@cookjmc authored, Content Development, Leadership

The most important marketing research project I’ve taken on- ancestry. My genealogy.

Critical Thinking as a Path to Research

As a marketer, I’m research oriented by nature. I enjoy looking up and verifying facts, knowing that the internet is not how you learn, it’s how you use your critical thinking to build stories/assumption or outlines based on truths.

As I embark on a last minute trip joining a friend on business, I am ever-more excited about this journey. I am going to both Krakow and Prague in the upcoming week. And I’ve always wondered the question, how did my family get here? I am both Polish and Czech. My last name does not indicate this, as when I divorced a long time ago, I decided that my name was going to not change back as it was always a challenge to spell. A decision that I’ve regretted, as I’ve become “branded” cookjmc, it’s hard to change at this point. My maiden name is Houdek. And on my mother’s slide it is Televiak/Slenski. I can see how quickly a woman’s history can become forgotten, as your namesake on both sides of your parents is a direct connection to your past. But I think our past ancestors were often anxious to camouflage into american society and were willing to change and conform to names that sounded american. Most of my early ancestors have done this. Fact I know from records. Their names were representative of where they came from. I’d like to bring those names back!

Finding snippets of information here and there with also discovering multiple ways of spellings of last names, changing of first names, and making some smart assumptions on errors and potential inaccurate information, I cobbled together dates with my calculator figuring out from ages of death, approximate birth dates. Continuing to google along, I researched tombstones, obituaries and the like to come up with a beautiful family tree. In some cases I had some information to start with. And in some cases, no one can remember. On both sides of my family, all grandparents and grandparent siblings are deceased. I’m was never a scholar in history, in fact I got a D+ twice in college. But history to me was a series of memorization and multiple choice exams- I can never excel in that environment. Because of this trip, I was thirsting for information. I grew up thinking we were just boring normal Americans. My grandparents stories were those of hard work in America. I didn’t hear any about their parents or their parents’ origination. So I just always thought, I am only American with splashed of culture in cooking and some language here and there. Which was enough- for a long time.

This trip inspired me to learn about the history of my family and pay more attention and absorb the history that affected these regions. Situations which likely, inspired their departure to start new lives in America where they could pursue their dreams by working for them. History never has been more exciting to me. Years ago, we started building a profile on Geni.com. Having started there, I just continued there, adding names and documents as I discovered them along the way. I also am chatting with aunts and my parents to see if what I am finding makes sense. I’m not the first one to try and put this together. But the resources have multiplied over time. Technology has made it possible to start and find much of it, in days.

Grandparents H: Anna Mary Gerba Houdek and Joseph Houdek
Grandparents H: Anna Mary Gerba Houdek and Joseph Houdek

Proud Czechoslovakia roots.
From my father, I knew for a fact that my grandfather (born 1906) emigrated to America from Czechoslovakia around 1926 on a boat with his grandmother, after both his parents had passed away. I knew he worked hard to become an American citizen, going to night school to learn English and waiting until he secured citizenship to marry my grandmother and he was a machinist. I have approximate dates of when he might have emigrated based on a proof of his citizenship in 1932. I know he returned to the region once more when it was a communist country (I can’t imagine how that trip must have felt to him) to host a work trip with his boss in 1962 thereabouts. I know for a fact I have roots in a small town outside of Prague, named Breznice where he claimed he was from on his citizenship certificate. So when I go to Prague next week I am ready to find out more. What I don’t know, nor does my family know, is his grandmother’s name (first name), her maiden name, or where she is from. And on that note, where or who his parents were since they both died when he was young. I am excited for my quest! My goal is to secure the birth certificate that will lead to filling out this side of my father’s family tree. I have a good action plan and I hope to come back with answers of my true heritage. I am going to be there for 5 days. I plan for one day to go the city and research in that little town 30 miles outside of Prague.

On my father’s mother’s side, I’ve been able to trace back or at least find my great grandmother’s maiden name (1887). But that’s as far as I’ve been able to go. I know my grandmother is Slovak. I haven’t had any success getting any further than that beyond that tidbit of info of her mother’s maiden name. Something even my family did not know. It’s a short trip, I won’t have time to go anywhere other than outside Prague. I will have to research deeper into that one. And maybe plan another trip. My grandmother was one of 8 children. Processing this story is going to take some time. But it stopped at her grandmother/grandfather. Again none of her siblings are alive either to fill in the blanks.


