ascension School or at St. Mary's School. St. Mary's was, and still is, an overwhelmingly Polish parish.
My first thought was to consult The Polish Community of Worcester by Barbara Proko, John Kraska Jr. and Janice Baniukiewicz Stickles. The book is part of the Images of America series of books by Arcadia Publishing, and my "go to" guide for information on Worcester Poles. I scanned the book and found a photo on page 70 of the graduating class of St. Mary's School from 1923. The photograph showed three sisters in habits similar to the habits in my photos. The photograph also showed a photo of one of the nuns in my collection. Unfortunately the specific sisters names are not given. They are simply listed as "unidentified." The sisters' order is listed however, the nuns are the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Page 69 of the book showed an image of St. Mary's School and convent. The convent was located at 119 Endicott St. in Worcester. I also learned that St. Mary's School opened in September of 1915.
Since I guessed my photos dated from the 1920s, I next decided to check the 1920 U.S. Census to see if I could find the names of the sisters. This in itself presented an interesting problem. How does one look up nuns in the census? There's no last name, just Sister Mary Whoever. Now what? I tried a couple searches on Heritage Quest. Interestingly, I discovered that I was able to use "Sister" as a last name. I typed in "Sister" and limited my search to 1920, Massachusetts, and female. My search resulted in 193 hits. When I looked at the results, I knew which census ward the convent was located in (Ward 5) and narrowed down the possibilities from there. I learned there were 18 sisters living at the convent on Endicott St. in 1920, and Sister Mary Hilary was the superior. The sisters ranged in age from 20 to 40. The mother superior was the eldest at 40. Seven sisters were in their thirties, and ten were in their twenties. Six of the sisters in their twenties were age 25 or younger. Overall a fairly young group of women to be responsible for educating Worcester's young Polish minds. A side note, I also found a list of mother superiors for the various Worcester convents listed in the Worcester City Directories. The superiors were listed using "Sister" as their last name.I did a bit more research on my last visit to the Worcester Public Library. I checked the paper volumes of Charles Nutt's History of Worcester and It's People. The history, published in 1919, said St. Mary's School contained eight classrooms, two library rooms, and an assembly hall. In 1918 there were 12 teachers and 786 pupils. According to the 1920 census the number of teachers (nuns) increased to 18. I found an article in the Worcester Sunday Telegram which mentions the school had 1,400 students by 1920. By my calculations, in 1918 the teacher to student ratio was 1 to 65.5, and in 1920 the student to teacher ratio was 1 to 78. The numbers are daunting considering the teacher to student ratios of today. According to my research it was not unusual for one sister to have anywhere from 75 to 100 students in a class! The students at St. Mary's School were taught the Polish language, traditions, religion, and history as well as the usual academic subjects.

Who are the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth today? According to their website:

"The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) are an international congregation of vowed religious women dedicated to spreading the Kingdom of God’s love, particularly within families.

They do this by serving families through active ministry in schools, hospitals, parishes, prisons and social service agencies. The sisters also spread the Kingdom through their daily living in a community of prayer and commitment to God and the Holy Family."
Catholic nuns did and still do take three vows--to poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth was founded as an international congregation in Rome in 1875 by Polish noble woman Blessed Franciszka Siedliska, later the Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The congregation arrived in the United States in 1885, traveled to Chicago, Illinois to minister to the Polish immigrant population. From Chicago their ministries grew and expanded into other states and eventually made their way to New England. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth are still active throughout the world. For some contemporary insight into the sisters' acceptance of vows and lives click on the highlighted links. In Worcester, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth educated generations of students from St. Mary's School from 1915 until 2004, when St. Mary's School made the decision to end their association with the order. The convent building at 119 Endicott St. no longer serves as a convent, and is currently home to Visitation House, a home for women facing crisis pregnancies.
For genealogists, why would we be interested in researching nuns? Obviously, at least for the most part, they didn't leave descendants. Maybe one of your descendants spent some time in a Catholic run orphanage. Or maybe a descendant had a nun or two or three in the family. For large families with numerous daughters, entering a convent was a way to remove the burden of an unmarried daughter or daughters from the family. What does that say about our ancestors' lives? Some young women certainly answered the call to God. For others entering a convent may have been an attempt at an escape from, or offer a solution to, a problem.

