Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - The Gnomes of Wroclaw

The Gnomes of
Wrocław, Poland

You will find dozens of these
cute little guys on the sidewalks
all around the city,
in all kinds of poses and activities. 

All photos from our September 2008 trip to Poland.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Brienz-West, Switzerland

In 2007, hubby and I visited Switzerland as part of a multi-generational family vacation.  We were based in the town of Interlaken.

From Interlaken, we had day trips to nearby towns, enjoying the surrounding snow-capped mountains, fresh air and green valleys, along with Switzerland's interesting combination of German, Italian and French cuisine and culture.   

One of our day trips took us through the village of Brienz-West.  It is well-known for its talented wood carvers; the main street it filled with shops that feature their intricate works.  

As we walked through the town, and back to Interlaken, we came upon this small cemetery, filled with typical headstones and also a different type of grave marker. 

For a town of wood-workers, these fine, wooden crosses seemed appropriate.

Overlooking Lake Brienz.

View of Lake Brienz and mountains.



Rustic Swiss home next to the cemetery.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Matrilineal Monday - Three Generations

Three Generations

Left to right,

Me, about ten years old

My sister Sharon

My sister Diane

My mother Dorothy

My grandmother, Mae (Jordan) Morgan


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Supper - Gather Round the Table

c. 1944

This group looks like they're having a nice Sunday dinner around the table, sharing food and love.

My mom is at front left, smiling for the camera.  I hate to brag but isn't she gorgeous!  I love the way my Dad is smiling at her.

To her left sits her step-brother Jimmy,
stepdad Earle,
her baby daughter (my sister) Diane in highchair,
stepbrother Pat,
her Mom (Mae) and
husband (my dad) Ed.

How I'd love to go back in time and join this smiling group, even for just a little while. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shopping Saturday - The Local Market

A variety of mushrooms. 
Prices are in Polish Zloty.
When traveling, I always enjoying checking out the local markets. 

A few years ago, when in Krakow, Poland, hubby and I visited this huge market. 

You know that old saying, "Everything but the kitchen sink," well, I wonder if there wasn't even a kitchen sink for sale somewhere. 

Even though we saw no sink, I did get a big surprise as we were leaving...

The meat counter.

The market has all types of food,
including produce,
and so much more!

Colorful peppers and other produce.
The market was probably more than 200 stalls.  We wandered for hours taking it all in. 

We saw toys of all descriptions; leather goods like jackets and shoes; clothing for all ages, including school uniforms; tires, batteries, tools, every type of household good or need; and much, much more!

I was snapping pictures in every direction and soaking in the feel of life as a Krakow native. 

At almost every turn, I imagined my Polish ancestors visiting similar markets for the groceries and goods they did not grow themselves.

Baltic Black Marketeers???

Finally, as we were leaving the market, I was more than surprised to see a woman on the sidewalk, arms draped in bras.  Others were selling sleepwear and undies.  As I prepared to snap the picture, they all turned their backs to me. 

Hubby and I laughed as we wondered aloud, could there be a lingerie black market in Krakow???

Oh, those stoic Polish, the secrets they may hide!


Friday, November 25, 2011

National Day of Listening

Thanks to Amy Craft at Begin with 'Craft', I found out that today is our National Day of Listening.  

Image courtesy of
The Graphics Fairy

This is a special day to remember, honor and reconnect with teachers.  I have three teachers in my family: my sister (science and sometimes religion), my nephew (drama and English), and my niece (physical education).  I wish them a lovely day. 

I will not be reconnecting with any of my teachers today, unfortunately, but I remember all (well, almost all) of them fondly.  My favorite teachers were in high school English: Mrs. Hamilton (12th grade) and Mrs. Robbins (11th grade).  Seeing a pattern?

Mrs. Robbins was so positive and upbeat, in addition to loving literature.  Every day, she had a smiley face drawn on the chalkboard, with "Happy [insert day of week here]!" written under it.  Remember, this was in the 1970s. 
Mrs. Hamilton emphasized spelling and the importance of learning new words.  Even in 12th grade, we were getting ten new words every week.  I loved that, and her!  I had to smile yesterday as I listened to my second-grade god-daughter using words from her "new word" list.  It's clear that her teacher is doing a good job! 

National Day of Listening seems like a pretty nice holiday to share with family, too.  On this Black Friday, who among us wouldn't prefer sitting down with parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives to learn about the family, rather than crushing through the mall spending money we can't afford to buy gifts we are not sure that people will really like?  I hate it when I get cynical like this. 

