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Arm Chair Adventures in the Pa. Death Unit

Hello Fellow Gal(l)icians,

I am now 62 years old.  Up until a week ago, I never knew the real name of my grandmother Jewel Cumashot (var. “Homisak – 1906, Chomisak – 1910,  Cumashot-1920, Chomesak – 1925, Chomasak 1934 (based on old church records from 1906); and of course many of these variants are my best guesses of not too legible old records.

I have always been told that both great-grandparents came from the Ukraine after 1890, settling first in Kingston, Luzerne, Pa., then heading to West Virginia to “follow the coal”, and by 1910 stopping to mine some more in Redstone, Fayette County, Pa.  Some of their daughters married local boys from Fayette and Washington Counties.

By 1918, they had saved up enough to move to 1026 Beaver Road, Ambridge, Beaver Co., Pa. and got “good jobs” in the many local steel mills.  My mother, with her unwed(?) mother Julia (aka Jewel), struggled through the Depression.  My only early memory of this big old yellow brick house up on the hill was of great-grandmother Mary Wasiecko (of course with many variants) lying dying in 1954, soon after my father’s death.

In the past, I have tried to trace them by ordering a 9$ copy of Mary’s death certificate from the Pa. Death Unit, in the Department of Vital Statistics in New Castle.  I did get Mary’s, and found out her father was George Wasiecko, and they came from “Galicia- Austria-Hungary, and that she was born there in 1879.  Up until recently I never knew much about Wasyl (aka Walter), nor “Galicia”.

But Pa. recently eased up on their Byzantine Death and Birth Certificate disclosure rules.  We can now, check their on-line index for deaths from 1906-1961.  I dived into these voluminous files (including some filed in the arcane Russel Soundex = what a mind-bender!), and soon had the 10 file numbers that I was allowed to submit for each day having records pulled at the Pa. Archives in nearby Harrisburg.

My first visit there was a breeze.  I parked at City Island and walked for 15 minutes, along the Susquehanna River Green Way.  The archivists were really good.  At the end of just a couple hours they had pulled my requests, and promptly delivered copies, that were quite reasonably priced.  I soon knew lots about Dunns, Johnsons, Fishlocks, and especially Chomisaks.

I learned that Wasyl Chomisak was born about 1866 in Galicia, son of Stephen and Paraska (nee unknown).  Somehow my years of studying history never told me about Galicia.  I soon found that Gallicia was in central Europe, and probably descended from the Wagon People the Scythians, who raced into Central Europe, and probably became the Gallic people.

Being in the center of all the chaos of European History, Gallicia was controlled by Poland, Lithuania (and perhaps visited by Swedes), Russia, Ukraine, and Austria-Hungary which controlled it until the end of WW2.  I even found a picture of a Galician celebration from the 1890s ( yes, they do look like my family members = short, sturdy, and broad-faced).

So now I am gathering more death indices for more of their family, plus Dunns,  Clabaughs, and more.  I am also ordering obituaries from Fayette and Blair Counties to follow up on some of these leads.  Every once in a while, I get one that proves I’ve been following a ‘bum steer’.  Rather than get angry, I just record that misadventure, and take that person off my list of ‘suspects’, er, ‘ancestors’, I mean…

Thom Dunn Marti

PS:  I have also found that Jewel’s eldest brother John stayed in Fayette County when his family move North.  He had married Nellie Ringer, from West Virginia.  I will soon be submitting John’s 1954  Death Index File Number at my next trip to the Archives.  I might have met him when I was very young.

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