One thing I learned is information on individual sisters can be elusive. Not always impossible, but sometimes difficult. Sisters may have changed their baptismal names, or their names were changed according to the tradition of their particular order. Looking for an obituary or other information for a Sister Mary Barbara or Sister Mary Borromea and finding your Sister Mary Barbara or Sister Mary Borromea may prove difficult. Discovering clues to a woman's life may be difficult once she entered religious life.

I now know the names of some of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth teaching at St. Mary's School around 1920 which is about when my photographs were taken. Except for Sister Mary Hilary I can't put a specific name to a specific face. Unfortunately I still don't know why my grandmother kept photos of the sisters all those years. I can only speculate. What I do know is who the sisters are, a little bit about the order, and their important relationship to the Polish community of Worcester.

Special Thanks To: Barbara Proko of Basia's Polish Family: From Wilno to Worcester for finding the postcard of St. Mary's School and Convent on eBay and giving me the opportunity to use the image.

Photographs Top to Bottom: Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (Sister Mary Hilary, bottom left); St. Mary's School and Convent; Sister Mary Hilary; Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (Sister Mary Hilary, second row center); Unidentified Nun.


~ Kuhns, Elizabeth. The Habit: A History of the Clothing of Catholic Nuns. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
~ Nutt, Charles. History of Worcester and It's People. Vol. 1. New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1919. 4 vols.
~ "Polish Parish Has a Big Week." Sunday Telegram. 22 Oct 1978.
~ Proko, Barbara et al. The Polish Community of Worcester. Charlestown, SC: Arcadia, 2003.
~ Walch, Timothy. Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996.

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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: A Couple of Swells

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Here is the last entry in my Wordless Wednesday Costume Parade. This is a photo of my grandfather, Adolf Szerejko, and an unidentified friend on the right. I know my grandfather performed in amateur theatricals. My grandmother also told me he did magic and played the musical saw. A perfect candidate for America's Got Talent!

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A Slice of Life: Confessions of a Lunch Box Trader...

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) "But mom, juice boxes are so kindergarten." So said my son a while back. Who knew? I wondered why he kept bringing juice boxes home in his lunch box every day rather than drinking them. Apparently, when you're in second grade, squishy pack drinks are way more cool. Sometimes I have trouble trying to keep up with what's in and what's out snack wise, AND keep it healthy. "Flavor Blasted" Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, in. Regular Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, out. Sweets, in. Yogurt, out. Fruit, definitely out. How can I compete? "Mom, did you know Johnny has a Cosmic Brownie for morning snack. A Cosmic Brownie," he adds for emphasis. At 10:20 in the morning? I don't think so. "But mom, they're cosmic." Yeah, right. They might be cosmic but they're not gonna happen, and certainly not at 10:20 in the morning.

Believe me, I feel his pain. You see, I was a lunch box trader. There, I said it. You probably knew a kid like me--the pathetic kid with the apple. Yup, that was me. I was the kid sitting at that table in the gymacafatorium with my bruised apple rolling around at the bottom of my metal Peanuts lunch box. Squished tuna sandwich wrapped in wax paper. No mayo. Frozen milk bought at school. No soda for this kid. Mom was a woman ahead of her time. She wanted me to be healthy. I just wanted a Twinkie. Oh, how I envied those kids with the Twinkies. Why couldn't I have a Twinkie like everyone else?

Years later, when I was in my twenties, I finally confessed to my Mom about the trading thing. She was shocked. Shocked. "Some kid was perfectly happy to get that apple," she said. Frankly, I could never figure out why anybody wanted my apple. Actually, I still can't. Even today, given the choice of a Twinkie or an apple, I'd go with the Twinkie in a heartbeat if I didn't know any better. Today we have cholesterol. Ah, those innocent days of youth.

I hate to admit it, but yes, I've become my mother. Once I became a mom I knew it was just a matter of time. I hear stuff coming out of my mouth that my mother use to say. And despite that, NO, my son will NOT be taking a Cosmic Brownie for morning snack. I don't care if everyone does it. NO Cosmic Brownie. End of story.

What was in your lunch box? Were you the apple, or were you the Twinkie? I really want to know...

