More Than 100 Words – The Story of John William Achnitz

My Trip to Kensico Cemetery

Valhalla, New York

One of the many things I remember my grandfather always telling me that I will never forget was, “If I ever said more than 100 words to my father, it was a long conversation.”

Suffice it to say, they were not close.

Despite having a rough childhood, and I mean rough childhood, my grandfather always loved his father even though there was plenty there to hate him for.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it because my grandfather wasn’t the type to be overly affectionate or sentimental. He was a man’s man. However, despite his rough exterior, I will also never forget the glowing nature of how he spoke about others. My grandfather would never tell you that he was proud of you to your face but you could bet your bottom dollar that he would tell the rest of the world.

I remember hearing my grandfather speak with pride about how his father was a respected police officer for the New York Police Department. I remember him bragging about how his father was the President of the NYPD Holy Name Society. I remember him talking about how his father would host bigwigs for dinner, from the respective realms of the good, bad, and the ugly.

john-achnitz
From: Spring 3100 – A Magazine For Policemen

I also remember that there wasn’t much more than that. The stuff he didn’t speak about was painful to even think about. I heard bits and drabs over the years from my grandmother, my father, and my aunt. However, my grandfather’s disdain for his father was more than apparent.

“If I spoke more than 100 words to my father, it was a long conversation.”

At this point, you’ve read 275 words.

I think you can get the picture.

As a kid, my image of my great-grandfather was purely negative. He was described to me numerous times as a drunk, a womanizer, and a violent man…someone to not be proud of. In fact, the only story my father really recalls about his grandfather John William Achnitz is that he tried to give him a hug at the time when his wife (my father’s grandmother) passed away. John said, “Billy, I am your grandfather.” My dad replied, “No, my grandfather died 4 years ago,” referring to his other grandfather on his mother’s side.

my-dad-and-martin-burns
My father with his grandfather Martin Burns – circa 1974-75

Naturally, I understood why my father didn’t like his grandfather and in reality why he didn’t even recognize him as his grandfather. My dad hated seeing his father hurt. And like any son, he was going to stand by his father. In a way, my grandfather was robbed of that same opportunity. He never really got the chance to stand by his father although I know deep down my grandfather always loved his father.

my-dad-and-grandpa
My Grandpa with my Dad – circa 1983

Despite all of John’s faults and indiscretions though, I came to see him in a much different light by learning more about him through genealogical research. In fact, I can distinctly remember the day that my grandfather discovered a New York Times article from 1902 about the death of John’s half-brother William Achnitz just by googling his own name. At the time, he had no clue who this William was and I don’t think John ever knew about him either.

This tragic event, which I’ve posted about before, was the key to John’s existence. It is the key to my existence. In fact, everyone alive today that is descended from John is only alive because of William’s death.

I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. John’s life, and hence my own is predicated on this one event taking place, for after that event, John’s father, the very first William Achnitz, not only lost his youngest child (at the time) to a tragic train accident, but his wife with their 3 remaining children and a coworker of William’s all disappeared. Turns out they all went to Australia and there is no telling whether William ever figured that out. For all he knew, they could have all died.

Nevertheless, he lost it all. He lost his business, he lost his wife, he lost his son, and he lost his other children. He lost his entire family and potentially he could have lost his sense of self and purpose too.

He went from owning his own industrial-scale bakery on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan to working the rest of his life as a janitor. He did remarry though. In 1905, he married my great-great grandmother Katherine Achnitz. In 1906, they had their first and only child together John (although he was born with the name William, which he later used as a middle name). I’ve often wondered if John did this as a result of finding out the real story behind his father’s first family. I could definitely understand the possibility that he may not have liked the fact that he was clearly named after his half-sibling that had passed away 4 years before he was born.

john-achnitz-birth-cert
John Achnitz was actually born William Achnitz on February 18, 1906 in Manhattan, New York. He later used the name John with William as his middle name.

Wondering how John became the father that he was, I often wondered what John’s relationship was like with his father, William. It was certainly short-lived as John lost his father in 1923 at the young age of 17. Did William losing his family and his business turn him into a monster of a person? Was he already a monster of a person and that’s why his family left him in the first place? Whatever the answer is, John was clearly not prepared to be the best father that he could have been.