Grandparents T : Mary Catherine Slenski Televiak and Joseph Theodore Televiak
Grandparents T : Mary Catherine Slenski Televiak and Joseph Theodore Televiak

We are not just Polish, we are from Poland…
Since my mother’s side is known to be Polish from her mother, and I am going to Krakow, I too wondered, was there ancestry origination from Poland? Thanks to the amazing digitized West Virginia archives (mind blowing what they have) I was able to find online death certificates for my great grandfather, great granduncle. Even more encouraged when on both their death certificates indicated origination from Poland! I was also able to find online marriage certificates for my great grandmother/grandfather which on them indicated Poland origination. I was more than encouraged and inspired to continue my search. I found marriage certificates for my grandmothers two sisters and a brother. Thanks to the WVarchives having their death certificates digitally available. All online! Go West Virginia!

Both my great grandfather and great granduncle were from Poland. But no indication of from where in Poland. My questions needed further investigation. Where are they from? How did they get here?

I’ve always known my family is hard working, but discovering the ancestry of generations before me, that while a child, I never appreciated the stories of “walking up a hill with no shoes”, I ever more appreciate who these people were. My great grandfather and great granduncle were coal miners. My grandmother and her siblings were literally coal miners kids. Both men died from the coal mines. On their death certificates verification of cancer inoperable. Lungs. Larynx. What a sad place to work, unaware of the long term toxicity of what they were doing. But they did it. My great grandfather raised a family of six working those mines. Wow.

Through ancestry.com I found a 1940 census report which indicated both my great grandmother and great grandfather were both from Poland! On that form I found two codes under citizenship, NA and AL – naturalized citizen and alien. Again through google, I was able to find a Facebook page and contacted the Polish Genealogy Society (online) to get some ideas on local research. They suggested call the cemetery (known burial is on the death certificate) and call the library. We needed to tap into every resource in the US before we can figure out where in Poland. If they became naturalized citizens, it would be documented locally. No luck with the local cemetery. But the library was very friendly, and am now waiting, feeling closer than ever to finding out more about where these hard-working people that are my family, come from. I haven’t had any success on ellisisland.com to find out any information, but that is probably because the dates and name changes I can’t seem to crack- yet.

On my mother’s father’s side I have not even been able to get started outside of I know that he was from New Jersey and that his family is Ukrainian. I’m sure there’s a big story there too and I will discover more. I don’t know anything else, but I am on the case. One side from each of the family on this trip is all I have time for right now! But so much more to tap into.

Getting started is easier than you think.
What I have learned about chasing the roots of ancestry, is that there are fabulous resources out there, to pay for to find out information. I haven’t paid for any of them – yet. I’m happy to promote and contribute a donation to the WV archives and the Polish Genealogy Society. These are wonderful resources that just are trying to connect you with the ancestry that is yours. I hope I can get to be so lucky when I head to Prague next week to uncover my grandfathers history of his parents and his grandparents. A birth certificate copy is my goal, but I’m hoping for more.

I will be in Poland first. And even if I don’t find out where exactly my family is from, the trip has become volumes more special, because I know our roots originate from that region, truly, and I can bring back snippets of that experience.

Through first hand research I discovered I have a family tree of 87 people, with 66 of them being blood relatives. So far!

My family tree on both sides of the family is not complete, but will continue to grow! I'm the white box.
My geni.com tree on both sides of the family is not complete, but will continue to grow! I’m the white box.

In any case in less than 4 days (I started this project on last Thursday) I’ve been able to construct a family tree of over 87 people, 66 of them blood relatives. Pretty darn cool. I’m not giving up on the rest of them- my mom’s father’s side and my dad’s grandmother’s side, just encouraged how much I could find out using critical thinking and google to uncover enough for my trip. Thank you internet of all things. You just really connected my history in a way I never could imagine and now I can share this with my entire, very large, very proud family. I really think the coolest part of all this, is I can play a movie in my mind somewhat and have so much appreciation for the hard working people that are responsible for influencing who I am and the way I think today- generations before me. Now that is something to be proud of!






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