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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: My Grandmother in Costume

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Up next in our costume parade is this photo of my grandmother, Antonina (Bulak) Szerejko. The writing on the bottom right corner of the photo says:

To Laura from Anna
remembrance of
the play "Elizabeth"

I don't know anything more about the play, but I love the photograph.
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Tuesday's Tip: Consider Adding Links to Your Blog

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) About a week ago, in my post Follow Friday: Routine Maintenance, I mentioned that I planned to check all of my links and do some maintenance on my blog. In a comment to my post Greta Koehl of Greta's Genealogy Bog said, "I need to put up more of the links I regularly use. I have intended to do this for quite a while, but have not gotten around to it. I find the links on other blogs very helpful and wish more people had links on their blogs." I agree with Greta wholeheartedly on this. I too find the links on people's geneablogs very helpful. If I find a blogger who has discovered something via a link I find particularly interesting or would be useful to my research I add it to my blog.

When I updated my template back in the spring, one of the things I looked for was a template that offered the ability to add a number of links. I use my blog not only as my blog but as my web page as well. I write my blog posts, read the geneablogs I follow, and use my links section as a gateway to the resources I use on a regular basis. One stop shopping so to speak.

More important than the "big" databases that everyone uses, at least I think, are those local, regional, ethnic, and sometimes quirky resources that I might not know about otherwise. A while back Apple of Apple's Tree, in her post
David, Daniel, Donald!, mentioned Old Fulton Postcards which covers newspapers from the state of New York. While most of my research centers around Polish, French-Canadian, and New England sources, I occasionally research New York family/ancestors. All I could say was wow when I checked Old Fulton Postcards! What a gold mine of information. I found information there that I hadn't found elsewhere. I promptly added Old Fulton Postcards to my list of links.

Tip for the Day: Check out the links at the bottom of my blog. Maybe you'll discover something new and useful to your research. Share your favorite links by adding them to your blog. Maybe you'll help another geneablogger discover new information as well.

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Mystery Monday: Yet Another Polish Wedding...

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) This is a beautiful photo, and once again I have no idea who the bride and groom are. As for clues regarding the photo's origin, my guess is that it was taken around 1920. The wedding was probably performed at St. Mary's Church (Our Lady of Czestochowa) in Worcester, MA. The bride and the groom were probably members of Worcester's Polish community.

If you have or had family in the Polish community in Worcester, MA at the early part of the twentieth century please take a look. Check out my other mystery wedding photos as well. I'd love to put a name to a face. I'd especially love to find a relative of one of these happy couples, someone who doesn't have a photo of their ancestor's wedding, and send them a copy.

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Follow Friday: How Do You Manage?

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) This week John Newmark of Transylvanian Dutch talks about rethinking and reprioritizing his time and blogging activities in his post Changes/Adjustments. This post really hit home with me. As the mom of a young child it's something that I struggle with on a daily basis. I've only posted once this week due to family commitments, activities, must-do yard work, and a slew of appointments of one sort or another. Research, correspondence, social media, library time, blogging time, blog reading time, oh yeah, and that life thing. Sometimes I feel like I'm sinking faster than I'm swimming. In my post Follow Friday: Happy New Year! I outlined the priorities that are most important to me. While I have a routine of daily activities, sometimes I just don't feel like I'm getting everything done that I want to get done. Is it time to let go or just organize better? How do you prioritize and schedule your time? Do you only do e-mail and facebook at certain times of the day/week? When do you do research? When do you blog and how often? How do you limit yourself? I don't do Twitter, though I am interested. I don't want to start one more thing I can't keep up with.

My question to you is, how do you manage your activities? Give me some advice. Throw me a lifeline, please...

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(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Costume Month Continues...

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) In case there is any doubt, I am not a natural blond. This photo of me was taken in November of 1985 when I was performing in a stage production of Babes in Arms. My character was based on the character played by June Preisser (Well, except for the acrobatics. Click on the link to see what I mean.) in the film Babes in Arms with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Yes, my character was the mean girl who was trying to steal Mickey away from Judy. Every Mickey and Judy movie has to have at least one...

