Voices from Duquesne – April 22, 2020

***** Please note the current email for my dad’s blog is AV47573@GMAIL.COM ***

I wanted to share some relatively recent emails that I received from folks that read my blog and might have information or questions they would like to share with us. Please, comment on this post if you have any answers to their questions or share an opinion. Just as a reminder, if you would like to send an email, my email address is: duquesnehunky@gmail.com .

In researching for my grandfather’s death certificate who lived in Duquesne in 1917 and died in 1918 from the Spanish flu, the PA Dept. of Vital Statistics was unable to find his death certificate. With the help of a friend we think we found it but want to verify the information. He was buried in ST. Stephen Magyar Cemetery in McKeesport now, North Versailles. We think the funeral home was in Duquesne as it was signed by Stephen Check (maybe the correct spelling is Cheke). I’m wondering if you have any knowledge of what funeral homes were in Duquesne at that time. We also think he lived in a boarding house on River Road.
I enjoyed reading about A Duquesne Hunky.
Thank you,
Marita Maloney
Marita, I found two funeral director advertisements (below) in The Duquesne News published in 1918 around the time of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. It appears that the service that these businesses offered centered around preparing the deceased for viewing in private homes as was the custom, and also providing carriages for transporting the deceased to the point of burial. City and State Officials and were also directing that funerals be conducted with as small of a group of immediate family as possible in order to limit the further spread of the pandemic. Lastly, if you could let me know what your grandfather’s first and last name were, I might be able to find additional information. I checked using your last name, but was unable to find information.

I love your blog, The Duquesne Hunky. My Mom & Dad are both from Duquesne. My Dad’s father had a grocery store/butcher shop on Grant Ave across the street from St. Joseph’s church, which is where my Mom & Dad were married. My Dad, Albin “Bud” Izydorczyk was a star lineman at Duquesne High School where he played alongside Mike Kopolovich. My cousin played for Duquesne when Coach Kope was the head coach & he would frequently reference my Dad. My parents moved from Duquesne before I was born but I always enjoyed the visits back there. I remember the steel mills operating at full capacity. The town always took me back to a time when family & community were the center of life. My relatives in the Duquesne area are all deceased now so I haven’t been back in years. I know the economy hasn’t been kind to the town & it was disheartening to see the decline the last time I was there. Still, when I did visit the old memories came back. I could see the mill workers walking down & up Grant Ave at shift change & I could see my grandfather behind the butcher’s counter. Reading your blogs keeps my memories alive.

I just read your latest post about New Year’s Eve. We didn’t have the same experiences as you did (and we lived a stone’s throw from your house on Martin, but I can still remember and appreciate so many of the little nuances, traditions and details around those times in that area. I was truly so saddened to read about your Mom. I had no idea. 42 is so unbelievably young to be taken away. I cannot imagine what that was like for you and your family. You would have been a freshman at Serra if I’m not mistaken — I was a year behind you. I never knew about your Mom’s death at that time.
So, I want to thank you again for all your work on this web site. I’ve created and managed web sites over the years in my career in marketing, so I do know of the work involved. Most people have no idea. Lastly, I wish you health and happiness in 2020.
All the best.
Dennis Ragan
(By the way, somehow one of my sisters, Donna Ragan Connolly, got disconnected from your Duquesne Hunky web site subscriber list, so I sent her the copy of the 1969 Echo you posted — she and her husband Jim Connolly loved it — and we talked about Duquesne Hunky at our Ragan sibling party on Friday. I have since sent her the link so that she can resubscribe. As for me, I have been teaching Slovak for 17 or 18 years, first in classrooms in the Indiana, Johnstown and Greensburg areas — and now online for the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society Int’l for the past two year. I was just in Duquesne on Christmas Day at my Uncle Tom Ragan’s house, which is right across the street from where we lived on Kahler St)

My husband has been following your blog with interest as his parents both grew up in Duquesne. His grandmother, Ethel Davies, lived next door to your parents’ home. He has good memories visiting her and of family gatherings there. His mother talked of exploring the Crawford mansion before it was torn down. I am looking for a map of Duquesne from the 1940s that would show the neighborhoods during the time the Crawford mansion was standing. Can you provide any leads of where I might look? Possibly the Mifflin Twp. historical society or Pitt library? I thought I’d ask you first since you seem to be a great resource of information. So appreciative of any leads or additional info on the mansion. -Dawn Chrestay

Jim: I happened to come across the Duquesne Hunky. I am not sure how to post on it but my father, Harry Yecies and his brother Bill owned Yecies Workingmens Store on 701 and 703 Fifth Avenue. The store is referred to in at least two posts in the Duquesne Hunky- October 14, 2014 and August 29, 2012. I worked at the Isaly’s near the Memorial theater around 1961-1964-sold chipped ham for 99 cents a pound- baked ham for $1.39. Klondike’s were 10 cents, cones 10 cents except large skyscraper ones for 15 cents, regular sundaes were 25 cents- hot fudge 35 cents. My family lived in the Grandview area on Cleveland St.

