Genealogy: Bernard Contorchick / Kantorczyk / Kandorchack aka Pap

It is truly fascinating to me how one letter changed can make the world of difference in researching a unique surname.  But more fascinating is trying to determine the origin of an entire re-spelling of a surname within your own tree.  Recently I have been working on my Contorchick roots and a ton of research makes me think the name was spelled closer to Kantorczyk in the country of origin (Poland).  In recent months, I made a stop in New Brunswick, NJ and a few more inquiries to the Prothonotary office in Cambria County.  And oh, what treasures I have found.

This blog will put in one place a number of finds for Pap’s life.  I will try to put them in a chronological(ish) order, starting with his birth.  I will explain where I found the various pieces of documentation/data.

1984 Grandpa and Me on his porch in PA

That is the man of the hour (or “of the blog”), Bernard Contorchick and me, sitting on the front porch at his house around 1983-1984.  That weekend Ma drove me to PA from WV to meet “that side” of my family.  Pap was born March 20, 1915 in Middlesex County, NJ.  He passed away Dec 22, 1990 in Cambria County, PA.  He was loved by everyone, especially his children and grandchildren.  I wish I had more time with him.  I met him around 1984-1985 and he passed only a few years later.  When I tell people about him and the limited interaction I had with him, I always mention him making a meatloaf during my visit.  I had never seen a man fix dinner before (Ma was a stay at home mother, Daddy worked at the office and she did the wifely duties of cooking and cleaning).  Pap rolled the meatloaf in cornflakes.  It was delicious.  I remember his laugh, it was a good chuckle.  He smiled a lot while I was there.

1984 Grandpa at his house in PA

My time, and pictures, with Pap were limited so I will try to honor him (best as I can) through my research into his life and family-line.

This blog is a research snapshot of all the information I have been able to secure…  Note: I will present the data/documents in a chronological order according to his life.  I did not receive/retrieve it in the same order.

1985 Grandpa reading the paper

I reached out to the State of New Jersey to request a copy of his birth certificate.  Knowing that my home state of West Virginia makes available birth certificates that are 100+ years old, I was hoping the same would be true for New Jersey.  It was the case. However, the first time I requested the birth certificate, I used “Contorchick” as the spelling of his name and did not offer alternate spellings.  I received a form letter back stating that there were no births on that day or in that month using that surname.  I felt terribly dejected, I had my hopes up very high.  After a few years of research on this line of my family, I have come to realize that originally the surname was spelled with a “K”.  This year I decided to give it another try, especially seeing as I was planning a visit to NYC and I could easily stop and see where his life began in New Jersey.  I provided the state of NJ with a couple different spellings of his name this time.  I also provided them information like where he was born specifically and the names of his parents (also with a few variations in spelling).  The spellings I provided were: Contorchick-Kantorchyk and Soloman-Solomon-Saloman.  I am very fortunate that the researcher processing my request used the specific date and the letter “K” because with the additional details I offered, they were able to find this:

1915-03-20 Birth Certificate - Bernard Contorchick

I know, I know.  Andrew was Pap’s father and that should not be noted as the name of the child.  However, Valentine is in my great-grandfather’s name and of course he called his wife Katie.  So, whether they first named Pap Andrew or maybe a language barrier created some confusion, whatever the reason it does not matter to me.  This is my Grandfather’s birth certificate!

For those interested in requesting birth certificates for genealogical purposes from the state of NJ, there is a $25 fee and the directions can be found by clicking: HERE.

I find Pap again with his parents on the 1920 Federal Census, living on Nicktown Road in Carroltown, Cambria County, PA.  He is five and his native tongue is Polish.  I am unsure why his family chose to move from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.  Referencing back to HORRIBLE name spells (and quite possibly a language barrier), he is noted as Bromstoff Shertochik, son of Catherine and Valentine Shertochik.

Skip ahead seventeen years and on July 10, 1937 (eighty-two years and one week ago), he married the love of his life, Marguerite McCombie..  I have requested a copy of their marriage record from Cambria County (please keep your fingers crossed for me!).  Once I receive a copy, I will update this blog accordingly.

