We Interrupt This Broadcast For a Special Announcement…

Many of you might be wondering right now where the third installment in my Geneteka tutorial is. I’d planned on posting it today, but then, life threw me a curve ball. The curve ball came in the form of some genealogy research that my friend and colleague, Marcel Elias, completed for me today in the Diocesan Archive in Fulda, Germany. Since Fulda is a little out of the way for Marcel, I’d asked him to get to the work when he had time, but we hadn’t established a particular time frame. Well, Marcel decided to surprise me with the research today — and I’m thrilled!

Wagner family tree

Now, this isn’t going to be a post with a whole lot of intensive analysis of genealogical data. Nope, this is just me being incredibly excited about having a whole lot of “new” ancestors to get to know. Presumably you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t care about genealogy, so maybe you can relate. For me, each new surname is a cause for celebration. Who knew I was descended from Orths, and Daubes, and Rieds, and Krählings? Not to mention the Schicks, Jacobis and Lauers that appear on the second page?

Wagner family tree part 2

Each given name is exciting, even when half of them are Johann, Maria, or Elisabetha. Marcel hasn’t had a chance to send me the records yet, so right now, I’m just pondering the GEDCOM file he sent, which I’ve already merged into my existing family tree, along with a few notes he jotted to me on the train on his way home. Things like, “Once upon a time, there was a mill in Roßdorf called Seemühle. And a family Wagner/Wagener operated it. Hence their nickname Seemüller…. the mill your ancestors operated worked already in 1361. But I don’t know if your family was there.” He also mentioned that the records themselves are in Latin, rather than German. I feel like I dodged a bullet there, because German is still a struggle for me, but the amount of Latin required to read typical church vital records is pretty minimal.

One of the best parts about all this research is that it proves that I was right. Researching immigrant ancestors is such a thrill for me because making that jump across the Atlantic can be quite a challenge. Finding the right records with the right clues, wrestling with misspelled place names, hypothesizing about what the ancestral village must be, and then determining the parish which would serve that village, are all part of the game. But until one finds one’s ancestors in records from that hypothetical location, the whole house of cards could come tumbling down. In this case, I nailed the location — the village of Roßdorf, near Amöneburg, Germany — so I’m savoring the sweetness of the victory.

I’ve written about my Wagners previously, and in that last post, I concluded, “Although the evidence looks pretty good at this point, the identification of the Wagners’ ancestral village must be considered tentative until we find mention of them in the church records for Roßdorf.” And so it was, until today.

The beautiful thing about this piece of research is that there can be no doubt that this is the right family, even with an exceptionally popular German surname like Wagner. All the parts add up so perfectly. My great-great-grandfather, Henry Wagner (shown in dark green in the first image), was known from U.S. sources to have been born circa 15 December 1829 to parents Johann Heinrich “John Henry” Wagner and Maria Anna Nau. All three of them immigrated to the U.S. circa 1853, along with three of Henry’s siblings, John, August, and Gertrude. Since John Henry and Maria Anna immigrated as well, there was some evidence from U.S. records for their year of birth, in addition to just their names. This evidence suggested that Johann Heinrich and Maria Anna were each born circa 1803.

The records that Marcel located show that Henry Wagner, baptized Carl Heinrich, was born 16 December 1829 to Johann Heinrich Wagner, who was himself born 27 July 1803, and Maria Anna Nau, who was born 7 September 1793. Even given the 10-year discrepancy with Maria Anna’s age, the pieces just don’t come together any better than that. And they were all right there in the village of Roßdorf, exactly where they were supposed to be. It makes me so happy when all the evidence fits.

So, I hope you’ll forgive me if I got a little off-track with the final installment of my Geneteka tutorial. There’s been a whole lot of celebrating going on in the Szczepankiewicz house today, because my ancestors who were lost to the mists of time are lost no more. Thanks for all your hard work, Marcel, and to all those waiting on that Geneteka tutorial — thanks for your patience.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Geneteka: Part II

Yesterday I posted the first installment of an updated, more comprehensive tutorial for using the popular Polish vital records database, Geneteka. In that post, I provided an introduction to Geneteka, a walk through the search interface, and some information about how Geneteka’s search algorithms work. Today I’ll discuss searching with two surnames, using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, searching within a specified parish, using the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, and using the “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para.”

Searching with two surnames

Let’s return now to our search for my great-grandfather, Józef Zieliński, anywhere in Mazowiecki province. If you recall, there were 29 pages of results from our first attempt to find him by inputting only his given name and surname. Let’s assume that I do a little more research in U.S. records and discover evidence that he was born between 1890 and 1895. That immediately reduces the results down to a mere 3 pages.

Jozef Zielinski range of years

If I do just a bit more research to procure his marriage record or death record from U.S. sources, I can discover his parents’ names: Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota. This is the most powerful bit of information we’ve discovered so far, because it allows me to zoom in immediately on my great-grandfather’s birth record.

Jozef Zielinski birth

Voilà! Instant gratification! If I want to discover all the children born to this couple, I can search again, leaving out Józef’s given name. (For that matter, inclusion of his mother’s given name is not necessary here, so I’ll leave that out, too.) Remember to remove the restriction on the range of years, however, unless you have a very good idea of your ancestor’s position in the birth order in his family.

Zielinski Kalota

Geneteka is a thing of beauty, truly. Even if I never bothered to accurately determine from U.S. records that my great-grandfather Józef Zieliński was from the village of Mistrzewice in gmina Młodzieszyn, in Sochaczew County, I could have discovered that instantly based on indexed records in Geneteka. Of course, it still makes sense to gather all the information that you can from U.S. records first, as further evidence for the soundness of your conclusion, and to guard against the possibility that there were two men named Józef Zieliński, both born in Poland in the same approximate time period to fathers who both happened to be named Stanisław and mothers who both happened to be named Marianna Kalota. Although that seems highly improbable, it might be more possible if the mother also had a very popular surname such as Nowak or Kowalska.