A holiday like National Day of Listening is what it should really be about, and we should remember to celebrate it throughout the year.

That's enough for now; I'm going out to have a day with family and practice my listening skills! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's a Girl to Do?

OK, so last night, hubby tells me, somewhat apologetically, that he has no interest in spending time in the evening reading my blog.  He works all day, he’s tired when he comes home, blah, blah, blah…  His employer’s IT department blocks Blogger and similar sites (the nerve!), so he can’t even read it at lunch time.  That's OK, my feelings are not hurt, he supports me in more than a million other ways, and I do understand, because he does work hard, he is tired in the evening, blah, blah, blah...

But he cannot bear it when I comment that there will be an omission in one of my posts, especially if he thinks it is something that may be available with a bit of research.  

Perhaps as way of apology, today he emailed me at work, regarding today’s earlier Doctor Who? post. 

The email is one line:  “Time and Relative Dimension in Space”  

A Real British Police Box.
Courtesy Wikipedia.

I guess you have to read the earlier post for it to make sense, but all I can say is, that’s why I love the guy!

Doctor Who?

Blue Police Box, or
"What TARDIS Looks Like."
Today is Doctor Who Day.  For those who don't know, (and that includes me), Doctor Who is a British science fiction television show on the BBC (British Broadcasting Company). 

As a boy, this was my Welsh husband's favorite TV show.  That is, even though at times he was so frightened by the concept of what he was watching that he had to shield his eyes and peek between his fingers!

Doctor Who is a time-traveler whose time-travelling machine looks like the blue police box pictured here.  In the show, its name is TARDIS.  Don't ask, because I don't know what TARDIS stands for. 

Hubby says that as a boy, he didn't see many blue police boxes.  They are mostly extinct now.  In reality, one could enter a police box and pick up the telephone inside and get an instant, direct connection to the police station.

These blue police boxes are a kind of cultural icon in Britain, mostly for their representation as TARDIS.   Dorothy's ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, or Fonzi's leather jacket from Happy Days have a similar cache in the U.S.

The Doctor Who character time-traveled with a group of friends, and also fought enemies to right wrongs.  The show is the longest-running science fiction TV show in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  It first aired on this date in 1963. 

When hubby tells me stories of watching Doctor Who while visiting his Grandma, I can only laugh.  I recall similar evenings in front of the television, slightly terrorized by episodes of The Twilight Zone.  We children, we're the same all over the world!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - JFK

Tuesday is the 48th anniversary of the untimely death of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States of America.

Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917.  He was shot and died in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. 

People of a certain age can remember the exact moment they heard the horrible news.  Just over five years old at the time of his assassination, I cannot remember that event.  However, I do remember going to Mass with my mother, and wondering why all the women were openly crying, not quietly sobbing, but outright crying.  I had never seen such behavior in church.  And even today, watching the news clip of Walter Cronkite, on the verge of tears as he announces the tragedy on the evening news, makes me swallow hard.  

Kennedy's tombstone is not a typical marker, but rather an Eternal Flame, which burns round the clock in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, VA.  Visiting the gravesite is a moving experience. 

In the three-year period following the 1963 burial, an estimated 16 million people paid their respects at the grave.  Thus, in 1967, Kennedy's body was moved and a permanent plot and marker were created at Arlington.

His wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (later Onassis) is buried by his side.  His equally political and well-known brothers, Robert and Edward, are buried nearby. 

As you remember this day in history, say a prayer.

Four markers of Kennedy family members:
John F. Kennedy,
his wife and two brothers,
with Eternal Flame at top.
These images are courtesy of Wikipedia, as they are much better than my own. 

Thanksgiving Traditions - The Turkey Platter

Besides the traditional meal of turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and more, Thanksgiving reminds us of many things:

falling leaves

pumpkin pie

visits with extended family

eating too much

the kids' table

Christmas is almost here

Mom's retro platter.
Of all these, there is another Thanksgiving tradition that may be the most often overlooked:  the turkey platter.  You know, the special platter that is used to carry the beautiful bird to the table.  Everyone says oooh and ahhh and then the bird is carved to bits.  Just because the platter is covered with turkey meat doesn't mean it should be ignored. 

