Read Selected Stories of Visitors to This Site
In this section appear Intriguing stories shared by collectors like you. The stories are organized by homeland, not by the writer’s name or chronologically. Just select the homelands that interest you and enjoy! Return often because new stories will appear regularly.
- France, Germany, & Ireland: Jim Miller »
- Germany: Kurt Heinz »
- Greece: Kleon Mimis »
- Castellorizo (Greece): Cynthia Leffler »
- Ireland: Terry Sheahan »
- Italy: Daniel Piazza »
- Scandinavia: Edward Morken »
- U.S.A.: Dr. Esper G. Hayes »
- Wisconsin: Kristin Patterson »
Collecting France, Germany, & Ireland
My immigrant ancestors came to the United States from France, Germany, and Ireland. I have found many records in the United States about my ancestors (ship passenger lists, citizenship, marriage, children's births, death, military service, and census) but these documents rarely tell me more than the name of the country, region, or county where they lived. To find earlier generations of ancestors in the “home country,” I need the name of the village, town, or city where my immigrant ancestor was born.
The postmarks on thousands of old envelopes and postcards in postal history collections link someone in the United States with a specific place in another country. A return address with a sender's name, especially if the sender and addressee share a common family name, gives even more information. Not every envelope and postcard sent from another country will involve family or an ancestor's exact birthplace, but many do. The philatelic genealogy website (philgen.org) is a growing collection of digital images of envelopes and postcards with information on the sender and/or recipient connecting people to their ancestral homelands. If you have an envelope or postcard that helped you locate your ancestor's birthplace, please add it to the collection.
I've been collecting stamps for nearly seventy years. Although my ethnic background is German, I wasn't seriously motivated to collecting Germany until a visit ten years ago by a cousin who lives in Emden, Germany. We've been corresponding and exchanging stamps ever since. As a result I've expanded my "new" collection to include nearly every area that is or has ever utilized used German stamps.
Occupation stamps are especially challenging. It's amazing what can be found. Germany is an extremely active stamp issuing nation and certainly exceeds the United States in the complexity of usage. While German stamp collecting has been a delight, I still regard my American collection as my primary interest.
My father's Merchant Marine vessel visited New York City. There, he met and fell in love with my mother. Over the years I have tried to contact relatives in Greece to no avail. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor my parents decided to move to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, to be near my mom's family. My father joined Bethlehem Steel. They wanted him to head up the European division since he spoke seven languages, including Chinese and Japanese. Mom said no, explaining that she wanted us all to be together as a family. At the end of WWII my brother was born. I have always had an interest in my Greek ancestry; my brother did not. My dad was an avid fisherman, having come from a fishing village in the Chalkidikes region of Greece. This is the middle finger of the "three finger" region of northern Greece, about 130 kilometers south of Thessalonica. His family owned an olive tree orchard. I was introduced to stamp collecting by my mother in 1949.
Except for the earliest issues, my collection is near complete. Those Hermes heads and some others are hard on the wallet.
Castellorizo: An Island with a History and Beautiful Stamps
My grandfather left Castellorizo, an island in the Mediterranean to escape the forced conscription into the Turkish military. In 1910 at only sixteen, he came to the United States with his younger brother, knowing no one and speaking no English. However, he soon found the Greek community and made his way south to New Orleans and eventually Mobile, Alabama, where he married, established a tailor shop, and had eleven children.
Castellorizo has been occupied by many different countries, and today it is part of Greece. Turkey is the closest geographically and may have occupied the island more than any country other than Greece. Stamps have been issued by only two occupiers, France and Italy, although Britain and Albania have also occupied the tiny island.
There are a number of Greek stamps that highlight the beauty of the island, as Greece has issued a number of beautiful stamps showing off the gorgeous Greek islands. The stamps from France and Italy comprise a little more than one hundred and although I do not yet own all of them, I do hope to someday.
The history of the island, the family history of my grandfather's trip from there to America, and my interest in stamps made this a natural for my first area of specialization. Each show I attend finds me in the bourse at some point asking every dealer if he/she has any stamps from Castellorizo. Most of the dealers haven't even heard of the place, so I have many opportunities to tell them my grandfather's story and hence my interest in the island's stamps.