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Follow Friday: Routine Maintenance

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Usually this doesn't happen. Certainly not often. This week as I was trying to catch up on my reading, I ran into a number of dead links on several geneablogs. It surprised me, because I think by nature genealogy folk are a rather persnickety lot, myself included. I will say from personal experience it is hard to keep maintenance up, particularly as you have more posts under your belt.

That being said, not only do I use my blog for sharing stories, tips, ideas, and what have you, I also use it as my personal website. You may have noticed I have a number of links at the bottom of my blog. These are links that I use on a regular basis. I have either mentioned them in a post or plan to mention them at some point in time, or I just think they are great resources other people may want to check out. This week I realized it's been a while since I checked my links to make sure they are all still active.

Going back to that persnickety thing again, I've decided to take some time this weekend do some routine maintenance. I'm planning to check and reorganize my links, add new ones, and try out a few new features. I also think I need to consider a regular maintenance schedule to keep everything in good working order. I don't want to be caught one link short of a connection if you know what I'm saying.

Do you do regular maintenance? How often? Also, if you notice another blogger with a dead link (or several), what do you do? Personally, I would like to know, but I don't know how others feel. Would it be presumptuous for me to bring it to that blogger's attention? What do you think?

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Not So Wordless Wednesday: It's Costume Month at Heritage Zen!

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) Cynthia Shenette) This is the first photo in my line up of Wordless Wednesday photos with people dressed in costumes of one sort or another. I have lots of photos of people in costumes, and given that Halloween is a big day to dress up, I thought October would be a good month to present a small sampling of costume shots from my photo collection.

This is a good one to start the month off with as Jasia at Creative Gene reminded me that October is Polish Heritage Month! I have no idea what the event was, but the words written in the right-hand corner, Chapka '45, give me a clue. I looked up the word chapka, and apparently it's a Polish military hat. My guess is Chapka '45 was some kind of a Polish celebration in Worcester, MA.

My mom, Christine (Szerejko) Shenette, is the girl on the far right. I don't know who the other three girls in the photo are. My guess is the photo may have been taken at the Worcester Auditorium, given the brick wall and all of the pulleys and cables in the background. The reason I know this is back in the late 1970s and 1980s I performed in a number of shows at the Worcester Auditorium. Ah, but that's next week's picture. Stay tuned...

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Tuesday's Tip: "Ask a Librarian" Service at Your Public Library

(Copyright (c) 2010 Cynthia Shenette) Have you used the "Ask a Librarian" service at your public library? It's a wonderful service offered by many public libraries around the country. If you haven't used it I suggest you try it out, and if you have I'd love to hear about your experience. I used it recently when I was looking for some statistics on the population of Katowice, Poland for my post Trip to Poland, 1937 (An Ongoing Series): Katowice.

I'm a librarian myself, and B.C. (Before Child) spent 11 years in reference. Believe me, reference librarians live for this stuff. I usually do my own research, because I love doing it, but one night was at home and knew because of scheduling issues I wasn't going to be able to get down to the library for several days. I had a brilliant thought. Why not check out the "Ask a Librarian" service at the public library? I filled out their online form around 10:00 p.m., and bada bing bada boom, the next morning there was my answer in an e-mail response. I followed it up with another question and promptly got a second reply. I love those people.

Here are my tips for using your "Ask a Librarian" service successfully:

~ read and follow the directions for an e-mail query
~ provide as much information as you can to give the librarian a real idea of what you are looking for, but also try to be as precise and succinct as possible
~ tell the librarian what resources you've already checked for information
~ be patient as sometimes it may take a day or two or even a week or two to receive your answer
~ be polite, and a follow-up thank you e-mail is always nice

Be aware that some questions lend themselves to e-mail queries more readily than others. My population question was pretty straightforward. Librarians may not, or in some cases will not, do extensive research for you, at least free of charge. If you provide an exact citation for an obit they will probably be able to help you out. If you say, "I think my John Smith died sometime in 1902," but you're not sure of the particulars and there isn't an easily accessible index to the newspaper where the obit might have appeared, they may not be able to help you. Believe it or not, not all old newspapers are indexed or online. Take some of my local Worcester, MA papers for example. Librarians simply don't have time to do extensive research for every patron. That being said, "Ask a Librarian" is a wonderful service. Try it out.

Now I'm off to do research. I live for this stuff...

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