My mom has a beautiful Thanksgiving platter.  The tradition is, she never uses it!  It hangs on the kitchen wall, a retro holiday look available all year round!  Unless you go in Mom's kitchen before Thanksgiving dinner, you never see the whole bird.  Mom slices and delivers the turkey meat on an oversized white plate.  That's OK mom, we love you anyway!

My sister's turkey platter,
similar to Mom's.

My sisters and I have always loved Mom's turkey platter.  My sister Sharon managed to obtain a platter for herself that is quite similar to Mom's.  Very nice, and the colors are beautiful.

My own Thanksgiving platter is a lovely Johnson Brothers pattern called "His Majesty."  The turkey does look rather majestic; it must be because he's unaware of his future.  Unless, that is, that he's one of the guys who received a White House pardon! 

The platter was a gift from my husband in the early years of our marriage.  He was rather tickled because it was not too long after I received the platter hubby actually saw a wild turkey in our back yard, which is basically all woods.

Families have many traditions.  At this time of year, we revisit those traditions and recall why they warm our hearts. 

Whether your Thanksgiving platter is generations old or brand-new from WalMart, whether it's used all year round or never leaves the cabinet, in some way it is part of the family's scrapbook of holiday memories. 

Be sure to treat it as a treasured guest.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankful Thursday - Four Days Early

So Thanksgiving is almost here!  I had planned on a "things I'm grateful for" post.  Then I read that Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings put out his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun challenge, so I knew I had to follow through.  Even though I couldn't get it together in time for SNGF, here are my answers to Randy's challenge:

Courtesy of
The Graphics Fairy
1.  The ancestors I am most thankful for:  Well, I have lots of interesting ancestors.  They led challenging lives and stayed tough through hard times.  They were brave people, they crossed oceans for a better life.  But the ones I'm most thankful for?  Has to be my mom and dad.  Hands down and 'nuff said.  (No, there are no Pilgrim ancestors; she's for decoration only!)

2.  The author I am most thankful for:  Well, I'm so new at this I'm still very much at the Genealogy for Dummies level.  But the authors I'm so thankful for must be all the wonderful, busy people in the genealogy blogging community.  What an amazing bunch of folks!  Do they ever sleep?  New posts all the time, full of family memories that make me smile or blink back tears.  Tech tips to keep me learning something new every day.  Overviews of latest research experiences.  Reminders of upcoming events.  And every person I've interacted with is so nice and so helpful!  Plus, honestly, when I began my blog a month ago, I was sure it would basically be a writing exercise for myself.  But some kind people are actually reading it.  What a supportive community!  For them, I am grateful!

3.  The historical holdings I am most thankful for:  I'd say it has to be the Latter Day Saints' collection.  Besides their own, they are responsible for fueling much of what I find in other places, like  Plus, they're just nice folks. 

I'm also grateful for and to our local Genealogy Discussion Group.  Since I had my "basic training" there, so many have welcomed me and shared their tips with me.  Another fun group of people!  (Noticing a theme here?) 

Despite the many things I may complain about, there are many other things I'm grateful for:  my dear family and friends, my wonderful husband, my furry little cat, my great boss and job, medical advances, having my health...  Really, my life in general is pretty darn good.  Compared to life for my great-grandparents, grandparents and even my own mom and dad, I've got nothing to complain about and everything to be grateful for.  Now is a good time to appreciate my blessings and reflect on that. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

National Adoption Day - Honor an Adoptive Family

Today is National Adoption Day, a national day of celebration of adoptive families.  Courts also use this special day to finalize the adoptions of children from foster care.  

Baby Dee at 5 months.
This is her arrival announcement.
In the last ten years, more than 35,000 children have had their adoptions finalized on National Adoption Day.  In my town, it always makes the evening news, with interviews from the new parents, and children who feel as though they have a real home, at last. 

Adoption presents many riddles and brick walls for the someone searching for their birth family, or for the family genealogist. 

My dear, beautiful goddaughter is an adoptee.  Even though her mom kind of glazes over when I start in on my latest genealogy finds, hopefully deep down she knows I’ll be ready with resources if she ever needs them!  

Some general resources on this topic are below:

Adoption Message Boards and Queries

Adoption SearchHow to Find Your Birth Family
Steps for Locating Adoptees, Birth Parents, and Adoption Records

ProGenealogists, the Offical research firm - Adoption Research RootsWeb Guide to Tracing Family Trees – for family historians who are adoptees

All About Adoption Research Finding Hidden Family Ties
Including: Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator, US and Canada criminal databases.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Library Lock-in Comes to Town!