I’m going to apologize in advance if this email gets too long, but the story gets kind of convoluted. But I think the story is interesting (and is getting more interesting) and thought you might enjoy hearing it (and perhaps meeting a new distant (I think) cousin)
I have been an amateur genealogist for years, slowly unraveling the mysteries of my family, which is pretty evenly split between my father’s German side and my mother’s Croatian side. I think that I initially focused on my German Gerstbrein side because 1.) whether rightly or wrongly, I think we often want to know about our “name” line first (and if you have a weird name like “Gerstbrein” it gets even more intriguing) and 2.) the Germans were more organized and provided better leads. But over the past few years (with the help of a genealogist in Munich) I have been able to document my Gerstbrein line to my 7x great-grandfather’s death in Bavaria in 1696. The church books for the parish only begin in 1682, however, so I think I have reached the end of the line in my Gerstbrein research.
And, even though I didn’t have much to go on for my pesky Croatian side, last year, even though I knew it would be difficult, I decided to see if I could figure out ANYTHING more, even though I expected it would be challenging.
As background, my mother was Mildred Draskovich, born in 1932 in Duquesne, PA to Matthew/Mato and Antoinette/Tonka Magdic Draskovich. (I would not be surprised if the name might ring a bell to you as in 1930, my grandparents, lived on Hamilton Ave, just a few doors down from the Puskaric family). My grandmother was born in Duquesne in 1907 to Mato Magdic and Janje Bartolovic, but for some unknown reason my great-grandmother returned to Croatia with my grandmother. Baba came back to the U.S., both a non-English speaker and a U.S. citizen in 1927; I have NO IDEA what happened to my great-grandfather Magdic except that he fell off the earth. My grandfather Mato Draskovic was born in the Ogulin area and came to the U.S. in around 1910. His marriage records refer to his parents as Mato Draskovic and Katie Tomic (born and died in Croatia and listed as dead in my grandparents’ 1929 marriage license application).
Having already exhausted the “leaves” on Ancestry.com and familysearch, I was stumped what to do next and just on a whim, I googled “Croatian Duquesne, PA” and did find a few links, one of which was your blog and the other was Patti Salopek Angus’s.
There were no real concrete leads, but they were fun to look at, and I did write to Patti and told her I enjoyed browsing through her site, especially the page about Croatian Weddings because I had an old Croatian Wedding photo that included my grandparents but nobody else I could identify. While it seems kind of odd to save a photo of a wedding when you don’t know who the bride and groom are, it actually is one of the few photos I have of my grandparents together so I keep it. And so I told Patti, “And if you want another Croatian wedding for your page……” I’d be happy to send along.
At any rate, last summer I did send a copy to Patti and, to my utter amazement, within a day it was identified as the wedding of Rose Puskaric and Samuel Carr! Boy, the power of the internet. And at least that made the photo a bit more meaningful to me because I knew that the Draskovic and Puskaric families lived so close to each other on Hamilton Avenue. That provided a bit more context for the photo.
And….last year I did my first DNA testing with Ancestry.
At first it was a whole bunch of nothing—lots of matches, but many of them were unclear. And then the Germans took over again because I discovered an unknown line of my great-great grandmother’s sister (whose children also came to Pittsburgh) and figuring out those matches took some sleuthing and legwork and working in my “black ops” tree in Ancestry that I use to build trees with matches to see if they lead anywhere interesting.
So, while the Germans took some time, it did show me that sometimes if you start with the DNA match and work your way up (sometimes using the match’s tree (if there is one) and sometimes just plogging along and figuring it out myself) you can figure out something useful. Maybe that would work with these pesky Croatians.
(Hopefully you haven’t drifted off to sleep yet)
Curiously, a few names came up with some frequency in my DNA match list. I have been perplexed to the point of nuttiness by the frequency of the PRIBANIC name in my match list because that is the name of my grandfather’s FIRST wife and shouldn’t match me at all, but it does. That’s another mystery.
Another name that popped up several times was PUSKARIC and, I thought, “hmmm…that is a coincidence” because not only did I know the name from the Hamilton Avenue census, but I also now knew they were in the wedding photo! Maybe they could be related somehow? (I’ve no idea but suspect this would be on my grandmother’s side).
In the spring, I also got some additional match info when my sister Lisa’s DNA test results came in and broadened our Croatian DNA match pool.
And after building a few more family trees, I had a DNA match (or, more accurately, my sister Lisa had a match) with someone named Harvey Churchman (it was small, only 7.5 cm) but with shared matches, too, that made me know it wasn’t a false positive). And then, when I worked up from good ol’ Harvey, I learned that his mother was Barbara Stepetic Churchman, who was the maid of honor in the now less mysterious Puskaric/Carr photo (Barbara was the maid of honor; my grandmother was the matron of honor).
So then, obviously intrigued, I started building that tree out more (boy, those Puskaric and Brajdic marriages can get confusing to an outsider) and saw that Barbara had what looked to be a half sister, Mildred Puskaric, who was the mother of ANOTHER DNA match for Lisa, you! (Of course at only 7 cM the match is quite small—and you and I do not match at all—so we’d probably be something like 6th cousins at best but still, I find it intriguing that it all started with a photo.)
And that’s what led me to write this email to you (sorry…at least I did warn you that this would be long). I still don’t know how we are connected (but I have other matches with Jaga Brajdic Stepetic Puskaric’s brother Frank’s descendents so I think it’s somewhere on that Brajdic side) and can’t get higher than my grandparents still, but I’m learning more about Duquesne Croatians. They sure seem to all be connected and, as I joked with Patti, it is a wonder we all don’t have six fingers on each hand.
And as I also told Patti, “all roads lead to Ogulin.” I feel pretty certain that if someone just built a tree connecteding 8 people there in 1870 we’d have our Rosetta Stone to untangle all of the rest of us. (And I have moved the extended Brajdic and Puskric families from my “black ops” file in Ancestry to my regular tree. I still have to add the photo and for now, that will be the only direct linking to the two families, but I’m pretty certain there is a connection (with at least 6 matches on the various tree branches there has to be) and maybe having it more public will help the mystery to be explained.
Hope that I haven’t bored you too much, but thought you might enjoy knowing that your blog had an impact and that it resulted in a few more distant (albeit longwinded) cousins.
Eric Gerstbrein