Perhaps, John thought that it was best for him to be as absent as possible. In a way, thinking that this would be the best way that he could be a father to my grandfather and his brothers. Certainly, he wouldn’t have been the first father to ever do this.

Whatever was going on in their heads at the time, I like to think that John did the best he could given the cards that he was dealt with as a child. The analogy that I like to use to describe the Achnitz men is that each Achnitz generation has been dealt a better hand over time. And as an avid poker player, I know that my grandfather would really appreciate that analogy. He was certainly dealt a slightly better hand than John. My father was definitely dealt a better hand than my Grandpa. I’ve definitely been dealt a better hand than my Dad. And it is my hope that my kids one day will be dealt a Royal Flush.

I honestly never thought that I would end up visiting my great-grandfather John. And I don’t think anyone in my family has ever visited him. In fact, they didn’t even know that he had died at first. My grandfather found out several months after the fact after his second wife Blanche had told one of my grandfather’s brothers. This absolutely tore my grandfather up inside. I don’t even think that my grandfather ever even got to visit his dad’s gravesite.

So, in a way, I felt like this was my opportunity to make amends and forgive him for any and all mistakes that he had made in his life not to mention, pay my respects.

I sat down in the grass right next to his headstone for about 30 minutes and just prayed.

john-achnitz-headstone
John William Achnitz died on October 26, 1985 and was buried with his second wife Blanche in Valhalla, New York.

I prayed that he was in a better place and I prayed that he was somehow able to be the father to my grandfather that he always wanted him to be. I remember the sun shining brighter in that moment and I remember getting a warm sensation throughout my body. It’s moments like that that have made me believe in something deeper than life.

I told him about myself. I told him about how I was on my way up to Buffalo to watch my wife graduate with her Master’s degree. I told him what I knew about him. I told him how I was the only one that had figured things out about him that perhaps no one else had figured out. I asked him to always be a part of me, which after thinking about it further, I realized he’s always going to be a part of me.

I just hoped that in some way, both him and my grandfather were truly at peace. Sons may end up having issues with their fathers in life and all of us may have to live with the sins of our fathers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make every effort to have the best relationship possible with them. That’s what I certainly strive for with my own father.

 

3-generations
Three generations of William Peter Achnitz – circa 1991

 

john-achnitz-family
John, his wife Veronica, and three youngest sons: my Grandpa (standing in back), Frank aka Spike (in middle), and Bobby (to the right). This photo was taken at their oldest brother Jack’s wedding on May 21, 1950.

This is why I love genealogy. You uncover stories and you can truly learn about yourself in the process.

If you are related to John William Achnitz, he is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.

Until next time, keep on digging.

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#52Ancestors – Week 4 – Owen Shalvoy

Owen Shalvoy is the 4th great-grandfather of my girlfriend Tiffany Church. He is also one of the first of her Irish ancestors to make the journey to America.

Owen Shalvoy
Date Unknown

Born in 1819, Owen hails from the Village of Nobber in northern County Meath in Ireland. And like many other Irish, he and his family immigrated to America during the time of the Irish Potato Famine.

Unlike all of my ancestors though, the information on my girlfriend’s ancestors (including Owen Shalvoy) is abundant and incredible. In fact, it turns out that a research group exists called The Shalvoy/Scollin Family Research Committee. And this group, all who descend from Owen Shalvoy, published a Family History Article entitled “A Short History of Our Shalvoy and Scollin Ancestors.” They also maintain a website with all of their genealogical research on their Shalvoy and Scollin ancestry.

According to their research, Owen was baptized on October 6th, 1819 at the Nobber Catholic Church. And as you will see, this date conflicts with all of the ages provided on census records and even the age listed on his gravestone. It is theorized though that Owen actually thought he was much younger than he really was, 13 years younger to be exact.

More on that later though…

On Owen’s baptismal certificate, his parents are listed as being James Shalvoy and Bridget Clarke Shalvoy, while his sponsors are listed as being Owen Clarke and again Bridget Clarke Shalvoy. It is also believed that Owen and his family were much better off than the majority of their fellow Irish farmers (an Irish middle class if you will).

In fact, leading up to their emigration, the Shalvoys leased a considerable amount of land and like many other Irish at the time, were farmers. In fact, a Tithe Applotment Report conducted in northern County Meath in 1826, shows that there were two Shalvoys renting land in Cregg townland in Nobber Parish: (1) Thomas who held 23+ acres and (2) James, Owen’s father, who held 14½ acres. It can be safely assumed that Owen along with his many other siblings spent their childhood and young adult life working on their family farm.