I’m very late in reporting the wonderful event held on Friday, October 28:  Harford County Public Library (HCPL) held its first Genealogy Lock-In, and what a great night it was!

For this lock-in trial run, the library invited only the members of its Genealogy Discussion Group (GDG).  The doors closed to the public at 5 p.m., with the library prepared for the GDG to lay claim to its holdings until 11 p.m. 

For six awesome hours, the Group had the library entirely to itself, to research, read, socialize, nosh and more.   I must admit, due to a heavy schedule the next day, I bailed out at 9 p.m.  I'm aging, I know...

GDG member Deb Ruth, over at Adventures in Genealogy suggested the lock-in.  Always known for her good ideas, Deb is up on the latest in the genealogy blogosphere as well as activities, commentary and tips from around the country. 

When she brought this idea to the group, folks responded positively and immediately that this was something everyone wanted to try.  GDG member and HCPL librarian extraordinaire Ann Winkler organized everything to a “T.” 

About 15 or so regulars from the Genealogy Discussion Group attended.  Everyone came with their booklets and binders of paperwork, prepared to do research, solve family history riddles and extend the family tree. 

Everyone knows that genealogists are generous by their very nature; they just can’t wait to share their latest find.   This event was no exception; it was definitely “share and share alike!”

Research heaven!
Group members with subscriptions to paid sites like Fold3,,, Genealogy Bank and others offered their accounts to be used for the entire evening.  Ann prepared sign-in sheets in 30-45 minute time slots.  Everything flowed seamlessly: sign in for a time slot, do your research, move on to the next paid website.  Each computer was marked with a sign naming its subscription site.  If a website proved a bit of a struggle, Ann was there to assist. 

Not an empty seat in the house!

The HCPL’s computers were also available, with sites that included AncestryLE (Library Edition), ProQuest Historical Newspapers,, and much more.  Every service that's regularly available during library hours was available.  Talk about research heaven!

Binding Machine with
bound book.

In addition to all this research going on, member Barbara Jones shared her collection of organizational techniques, and donated their use for the evening.  They included a desktop scanner, a laminating machine, and a punch and bind machine, which turns regular paper into a bound book.   I saw at least one very happy person use the binding machine to turn her years of family research into a book! 

Dinner time!
As if all this research, filing and organizing wasn't enough, we had a smorgasbord of delights.  Everyone contributed to the buffet of pizza, chili, salads, a variety of desserts, chocolates and beverages. 

Library lock-ins have been going on around the country for a few years now, from Texas to Michigan to Massachusetts, and everywhere in between. 

Even for those in our group who couldn’t make it to the Lock-In, the decision is unanimous…yes, we should do this again!   

Mention this event to your favorite librarian, and a genealogy library lock-in could be coming to a town near you!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Newest Leaf on the Tree

Although this site by definition looks back at life, today it is looking forward. 

Baby Sam with his Grandpa Joe

Today Raking through the Leaves welcomes the newest member of our extended family, Samuel Webster.  Webster, his middle name, is a family name from several generations back.  It's nice to see this history.  When it's time for his descendants to pick up the genealogical search, having that information on his birth certificate will open some doors. 

He was born on Monday, October 17, 2011; already he is a whole month old!  He is joyously welcomed by loving parents Joe and Lisa, and two proud siblings, big sister Molly and big brother John.

Image courtesy of
The Graphics Fairy

His parents will teach him, love him, play with him, dote upon him.  As will his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings.  That's the joy and the job of a big family.

Maybe Sam will eventually join in the hunt for the tales of those family members who came before us.  And who knows, maybe his parents will include this post with all the other mementos that go into his baby book, for Sam’s descendants to read one day!

Congratulations, Joe and Lisa! 
Welcome to the world, baby Samuel!  

Update as of January 11, 2012:

When I wrote this post, I knew that Sam's middle name, Webster, is a family name.  That post prompted my Aunt Helen to send me details, by snail mail, no less!  (Aunt Helen is married to my dad's brother.)

"Webster is for my paternal grandmother--Mary Priscilla Webster.  She was born in 1881 in Harford County.  She died in 1935 at the age of 54."  

The mail from my aunt really made my day!  In addition to the story of Sam's ancestors, Aunt Helen included a print-out that baby Sam's sister, Molly, sent out to friends.  It reads:

Samuel Szymanski, newest member of the family.  He was born on October 17th, 2011.  Samuel has blue eyes and brown hair.  I personally think he's the best thing ever!  Samuel is now 16 days old, a little bit over two weeks, and prefers to be called Sammy.  [I love that!]  I love Sammy and I bet you 1 million dollars every one will too!