I’ve just discovered your Duquesne Hunky blog and have truly ben enjoying it. Your July 24, 2011 post with the 1940 City Directory was a great resource.
I’ve been trying to track the movements of Martin Sullivan on the night of December 17, 1936 using archived newspapers and Google Maps but can’t seem to find 14 McCrea Street, where the Vukelja family lived.
Was McCrea Street renamed at some point?
I’ve seen the street name in relationship to Polish Hill Memorial Park. Was McCrea Street near Grant Avenue?
I appreciate any help you can give me and keep up the good work!
Theresa Check

I also would like to make everyone aware of two very special authors and genealogists who have roots in Duquesne. Take a few moments and check out their websites. Perhaps you’ll discover information you’ll find interesting, or ways to become more familiar with genealogical pursuits!

Patricia J. Angus Preserving the Past to Inspire the Future — AKA Patti Salopek

Lisa AlzoWriter, Lecturer, Genealogist

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27 Responses to Voices from Duquesne – April 22, 2020

  1. voytkova says:

    My grandma used to live on Priscilla Street. When I was little she and I would walk to Polish Hill, straight up Grant before it curved to the left, to a place that had a barnyard type corral with live chickens and ducks. Grandma would buy a live chicken and we would take it to her house on Priscilla. Now this is the weirdly cool and interesting thing – she had a large rock next to the coal furnace and a hatchet nearby. You guessed it, she would grab the chicken and chop off its head and the chicken body would jump around a bit before it died. She plucked it and make wonderful soup from it. I liked the shredded chicken meat which she left in the soup. The killing of the chicken did not bother me. Organic, in more ways than one. Maybe contributed to my loving horror movies, especially Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. South Park where it was filmed is where my dad’s side of the family had family reunions. Play Twilight Zone music now…

  2. voytkova says:

    Here’s a special one: in 1960, I, a HUGE Pirates fan as a kid of about 12, heard that two Buccos, Rocky Nelson and Gino Cimoli, were coming to Duquesne to sign autographs. As i recall, it was a rainy day but I headed down Grant Avenue to the assigned spot, at the corner of Grant and maybe 3rd or 2nd, into a recessed window area of a clothing store (I think), sheltered from potential rain, and waited for my heroes. I had in hand my sacred baseball that I caught as a fly ball, in the left field grandstand. Yep, they showed up and signed the baseball, I don’t recall exactly, but maybe only one other person showed up for the event. Later, my little brother got hold of my consecrated ball and ruined it. Alas, I still have my 1960 Pirates Yearbook, somewhere in my closet or stuck on a bookshelf. I will look for it and maybe take it with me to the Game Seven Gang reunion on October 13, 2020, at the remnant of the Forbes Field outfield wall behind Pitt Law School. Hopefully the covid19 virus will not cause a cancellation of the 60th reunion of fans at the replay of the Pirates 9th inning win against the hated Yankees. By the way, I live in Yankeeland now and had a chat with Elroy Face maybe 3 or 4 years ago at the annual reunion. (He still has that swagger. ) I asked him what does he think of today’s closers and he said, “They are one inning pitchers.” That is a direct quote. Elroy is now 92, and maybe he will show up in October. That would be a treat. I hope I am there.