Tithe Applotment
Tithe Applotment, Nobber Parish, 1826

Eventually though, Owen, his mother and many of his siblings made the trip to America presumably to escape the devastating effects felt from the Great Famine. And based on the fact that they left at the tail end of the famine, it can be assumed that the Shalvoys were probably a bit wealthier than your typical Irish family since they were able to stick it out a little bit longer than the average Irish immigrant. This pattern seems to continue as they break free of the traditional mold of simply settling and looking for work in the port city in which they land.

Interestingly enough, the Shalvoys made their way to Danbury, Connecticut and established a residence there becoming a fairly prominent family in the community. So, what made them decide to trek northward to Danbury instead of just settling in New York City like the majority of their Irish comrades?

Well, based on the research performed by the committee, they believe that they must have known somebody in Danbury being that it was typical for Irish immigrants to only venture to new places when they knew someone already established in that city. Now, they don’t really have any idea of who that person was and thus cannot confirm why they chose to make the almost 70 mile journey. Nevertheless, the Shalvoys made it and established themselves in Danbury during the early 1850s. In Owen’s obituary, it is also stated that he immigrated to Danbury in May of 1851.

After a few years in Danbury, Owen must have met the love of his life, a woman who he spent more than 50 years with because on February 28, 1854, he married Margaret Scollin. Funny thing though is that Owen’s sister Rose ended up getting married to Margaret’s brother Henry Scollin. So, either way these four were destined to be brother-and-sister-in-laws?

Moving forward, between 1854 and 1866, Owen and Margaret had a total of 8 children: James Henry, Thomas Eugene, Mary Jane, Patrick Francis, Hugh (who died young), Hugh Christopher, Ann Elizabeth, and Joseph Clement (who also died young).

He became an American citizen on March 23, 1859 and he first appears in census records in 1860.

Naturalization

As you can see, Owen is listed as being a hatter, and according to the family history, it is said that he first worked as a farm laborer in Danbury, but then learned the trade of hatting.

1860 Census (cropped)
1860 Federal Census, Danbury, Connecticut
1870 Census (cropped)
1870 Federal Census, Danbury, Connecticuty

By 1880, you can see that Owen and the majority of his children were all working as hatters. In fact, for many years Danbury was known as the “Hat Capital of the World” based on the number of hats manufactured there. If interested in learning more, the research committee wrote up a nice piece on their background as hatters which can be found here. They said it best when saying:

It offered the Irish immigrant and his children a way to earn enough money to support his family, to buy a house, to live in America. The story of the hatters of Danbury is the story of our Shalvoy family.

1880 Census (cropped)
1880 Federal Census, Danbury, Connecticut

By 1900, Owen had retired and was tending his own land, which by this time, had grown quite large. Clearly, he had done pretty well for himself being just another Irish immigrant.

1900 Census (cropped)
1900 Federal Census, Danbury, Connecticut
Farm Map
Map of Shalvoy’s Farm

New HousePersonally, when I reflect on the idea of the American Dream, I see Owen Shalvoy. For me, a descendent of Irish immigrants, his story is inspiring as one day he was just yet another Irish immigrant, and the next he was an American landowner and success story. It is clear that the man was an extremely hard worker and cared very much about his family. He was a devoted husband and father as well as a prominent figure in the Danbury community and all of that is made abundantly clear in the way that he is described in his obituary.

Owen Shalvoy - ObituaryUnfortunately, Owen Shalvoy, like his obituary says, lost his wife only two months after their 50th Wedding Anniversary and then subsequently passed away about 5 years later on May 29, 1909 following a stroke. Now, note on his death certificate that his birth date is given as May 16, 1832. Although the month and day may be correct, it is highly doubtful that the year is right. We know that he was baptized in 1819, which would mean that Owen was probably around 90 years old at the time of his death, not 77.

Death Certificate - Owen ShalvoyNevertheless, Owen obviously lived a long, happy, and prosperous life, despite living through one of the toughest times in Ireland’s history whether he believed he was 77 or 90. And for me, he is a testament as to what can happen when you come to America and work really hard. Like I already said, one day just another Irish farmer immigrant, the next an American landowner and success story. Owen Shalvoy is exemplary of the American Dream and I’m glad others before me have already captured this great man’s story.