Aren't families just great?!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Stone Mountain, GA

Stone Mountain, Georgia

These photos were taken on our
April 2010 road trip. 

We visited Tennessee, Georgia,
Alabama and Florida. 

My first experience with the Deep South!

Close-up of the carving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday - Jordan

Saturday was a bright and crisp day in Baltimore, one of those lovely, sunny autumn days I recall once January and February have set in. 

Realizing that we may not have too many of these beauties left for a while, hubby and I took advantage and decided to accomplish some outdoor "to do" tasks.  Not leaves this time, though!

We traveled to the other side of town and visited Baltimore National Cemetery on Frederick Road in Catonsville, in search of my great-uncle Benny's gravesite. 

This was a fitting way to spend the Saturday of Veteran's Day weekend.  We were humbled and silenced as we stood at the top of entrance driveway and looked down at the rows of erect stones, standing with typical military precision.  All these headstones, each representing a brave person.  Most of these are soldiers who returned home to live their lives, we said in unison.  It was astounding to look around, begin to rack up numbers of soldiers and wars in my many, so many. 

Marker between Sections J and I.
Before we had left home, I double-checked Uncle Benny's section and plot information at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator.  I also printed out a map of the cemetery, which was easy to follow.  Just find the appropriate section marker, then look on the back of any stone; it will be engraved with that individual's site or plot number.  Then just start walking in the right direction, for higher or lower numbers.  

I'll say this for the military, they are excellent when it comes to organizing a cemetery.  

Benjamin M Jordan
Signal Corps
World War II
January 30 1915
September 13 1964
Even though we came prepared, for someone who may not be, the cemetery provides plenty of information, which is available even when the office is closed.  There are two large binders with a listing of interments; these are kept on an enclosed shelf to protect from the elements.  They also have an electronic kiosk that is linked to the Nationwide Gravesite Locator mentioned above.  The kiosk's keyboard was not the typical QWERTY type, but rather an alpha order board - A - B - C and so on.  I'd never seen one like that before.  Still, it was all easy to use.  Maps are also available at the kiosk. 

This was my first visit to Uncle Benny's gravesite.  I know it will not be my last.  Besides fulfilling my own genealogy-related task, this visit pleased my mom.  We stopped by see her after leaving the cemetery.  She was happy to see the photo of Benny's stone, and touched that we thought to visit him.  She is proud of his service.  We sat together quietly, as Mom recalled childhood memories of her beloved Uncle Benny. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mystery Monday - Is There A Steamboat in My Past?

Today is the 246th anniversary of the birth of Robert "Steamboat" Fulton.

Big deal, you may say.  I would have too, until I learned he might actually be a relative of mine. 

Robert Fulton
Wikipedia Image
 Robert Fulton was born on November 14 in 1765.  In his short lifetime, he became an engineer and inventor.  He is widely credited with designing the first steamboat, in the early 1800s.  His partner in this venture was Robert Livingston, though Livingston receives little credit for his involvement.  Prior to the steamboat, Fulton designed the first known submarine in history, at the commission of Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Fulton was born in Pennsylvania, studied in Europe, married Harriet Livingston (his steamboat partner's niece), and eventually moved to New York, where he died on February 24, 1815, at the young age of 49.

But back to his possible connection with my family. 

When I first saw my maternal grandmother's birth certificate, I smiled to read her father's name:  John Fulton Jordan.  I'd never heard his full name.  But I didn't think twice about it.  Then I started going through census, marriage and other records.  Here's what I found:

My great-grandfather John Fulton Jordan's parents were Oliver Perry Jordan and Ann Wright, who married in Harford County, Maryland on February 6, 1868.

Statue of Robert Fulton in the
National Statuary Hall Collection
at the U.S. Capitol.
Hubby's photo, September 2011.

Oliver's parents were John Jordan and Henrietta Prigg, who married in Harford County, Maryland on February 2, 1841.  I have documents that indicate this John's middle initial is either an "F" or a "P."  It's simply unclear.  I haven't been lucky enough to find anything with his full middle name.

John Jordan's parents were (yet another!) John Jordan and Rachel Fulton, who were married in Harford County, Maryland on December 14, 1813.

