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Genealogy uncovers a woman's link to a moment in Milwaukee's history

CREATED Nov 16, 2012

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  • Video by wtmj.com


MILWAUKEE - For Sue from Menomonee Falls, genealogy is a labor of love.

"It started 30 years ago, before computers, when my father wanted me to find a relative in the family," Sue explains.

Ever since, Sue has made it her mission to learn more about her roots. "I wanted to answer questions I had that my dead relatives couldn't tell me. So I set out and found answers."

Her father, who died earlier this year, loved hearing Sue's stories.

"He was proud, and sometimes I'd come to him with stories and information I found and he'd laugh about it. He'd say 'Figures that would be a Piszczek!'"

In addition to learning more about her Polish heritage, Sue learned she had an ancestor who died in a mysterious way. "I found his death certificate, and it said he was shot on the corner, and I'm like, 'Well what did my ancestor do to get shot?'"

That ancestor was 33-year-old Frank Piszczek, the first police officer killed in the line of duty in the city of Milwaukee, in 1884.

"I'm sad because he's a forgotten hero. Nobody ever knew about him," Sue says.

We decided to learn more about Frank, and visited the Milwaukee County Historical Society.  We found pictures of policemen from the 1880s, when only about 100 officers were on the force.

There's even an old police manual listing qualifications to be a cop.

Sarah Hopley is an archivist at the Historical Society. She told us some of those qualificatins. "You had to live in the city, be able to read and write english, had to be a citizen, and you had to be 5 foot 6, you had to be of good moral character."

Deep in the archives is the coroner's report--detailing the circumstances of Frank's violent death.

"He was shot at what is now 1st and Florida. He did not die immediately, 2 other patrolmen actually heard the shots," Hopley says. She adds, "They went and they found him, Frank was lying on the street, bleeding. They said the prisoner ran, and Frank was able to say he was shot by the person he was transporting."

It's a case so mysterious, no one can even find a picture of Frank, and according to records, the man who shot him was never found.

"Usually they'll mention in the inquest what happens, or know the name of the person who committed it, and they don't have any of that information in there," Hopley explains.

Some memories of Frank do remain. He tops the list of fallen officers at the memorial by the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

As for Sue, she did solve one big mystery! She found Cathi Pescheck--a long lost second cousin, who lives only a few miles down the road in Milwaukee.

"I mean just meeting her, and knowing holy smokes, there are more of us out there," Cathi exclaims.

They found eachother on Ancestry.com, and met in person this Spring.

The two women continue learning more about Frank, and together they'll piece together the never-ending puzzle that is family.

"When I come up with some new information or she does it's like, we email eachother," Cathi says. Sue adds, "It's like gossip, family gossip!"

Frank is so mysterious, even the Milwaukee Police Department doesn't have much information. They do have a record for a Frank J Piszczek who was appointed in 1923--decades after Frank's murder. Sue says according to her research, he may be her grandfather's brother!