It certainly made my job writing about him much, much easier!

Owen-signature

#52Ancestors – Week 3 – Rosalia Garcia Bautista

Rosalia Garcia Bautista is my 2nd great-grandmother and the mother of my great-grandmother Frances Fariñas, better known by my siblings and cousins as “Nanny.” Not much is known about her because unfortunately she passed away when my Nanny was only 12. However, I have done my best to piece together her life as much as possible from the research that I have done so far.

According to her husband’s Petition For Naturalization, Rosalia Garcia Bautista was born on December 27, 1890 in Málaga, Spain (the birthplace of the famous Pablo Picasso) and she passed away in New York on April 29, 1933, at only 42 years of age.

Rosalia Garcia Birthdate

I have yet to confirm this birth date with the Province of Málaga, so if anyone knows as to how I can contact them to gather more information, please let me know.

I do, however, know when she came to America from Spain. She actually traveled accompanied with her brother, Pedro Garcia Bautista on the S.S. Pannonia sailing from the Port of Gibraltar on September 16th, 1913.

S.S. Pannonia

As you can see, she is listed as the sister of Pedro Garcia Bautista. Their nationality is Spanish and their last permanent residence was in La Linea, Spain, which is about an hour and a half away from Málaga. Her age is listed as 25, which would instead suggest that she was born in 1888 rather than in 1890. The name and address of their nearest relative that they both provide is of their mother Rosalia Bautista who lived on Calle San Cecilio in La Linea and their final destination is listed as Brooklyn, New York. Pedro is listed as being a laborer and I cannot make out what Rosalia is said to be. So, if anyone can make out what her “Occupation” is, please let me know.

And although no one knows the story of how they met, I do know that it took just about 3 years of being in America for Rosalia Garcia to get married to my 2nd great-grandfather Juan Fariñas in Brooklyn, New York on January 29, 1917.

Marriage Certificate

As you can see, there is again another discrepancy in her age as she is now listed as being 25 again suggesting that she was born in 1892. She is also listed as being born in “Ganio, Spain” which to my knowledge does not exist. The closest spelling of a city in Spain that could be confused with that is Gandia, but that is much farther from Málaga, so I do not think that it is correct. I also know for a fact that Juan Fariñas was born in Bergondo (the place that he listed in his Petition For Naturalization), so I think that both of their birthplaces listed in their marriage certificate are incorrect.

Her parents are also listed as Louis Garcia and Rosalia Bautista and there is plenty to suggest that this information is correct as Rosalia Bautista eventually made the journey to America as well. My grandmother remembers those names as well and she also remembers that in addition to her brother Pedro, Rosalia had another brother named Louis (potentially named after their father). There is no record of a Louis Garcia coming to America though with Rosalia Bautista and she is listed as widowed on the census records I found so I think that he must have died at some point in Spain.

After they were married, Rosalia and Juan had three daughters back-to-back-to-back including my Nanny and her two older sisters Josephine and Louisa. Rosalia’s mother and brother also lived with them as shown in multiple census records at 18 High Street in Brooklyn, which to me indicates that they must have been a very close-knit family.

1920 Census Heading1920 Census (cropped)1920 Census (2) croppedSource: 1920 U.S. Census

1925 NYS Census Heading1925 NYS Census (cropped)

Source: 1925 NYS Census

Unfortunately though, Rosalia Garcia’s life was cut short due to bone cancer. She spent the last 4 months of her life in the hospital due to an osteogenic sarcoma of her right ilium (a cancerous tumor on her right hip) before her kidneys and heart failed.

Death Certificate

Although she left behind her husband and her 3 teenage girls, she must have had a huge impact on all of their lives because story has it that all 3 of her daughters never wanted their father to remarry. In fact, according to my grandmother and her cousin Rosalie, they supposedly coaxed him into never dating another woman by promising him that the 3 of them would take care of him for the rest of his life just as Rosalia would have as his wife.

Rosalia Garcia
Rosalia with her husband Juan Fariñas and 3 daughters, Josephine, Frances, and Louisa

Even though my great-grandmother lost her mother at a very young age, I am confident that she must have been a great woman and mother to her because I spent the first 22 years of my life with my Nanny and she is one of the best women that I have ever known.