Again working on, I received a hint from another family tree.  After communicating with a Fulton family member also on the website, I learned Rachel was a distant niece of the famous Fulton.  I thought, "Even if it's a distant connection to a famous inventor, hey, I'll take it!"    

But I quickly calmed down and thought hold on, girl.  I had taken a very good genealogy starter course, so I knew:  until I can document these branches of the family tree for myself, take it with a grain of salt.  So I'm working on it.  I've had a few trips to the county historical society.  Next up will be a review of land records and wills, as they're available.  And maybe a Jordan or Fulton will come forward with new information.   Until this research can be completed, this connection remains a Mystery.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom, a day to honor veterans.  It's also sometimes called "Poppy Day".  The brilliant flower came to represent World War I veterans because it was native to some WWI battlefields.  Remembrance Day is held on the Sunday nearest November 11, which as we know is Veterans Day in the US.   

Cities and towns all over the UK will hold ceremonies at the village war memorials.  Current and former members of the armed forces, as well as members of cadet forces and youth organizations, will place poppy wreaths on town memorials.  Moments of silence will take place, and church bells will ring.  Even the soccer teams will wear an armband with an embroidered poppy to mark the day. 

All of these activities are a way of expressing gratitude for the sacrifices made by the soldiers and their families over the years, as if a parade and a wreath could ever be enough. 

Earlier this year, my family and I traveled to Belgium, where we visited Tyne Cot Cemetery, among other World War I sights.  It's a peaceful place in the middle of the beautiful Belgian countryside.  The cemetery is the final resting place for almost 12,000 British Commonwealth servicemen from World War I.  A staggering, heartbreaking 8,000+ of these are unknown.  A nearby piece of land, know as the Ypres Salient, was the subject of five battles from 1914 to 1918.  The soldiers of Tyne Cot fought in those battles. 

On Remembrance Day, we remember these soldiers, their families, their sacrifices.  On this Veteran's Day weekend, we also remember all of our soldiers, past and present, who have fought for our freedoms.  We thank them and their families for every sacrifice.  I can sit at home and write this post today because sometime in the past, a veteran thought of his countrymen first.  I cannot say "thank you" enough. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Surname Saturday - Szymanski

My father is first-generation American; his mother was born in 1900, in what is now known as the country of Poland.  In September 2008, before I began researching my family’s history, my husband and I traveled to Poland.  Over the course of 10 days, we visited the cities of  Wrocław and Kraków, with day trips to CzęstochowaOświęcim (the location of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps), and Wadowice, the boyhood home of Pope John Paul II. 

Wawel Castle, Krakow

We logged miles in every city, touring the sights. 

In Krakow, as we walked from our apartment up the hill to Wawel Castle, we came upon the Baroque Church of St. Bernard’s.  

 Imagine my delight at seeing a colorful banner, featuring St. Szymon, draped down the right side of the church's ornate façade. 

I’d always been told our surname, Szymanski, means “son of Simon.”  And here was two-thirds of our surname, in living color, flying high on a Krakow church. 

The beautiful banner translates: 

St. Simon, Patron of Krakow
and Young Academics

At the time, I knew of two saints with the name.  St. Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross on Good Friday.  Simon Peter, later known as St. Peter, was one of the Twelve Apostles and first Pope of the Catholic Church.  So I wondered, "Which Simon is this Simon?

That's when I learned about Simon of Lipnica:

Lipnica is a town not far from Krakow.  Simon is a genealogist’s nightmare, in that his exact birth date is unknown.  Based on his attendance at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University in 1454, his birth is estimated somewhere between 1435 and 1440.  Influenced by St. Bernardine of Siena and St. John Capistran, Simon took up a pious life and joined  the Franciscans of St. Bernardine, where he was honored to preach at the Polish monarchy’s Wawel Cathedral in 1463.  In his later years, he cared for the suffering in plague-infested Krakow, by administering the sacraments and sharing God’s Word.  He soon contracted the plague himself, and died on July 18, 1482. 

Simon of Lipnica was beatified in 1685; centuries later, his sainthood became official through his June 3, 2007 canonization.  Of course!  That was the reason for the beautiful banner: Krakow was honoring its new saint, Simon of Lipnica!

In considering my surname, I wonder, who is the Simon that my Szymanski ancestors are the "sons of"?  Someone of sturdy Polish stock, no doubt.  But since surnames are a centuries-old addition in most cultures, I still have many, many generations to uncover.  I’ll just keep working on that one...