  3. Jim says:

    Stephanie Wheeler wrote:
    Regarding the above: Murt Shaughnessy owned a funeral home across from Duquesne City Hall on Second Street in the 50’ 60’ etc. He was married to Margaret Check. Her family owned a funeral home down off South Duquesne Avenue years before that.
    I remember that she had a handicapped brother named Steve. Hope this info helps.

  4. connie sturm (Guadaganolo says:

    Hello, Raymond: I used to go to your Uncle Henry’s store all the time since it was so close to St. Joe’s School and right at the corner when I used to take the bus. Remember penny candy? Also, when food was real food and not processed like we have today.

  5. Janet Luptak King says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jim. Fascinating information.

  6. pjangus says:

    I haven’t been doing much with my Duquesne roots lately, but I happened to be working on the Duquesne Salopek branch of my tree when I got notification of your post. As we know, there are seldom coincidences, so I better keep digging now that I’m at it! I’m really glad to see that Eric is still making connections with those Puskarics — keep up the good work!!!

  7. Colleen Byrne Travis says:

    I remember my dad talking about the Check Funeral Home. I think it was below the tracks. From what I remembe,r it was owned by the father of Margret Check Shaughnessy who later married Murt Shaughnessy who owned Shaughnessy’s on Second Street.

  8. RAYMOND B Isadore says:

    Would like to get in touch with Julian Izydorczyk. My name is Raymond Isadore (my family name was Izydorczyk) and my father and grandmother owned Isadore’s market at the top of Kennedy Avenue.

    • Raymond B Isadore says:

      Julian…Your Grandfather Julian was my uncle…we fondly called him “Uncle Lou.” I recall riding in his fire engine which was his joy.

  9. connie sturm (Guadaganolo says:

    I too remember the butcher shop across from St. Joseph Church and did they sell chickens with the feathers on it to be plucked and then cooked? I remember my mom doing just that when I was a little girl in the ’50s

    • Raymond Isadore says:

      Hi Connie: That was my Uncle Julian Louis Izydorczyk’s store. My father Raymond had a grocery store at the top of Kennedy Ave. and my uncle Henry Isadore had a grocery store on Aurles street.

      • voytkova says:

        I used to live on Auriles Street and went to Isadores all the time. I knew his daughter Cindy.

      • Raymond Isadore says:

        That was my uncle Henry Izydore

      • Connie Sturm says:

        Thank you, Raymond, we never had an obesity problem at that time because we always walked to get where we needed to go and meet members of the community. I think that people would oftentimes barter for their provisions which worked out fine for many. I miss those days

      • Raymond Isadore says:

        I miss those days too…lots of walking everywhere. We even walked to Kennywood to swim and would stop at the Dairy Queen for a milkshake on return.

      • Connie Sturm says:

        There was a place for young lovers where we used to park with our boyfriends. We listened to Terry Lee and his music for young lovers and steamed up the 55 chevy’s windows that our boyfriends suped-up in their dad’s garages. I didn’t waste my youth on politicians or political activism. At that gentle time only youth matter because in a flash it is gone only reclaimed again in memory.

      • voytkova says:

        Oh yeah, I was there “up close and personal!”
        T.L lives on: https://www.tlsoundco.com/

      • Connie Sturm says:

        Thank you, I forgot what the hill where everyone parked was called, do you remember? I remember Porky too

      • voytkova says:

        Don’t know about the hill, (maybe Kennywood parking lot?) but there was a place off Grant Avenue Extension, maybe toward Duquesne Homestead Road, by railroad tracks that was a hot spot. Cops chased a certain lad with a Dodge Dart and me away once. Remember the “reverberator” in the rear speakers? It gave the extra special touch to the music for young lovers. Gee, nothing like youthful passion.

      • Connie Sturm says:

        Where we used to go parking was called, “The Ranch,” remember?

      • voytkova says:

        Yes, I remember the name “the ranch” but am not relating it to a certain place. Wow, that is a kick in the head…parking was so much fun. Ha, if my mother only knew!

      • Raymond Isadore says:

        Yes…the Ranch. I believe the area was the entrance to a water treatment plant.

      • Raymond Isadore says:

        Awesome website!

      • voytkova says:

        Almost forgot – Porky Chedwick on WAMO was the man! Still have his “For Grinders Only” series on vinyl.

      • Raymond Isadore says:

        Well put Connie

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