If anyone else has any information on this ancestral line or Spanish ancestry in general, please let me know. I’d love to connect more with my Spanish roots.

#52Ancestors – Week 2 – William Achnitz

“Are you writing about yourself?” No, actually my name is William Peter Achnitz III.

The person I am going to be writing about for Week 2 of the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” Challenge is my 2nd great-grandfather, William Achnitz, or better known in Germany as Wilhelm Achnitz (I think?).

This ancestor is really interesting. Not only is he another William Achnitz, but my grandfather (William Peter Achnitz Sr.) referenced him under two different names: William of course and “Big Jake.”

Now, just to be clear my grandfather never knew either of his grandfathers since they had both passed away before he was born. So, everything he knew about them was from family stories passed on by his grandmothers and parents.

There are two things that I always remember my grandfather saying about his grandparents:

1)   “Can you believe both of my grandparents were named William and Catherine?”

2)   And in reference to my cousin Shane’s height: “Maybe one day you’ll be as tall as my grandfather, Big Jake.”

Now, I have no idea whether or not there is any truth behind his legendary size (apparently he was 6’8’’), but what I do know is that there was a set of brothers in Germany with the last name Achnitz and two of them were Wilhelm and Jacob. The person I am related to though has always used the name William when in America but his suspected birth year coincidentally aligns more with Jacob. Did he maybe use his brother’s name when he made the journey across the Atlantic? Or did he just shave a couple of years off his life when asked how old he was to feel a little bit younger?

Without further ado, here is the list of brothers I am talking about:

All this information comes from baptismal records that I found on FamilySearch. However, I have not seen any of the FHL microfilm so I really just know what they have listed on their site. It would be nice if one day they made these images available online as I’m sure it would help a lot of people out in their research. It certainly would have helped me.

Anyways, as per those records, they were all born in Nörvenich, which is a town in the Rhineland of Western Germany and their parents were listed as being Michael Achnitz and Caecilia Schumacher. However, William never uses either of those names on any of the documents that I have found to date in America.

So, I don’t really know anything about his life while he was living in Germany, but at some point he must have gotten married because he came to New York City with his first wife Elsie on the ship Waesland on July 24, 1890. According to the United States Germans to America Index, he was listed as a merchant and his last place of residence was Cologne, Germany, which is about 40 minutes away from Nörvenich. Census records also align with this date making me feel pretty confident that they arrived in America in the year 1890.

Here’s where his age does not seem to align correctly as he is listed as being 28, which would mean that he was born in 1862 (the year Ferdinand was born). Elsie was listed as being 22. Their last names were also spelled ‘Agnitz’ on the immigration record, which I’m coming to find was a common variation of the surname ‘Achnitz.’

As could be expected, for an immigrant that just came to America at the turn of the 20th century, William Achnitz had to work and establish a career. It turns out that he moved around quite a bit during the 1890s. However, he managed to hold down a job as a baker.

1891 Directory
1891 NY City Directory
1892 Directory
1892 NY City Directory
1897 Directory
1897 NY City Directory
1898 Directory
1898 NY City Directory
1899 Directory
1899 NY City Directory

These were the only directories that I found him in before 1900 and he does not appear before 1891. Therefore, I’m pretty confident that his immigration record is accurate.

By the turn of the century, we start to see what William’s family looked like:

1900 Census
1900 Census: William, his wife Elsie, and their 4 kids – Annie, Carrie, Mattie, and William

This census lists him as having been married to Elsie for 10 years, meaning they would have gotten married in the same year that they came to America. We also see that William is actually 12 years older than Elsie rather than 6. This would have made Elsie only 19 when she married William. Perhaps, William was embarrassed by the fact that he was so much older than Elsie and stated a younger age on his immigration record. They are also listed as living at 807 Amsterdam Avenue, which happened to be the same address as the bakery. In fact, it turns out that William and Elsie owned the bakery that was below their residence. And this wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill local bakery that sold baked goods. It was actually an industrial-sized factory that produced baked goods.

1902 Corporation Directory
From Polk’s (Trow’s) New York Copartnership and Corporation Directory, Volume 50, 1902

The American Dream come true? William Achnitz – the owner of Amsterdam Bakery. Until the unspeakable happened…

New York NY Times 1902
From The New York Times, Sunday, August 24, 1902

William and Elsie’s youngest son, little William, at only 4 years of age, was struck and killed by a train called the “Dolly Varden.”

