High Strangeness: UFO Genealogy

Sunday, March 8, 2015

UFO Genealogy

Have you ever done genealogical research? It's kind of a pain. I guess I figured it would be like an ancestry.com commercial: I'd enter a name and suddenly all sorts of birth certificates and tintypes and shit would pop up on my screen accompanied by the majestic but subdued sounds of musket-fire.

Nope. It just got confusing really fast.

I woke up this morning thinking about a new avenue of inquiry for my bio of Dr. J. Allen Hynek: namely, that I should try to track down the death records of Dr. Hynek's parents, Joseph and Bertha. I had learned when I interviewed Dr. Hynek's son Paul for the book that his dad had lost both his parents within a couple years of each other, when he was still a teenager. Paul and I surmised that the trauma of losing one parent when he was 14 and the other when he was 17 may have been influential in Dr. Hynek's interest in the spiritual teachings of the Rosicrucians and in Rudolph Steiner's writings about the "supersensible realm." Since Paul was understandably a little foggy on which of his grandparents died in 1924 and which died in 1927, and what they died of, I thought, "Why not do a little digging to see what else turns up...?"

Well, an hour or so of tedious searching for historical records for Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois led me to the website for the Cook County Clerk and its wonderful "Genealogy Online" service, and things finally started to click onto place. Kind of.

The first thing I learned was that all city and county records from before 1871 were destroyed in the great fire, which made me feel very lucky that I was looking for records from the 1920s. The next thing I learned was that Paul was a little off: one of his grandparents had indeed died in 1924, but the other had died in 1929, not 1927 as he had thought. The third thing I learned was a real head-scratcher: either Dr. Hynek had two dads named Joseph Hynek, both of whom died within months of each other in Chicago in 1929, or he had only one dad named Joseph Hynek, who somehow managed to die twice in 1929.
The Chicago Fire, 1871: Where were you?

Neither possibility seemed likely, so I decided to dig further. In this case, "digging" meant shelling out $51 for the death certificates of Dr. Hynek's three parents.

The case of Dr. Hynek's mother Bertha is fairly straightforward. She was born Bertha Waska in Chicago on April 19, 1871, the daughter of Joseph and Marie Waska, both of whom were born in Bohemia. She was a schoolteacher, and died on May 31, 1929, of carcinoma of the breast.

Then there are the two dads...

To avoid confusion, I'll call them "Likely dad" and "Unlikely dad." Likely dad was born in Bohemia on January 8, 1871 and came to the U.S. with his parents, Joseph and Marie Hynek, in 1885, when he was about 14. (Did you notice that both his and his future wife's parents are named Joseph and Marie? What is it with these Bosnians?) He worked as a cigar manufacturer and storekeeper at "Waska & Hynek," the family business, and died from pulmonary edema and cardiac dilatation on March 1, 1924.

Unlikely dad was born June 17, 1889, which makes him about 18 years younger than Likely dad. His parents are listed as "unknown" but he was born in Lower Slovenia and emigrated to the U.S. in 1915. He worked as a storekeeper at an unnamed business and died on July 12, 1924 of acute cardiac dilatation...

Are you as confused as I am? Two men named Joseph Hynek are born 18 years apart in more or less the same corner of the world, both emigrate to Chicago where they work as storekeepers and die a little over four months apart from the exact same cardiac condition (spending one's lifetime manufacturing, selling, and presumably smoking cigars can't be good for one's heart). They are clearly not the same person, but could they be connected somehow? Could Unlikely dad be a cousin or nephew of Likely dad? The black sheep of the family who moved from Bosnia to Lower Slovenia to make it big, then followed his relatives to Chicago and joined the family cigar business when he couldn't cut it? And then died four months after his uncle or cousin?

Is it a mystery to be solved, or a weird coincidence? Did I just blow $17 to download the death certificate of someone who has absolutely nothing to do with my book?

So many questions to ponder...

And then there's this: Did I mention Dr. Hynek's first name is Josef? Did I also mention that many UFOs are described as "cigar shaped"?
Is a cigar really sometimes just a cigar? Or is it always something else?


purrlgurrl said...

Immigrant records from around the turn of the last century are anything but scrupulously accurate.

Names were often mangled by immigration officials. My maternal great-grandfather's family name was changed because someone wrote down the town he came from as his last name in his immigration record. His death certificate shows his real name, not the name on his immigration record, so they don't correlate.

There may be a second person with the name Josef Hynek because somebody handling his immigration was too hurried or couldn't understand he was saying that he came to stay with Josef Hynek. Maybe the poor guy just figured this was now the American name and he had to use it.

It was a far, far different world back then with an extremely casual attitude toward officially recording milestone events, especially for America's immigrants from non-English speaking countries. It makes researching immigrant ancestors more than a little challenging sometimes.

Terry the Censor said...

This might seem off-topic, but I find it odd (for that time period) for Hynek to be born when both parents were 39 years old. That is, unless he was the last in a long line of siblings.

Mark UFO'Connell said...

I thought that was a little odd myself. One genealogy website indicates that Joseph and Bertha lived with Bertha's family--maybe they just couldn't get any privacy :)

Unknown said...

Hey. My name is Caleb Hynek. My great-grandfather's name was Joseph Hynek and, from what I've been told, he worked in Chicago for most of his natural life. I've always had this inexplicable fascination with space and interplanetary/intergalactic life. It may seem strange but I'd really like to know more about anything you've managed to uncover about his genealogy. Maybe anything that's further down the line. I'm sorry for any inconvenience but I never really got to know any of my family. Thank you in advance.