Like so many descendants of Irish immigrants, I dreamed of visiting the “homeland.” Ireland, however, is a pretty big island with considerable diversity, and I wanted to see the particular region, land, and little towns my ancestors had known. None of my living relatives knew the location, great-grandpa had come from so many years ago and had been dead since 1929. None of them had ever asked. I should have asked my grandmother myself while I had the chance, but I hadn’t. I felt doomed to live with the void.
A browning, fragile, and somewhat tattered envelope with a return address and postmark provided the answer. Somehow, I faintly remembered the envelope, which I had seen as a small child. Planning a trip to Ireland in 2005, I determined to find it. I tore my mother’s house apart looking. Finally, I found it with a stack of old papers stashed in a drawer. There it was—everything I needed on an envelope postmarked “1936,” with a return address in Newcastlewest, County Limerick. My great-grandfather’s sister had sent it, and my grandmother (and then my mother) had saved it.
Thank goodness for the mail and for those who saved what probably had seemed an insignificant scrap. The bit of information it bore opened-up an entire world to me . . . one that would have been lost to my family forever otherwise. When I arrived in Ireland, I went directly to Newcastlewest and literally walked to my long-lost relative’s home. It was a dream come true.
I began collecting Italian stamps off family letters in the basement of my great-grandmother’s home on Staten Island, New York, when I was in grade school.
My great-grandmother, Maria Zanussi, left her hometown in Friuli, Italy, during the vicious but little-known campaigns in northern Italy during World War I. Although my great-grandfather, Giovanni Roperti, returned to Italy several times in his life, she never did. Most of the letters I found in the basement dated to the 1950s and had stamps from Italy’s long-running Siracusana definitive series. They featured an allegory of Italy as a woman with a turreted crown, taken from an ancient coin discovered at Syracuse in Sicily. The discovery sparked a fascination with that series in particular and Italian stamps in general, and I still collect them. I only wish that I had more of the covers intact—especially the ones franked with commemorative stamps, which are harder to find on cover—and that I had paid more attention to the letters and what they could have told me about my great-grandmother and my Italian relatives.
Those letters, the stamps, and her relatives’ occasional visits to the U.S. were my great-grandmother’s only connection to the land she never saw again and sometimes seemed to want to forget. They are my connection, too, as I have never been to Italy, but I have learned much about its history, art, and culture from its stamps.
Worldwide stamp collecting has been an on and off hobby of mine over the years. Being retired has given me more time to pursue this hobby.
More than 25 years ago I noticed some Norwegian stamps had the designer's or engraver's name printed on the bottom corner. To my surprise, some of the stamps had my last name and I began collecting these stamps. After this discovery, my older cousin told me she had visited our grandfather's birthplace in Norway. There she had met a relative of ours who worked for the Norway Post. He was an engraver and designer and had made many stamps for the country.
With this knowledge I was inspired to travel to Norway. Since then I have made four different trips to Norway and met my relative Sverre Morken. I have learned that he has made over 180 stamps for the country. I once told him he was like Gustav Vigeland the famous sculptor. He replied that Vigeland had many helpers.
Except for a few stamps, my Norwegian collection is complete. I am currently collecting other Nordic countries.
The African American Homeland
I wish I could know my family's homelamd. I am the third generation of black American. My grandmother was freed as a slave girl at age 12. She told me stories about her time as a slave. The one thing she told me was that my homeland was the United States of America. This is why I promised Jesse Owens to do something to make Black people take pride in being Americans and of their accomplishments. We are Americans. He proved this when he won the gold in the 1936 Olympics in Germany. So I founded Ebony Society of Philatelic Events & Reflection. We educate others with philatelic material of Black Americans. I am very proud of my homeland: The U.S.A.
-Dr. Esper G. Hayes
I was born in Wisconsin as were my parents, their parents, and even their parents. I spent my first 22 years in Wisconsin, leaving the state only a couple of times before high school. I now have lived on the west coast since 1996. But for me, my homeland is not a foreign country but the state of Wisconsin, where my parents still live and my ancestors are buried.
The first U.S. tax on documents occurred after the start of the American Civil War. In recent years I began collecting Wisconsin documents with these revenue stamps. The Civil War was a trying time and no battles were fought in Wisconsin, but over 90,000 Wisconsinites enlisted or were drafted. This ultimately affected hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin families. I have enjoyed researching the people and places that formed the state for which I spent the formidable years of my life in.
I may now reside 2,000 miles from Wisconsin, but through these documents I now feel more connected to the state. It also brings me home every summer to continue my research efforts.