Then, this happened…

Elsa's Disappearance
From The Evening Telegram, New York, Thursday, March 19, 1903
New York NY Herald 1903
From The New York Herald, March 19, 1903

Turns out that William Achnitz had now lost his youngest child, his wife, and his remaining living children all within 1 year’s time. Records from Ancestry.com indicate that Elsie had left the country with Bernard Meiers as well as William’s three remaining children and eventually they made their way to Australia. Additionally, election rolls from Australia show that Bernard was a baker in Australia just like he had been for William in Manhattan. They remained in Australia for about 10 years before making their way back to Manhattan and it is unclear if William was ever aware of their return to New York City.

Now, I do not want to speculate on who was “right” and “wrong” in this scenario because for all I know William Achnitz could have been an abusive husband and father. Nevertheless, this man certainly experienced one tragedy after another. Also note that he is referenced under the name Ross Julius Achnitz in the second article. It seems unlikely that this was a mistake or typo on the part of the newspaper. And I really can’t think of any logical reason why he would use a completely different name. It just seems really odd to me and as you will continue to see none of the information he ever gives seems to align correctly with the original baptismal records I found on FamilySearch.

A couple of years after Elsie’s disappearance, William eventually met my 2nd great-grandmother Catherine Dischler. They got married on May 9, 1905.

Marriage - William and Catherine AchnitzAs you can see, on the marriage certificate of William Achnitz and Catherine Dischler, William lists his parents as William Achnitz and Elizabeth Smith. Also, his age of 45 in the year 1905 would suggest he was born in 1860 (the year Jacob was born). However, the parents on the baptismal records are again Michael Achnitz and Caecilia Schumacher. So, I can’t really say with confidence that either of these records are accurate because this man is consistently inconsistent with the information he provides about himself.

Anyways, William Achnitz had what would be his last child and would end up being Catherine’s only son.

John Achnitz BirthYes, another William. My great-grandfather was born with the name William Achnitz as well. However, he eventually started using the name John and William became his middle name.

1915 NYS Census William Achnitz
1915 NYS Census: William Achnitz, his wife Catherine, and his son John

This is the only census I can find William and Catherine in together. Again, their is inconsistency in the information given as we know for a fact that William came to America in 1890, which would have meant he was only in America for 25 years rather than 30. Another thing that struck me as odd is that they moved and he was now a janitor. How does a well-known, prosperous baker become a janitor?

Upon doing some digging, I found that William took out a chattel mortgage with a man named Mr. Goetz:

Chattel Mortgage
Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide, Volume 67, 1901
Goetz
Trow Business Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, 1913

Based on these two listings, it seems likely that William Achnitz defaulted on the chattel mortgage and Mr. Goetz was transferred ownership of the bakery. It also seems as if he was allowed to continue working at the bakery for a few years, but then at some point he is listed as being a janitor and a superintendent.

1916 Directory
1916 NY City Directory
1917 Directory
1917 NY City Directory
1918 Directory
1918 NY City Directory
1922 Directory
1922 NY City Directory

Unfortunately, William passed away on November 3, 1923 at 11:2opm at his residence of 57 105th Street due to multiple heart complications. He was listed as being 63 years of age.

William Achnitz DeathWhen I ordered this document, I was really hoping for some leads, but as you can see it is probably safe to say that my 2nd great-grandmother who was the respondent did not know the names of his parents – just the fact that they were obviously both born in Germany. He is buried at the same cemetery as his son William Achnitz, so my guess is that they are buried together. If anybody knows where Lutheran Cemetery is please let me know, because I have not been able to find anything listed at the 954 Amsterdam Avenue address.

William Achnitz clearly lived a life filled with tragedy. He lost nearly everyone in his life and in a sense he lost even his livelihood when he lost his business. He also seems to have had a whole slew of health complications which culminated with his heart failing at the end of his life.

Now, I’m not sure if any of this was of his own doing, but what is clear is that if none of these tragedies happened, I do not exist. And that is pretty profound to think. I stem from that one kid he had with his 2nd wife and it’s crazy to think that without his 1st wife leaving after the tragic death of their youngest child, my great-grandfather is never born. My grandfather is never born. My father is never born. And I am never born.