Next significant documentation is Pap’s D.S.S. Form 1, aka Selective Service (or) Draft Registration – On 16 Sep 1940, President Roosevelt put into place a peacetime Selective Service Act.  During WWII there were six draft registrations.  There was an overlap between WWI and WWII registrations so there are some men who were registered twice, having both WWI AND WWII records.  These records will contain a variety of information on the individual including: birth data, marriage data, employment, current address, etc. I first found reference to Pap’s DSS-1 form on the Ancestry website.  From there I researched Fold3, a website containing “decent” military records (but not extensive).  The thing about Fold3 is that they offer a scan of the actual card filled out in your loved one’s handwriting.  For me, seeing signatures on these cards is a thrill.  (Side note, during one of the registrations, eight states in the south had their records destroyed, this included approximately ten percent of the population: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee were affected.  If you have difficulty finding registration cards for an individual, depending on their location, this could be the reason why.)

This is Pap’s DSS-Form1:

Bernard Vaentine Contorchick Registration Card

At the time of his registering, he was twenty-five and married to my Grandma.  They lived in Bakerton, Cambria County, PA.  He was employed with Sterling Coal Company, Elmora, Cambria County, PA.  And there is his signature… LOVE it!  I have used these registration cards before to acknowledge how the individual actually spells their name.  This can be useful when researching documents they have personally submitted during various times in their life.

Many researchers do not realize you have the capability to scroll through the cards once you click on your loved one’s personal form.  The next scan should be of the back of their registration card.  This is Pap’s page two:

Bernard Valentine Contorchick Registration Card Page 2

He was six foot tall, weighing 167 pounds.  He had a light complexion with brown hair and blue eyes.  This second page confirms his data on 16 October 1940, when he signed it, at the Local Board No 2 in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

A quick search for a map of the area at that time will offer you the map below, the link for which can be found here: https://digital.libraries.psu.edu/digital/collection/maps1/id/3019/

On the 1940 Federal Census, Pap and Grandma have two children: Donna and Terry (my Dad). The person transcribing this document noted his name as “Bruia”.  However, upon closer inspection you can tell it is Bruno.  He is 25 and they live in West Carroll, Cambria County, PA.  He is noted as a laborer – working for a mining company.  His highest grade completed in school is eighth.

The 1940 Federal Census is the most recent census available.  Census data is made publicly accessible seventy-two years after its completion.  This census was made available on April 2, 2012.  The 1950 Census will be made available in April of 2022 (three years away and I am sure genealogists are, even now, anxiously awaiting the release).

There was a time, while researching the family line, that I took to looking at pictures from various family members’ Facebook pages.  During one of these “trollings”, I found a post by my Uncle regarding my Grandma in which he states: “you raised your last three children on your own for fifteen years when your husband moved out-of-state when he lost his job in the mines”.  By my best estimates, that would have been around the mid 1950s.  I also believe that explains how my Dad ended up in New Jersey, where he met Ma while working as a postal worker.  I have found a number of newspaper clippings from New Jersey for that time frame.  There are also relatives (including Helen Polinsky, Pap’s sister) in that area.

I found his specific death data on Find A Grave, HERE.  I have since requested management privileges for his memorial.  The main photo for that page was taken by me in March 2019.  I knew that he passed away in 1990 but could not remember the exact date.  This page offered that to me: 22 Dec 1990.  He was 75 years old at the time of his death and was buried at Sacred Heart Catholic Cemetery in Elmora, Cambria County, PA.  Using his exact date of death, I was able to locate and request his obituary from the Altoona Mirror.  This is that obituary:

Bernard Contorchick Obituary

I used his obituary to notate his sibling data.

In March, I traveled to Cambria County PA to do some in-person research at the library as well as in the graveyards.  It was with GREAT difficulty that I found Sacred Heart Cemetery (the church has been assumed by another parish and no longer exists).  I wrote about my graveyard hunt HERE and HERE.

IMG_5302.JPG

There is, of course, more to a life lived than the documentation that accumulates along the way.  As I said before, he was loved by his family.  He lived a full life. and as I remember, he liked Atlantic City and made a mean meatloaf.  AND these are the documents that made up the paperwork of his life.

My next blog will be about Valentine and Katie, each of their trips to America and the paperwork of THEIR lives…

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed.

Ciao

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