People want to understand why genealogy is important. This is a case in point. A lot of things had to go right for us to be here and in the case of my 2nd great-grandfather William Achnitz, a lot of things had to go wrong.

#52Ancestors – Week 1 – Annmary Esposito

For the last year, I have been obsessed with genealogy:

  • I have watched every episode of the TLC show “Who Do You Think You Are?”
  • I have finally invested in an Ancestry.com membership.
  • I have purchased numerous birth, marriage, and death certificates that revealed more information about my ancestors than I previously knew.
  • And I even did an AncestryDNA kit with my mother this past Christmas.

I love genealogy. And over the course of 2013, I grew an avid appreciation for it as it is the very thing that got us all to where we are at now. Oftentimes, when I was researching my family tree, I found myself reflecting on the thought that a lot of things had to go “right” and/or “wrong” for us all to even exist. It is exactly that thought that not only makes me appreciate genealogy, but life in general.

I love my life and I strongly believe that knowing where you come from should play an important role in your life. It is for that reason that I have pressed on a little deeper than just researching my own family tree. Eventually, I want to become established in the field. So, I have ended up exploring many genealogy blogs and thus far I have been very impressed by the level of proficiency that others seem to possess (i.e., writing their own research tips, publishing family history books, and aiding amateurs like myself).

It is to this degree of proficiency that I hope I can one day reach, which is why I have decided to participate in the “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge.

52ancestors

A little late to the party I know, but what better way to hone my genealogy skills than to write about my ancestors for all of 2014?

With that said, I must disclose in this introduction that I will not be doing this alone. Instead, I will be collaborating with my girlfriend of 6 years because I’m positive that I have not even reached the 52-Ancestor mark in my tree as of yet. Not to mention, being the genealogy enthusiast that I am, I have done the bulk of the research in her family tree and that’s okay because we have every intention to one day unite both our family trees.

So, between the two of us, we will certainly reach the 52-Ancestor mark, particularly because her tree is much more “known” than mine.

Some of you might be asking, “How is it possible that you don’t at least have 52 ancestors in your tree?”

Unlike many other people, I come from a fairly unique situation. I really only know the ancestors on my father’s side and none of them have deep American roots therefore researching them has proven to be more difficult than I would have preferred. On my mother’s side, I know absolutely nothing. So, for my first ancestor, I give you my mother.

Mom-Ashley-2

My mother is Annmary Esposito. She was born on May 9, 1966 in Massapequa, New York and was adopted by my amazing grandparents Ralph Peter Esposito and Antoinette Rende, both who passed away when I was in middle school. Although they were not related to me by blood, they gave me all the experiences that a grandson could have hoped to experience with their grandparents and I will always remember them as such. They were two very amazing people and I know my mother was more than grateful to have been raised by such outstanding parents.

My mother though has no idea who her biological parents are and New York State has sealed the record. In addition, my grandparents didn’t really like to talk about it and over the years my mother has heard a couple of conflicting stories regarding the heritage of her biological parents. On the handful of occasions that she did get to talk about it with her parents, she was told that her biological mother was a teenager at the time of her birth of English descent and the father was a “foreigner” of Greek descent. However, about 5 years ago my Grandfather’s younger brother told my mother that her biological mother was of Swedish descent. So, we are both hoping that the DNA results will shed some light on these accounts to see if there is any truth behind any of them.

Although Italian at heart, my mother knew deep down that she could be anything, which is why we are very much looking forward to our AncestryDNA results. I know my mother would like to know at the very least her heritage and through our many conversations I know that she would be open to meeting either of her biological parents. After all, there is a good possibility that one if not both of them could still be alive today. Perhaps, one of them has even done the AncestryDNA test as well. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

In the meantime though, my mother works full-time as a Senior Data Analyst for the Data Quality and Database Marketing Solutions company DataMentors and works overtime as a full-time mother for my sister Ashley, who happens to be 17 years younger than me. She enjoys cooking, working out with her HEAT High Energy Athletic Training group, watching Lifetime Channel movies, and of course being a mother.

Mom-Ashley

My mother is 50% of who I am and no matter what we find out I am proud to always know that my descendants will know exactly who my mother is – And that is an amazing, dedicated, hard-working mother who loves her kids with all of her heart.