If we click on the “Marriages” tab, we can look for marriage records that involve these two surnames.

Zielinski Kalota marriages

This result illustrates another feature of the basic search: results will include either of the specified surnames in any field. In the first result, the groom had the surname Kalot (discovered by the search algorithm since the final “a” is truncated) and his mother’s maiden name was Zielińska. In the second result, the groom was a Zieliński, and the maiden name of the bride’s mother was Kalota. Since the other names in these records don’t match well with existing evidence for my family, and since these marriages took place in the parishes of Brzóza and Leszno rather than Mistrzewice or Młodzieszyn, we can conclude that neither of these results is relevant to our search.

Moving on to the death records now, we see that all of these results are relevant and correspond to 8 of the 10 children of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński whose birth records were discovered previously. (If you’re interested, the sad story of the Zieliński family is here.)

Deaths

There’s one final point I’d like to make about searching with two surnames before we move on, and that is, sometimes less is more. In older Polish records, particularly marriage and death records, it’s not unusual for a woman’s maiden name to be omitted. So if you’re searching for marriage records for all the children of hypothetical couple Jan Kowalski and Jadwiga Lis from the parish of Różan, it’s quite possible that a marriage record will exist for one of their sons (let’s call him Piotr), in which he is described only as “son of Jan and Jadwiga, the spouses Kowalski.” If you restrict your search too much by specifying both surnames, Kowalski and Lis, and both given names, Jan and Jadwiga, you’ll miss Piotr’s marriage record. The search engine won’t find it, because the indexer could not possibly have included Jadwiga’s maiden name in the index since it wasn’t mentioned in the original record. One the other hand, if you search for records containing (1) surname Kowalski, given name Jan, and (2) given name Jagwiga (no surname), Piotr’s marriage record should show up. The other technique that would be helpful here would be to check the box for “Wyszukaj jako para/Relationship search,” but we’ll discuss that further tomorrow.

Using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column

Focusing now on the various buttons in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, we see that the page showing birth records mentioning Zieliński and Kalota has three infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, “i,” “Z”, and “A,” in addition to “Skan.” However, the page showing death records that mention these surnames only has “Z” and “A” infodots, and only two of the records are linked to scans. This is a pretty typical result for Geneteka, and it arises because of the way Geneteka is created. As mentioned in the introduction, Geneteka is an evolving work in progress, and indexing requirements have changed since its inception. Therefore some indexes are more limited than others in the information they provide. In this case, the birth records are as complete as one could wish for, including all information necessary to determine the relevance of a record to one’s research, and a link to the scan. Some of the death entries are slightly less complete, since they’re missing the “i” infodot and the “skan” link, but they’re still pretty good. However, you may encounter indexed entries in Geneteka for which very little information is available beyond the parish, the year of the event, the record number, and the name of the key participants (baptized or deceased in a birth or death record, names of bride and groom in a marriage record). The lack of parents’ names found in some indexes makes it more difficult to determine if a record is relevant to your research or not, but any information online at all is better than nothing, and even such “bare-bones” indexes can be helpful finding aids when going through parish records. If your entry of interest is complete except for a link to a scan, there are often places where these can be found online. (For one example of how to do this, please see this post on using the FamilySearch catalog.)

So what do those infodots tell us? Starting with the “i,” if you hover over it, additional information about the record is revealed. For example, the “i” infodot for Franciszek Zieliński tells us that he was born 16 September 1886 (the little “r” that appears after the year stands for “roku,” the Polish word for year, and is merely an artifact of the translation process.)

i infodot

Other types of information might be available via the “i” as well, such as the towns where the bride and groom lived in a marriage record, whether or not the bride or groom was married previously, or whether the information provided in that entry came only from the sumariusz or skorowidz (internal indexes created by the priest within the book itself), rather than coming from a reading of the actual record. You may also see “i” infodots located in other places in an indexed entry, such as near a name. In such cases they’re usually there to indicate the existence of an alternate name under which the person was known, such as a maiden name in the death record of a married woman, or an alias, usually indicated by “vel” (meaning alias).

The “Z” infodot provides information about the archive that holds the original record which is indexed for a particular entry. In this case, originals are at the Grodzisk branch of the State Archive of Warsaw, and the archive’s address is also provided.

Z infodot

The “Z” button acts not only as an infodot, but also as a link: hovering over it will provide information, but clicking it will take you to the archive’s website. Note that in some cases, the Z will tell you only that the record came from “Archiwum Parafialne,” or the parish archive. That means that these records were indexed because the parish priest permitted the volunteer indexer to go in and index the books on site. In order to get copies of the records, you need to contact the parish, or find a professional researcher in that area. However, in most other cases copies of these records can be obtained in some other way, such as in an online repository like GenBaza, FamilySearch, etc. Just because the information in the “Z” infodot states that a record was obtained from, say, the Archiwum Diecezjalnym w Płocku, doesn’t mean that the only way to obtain a copy is by writing to the archive. Many records from both state and diocesan archives in Poland have been microfilmed or digitized by the Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church), and are available online or are viewable at your local Mormon Family History Center (FHC). The final infodot, the “A,” reveals the name of the volunteer indexer to whom we owe our debt of gratitude.

Searching within a specific parish

In our ongoing example with the family of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota, we discovered that all of the births and deaths for their children were recorded in either Mistrzewice or Młodzieszyn. In fact, it’s clear that the family lived in Mistrzewice the entire time, although it appears that the village was transferred to the parish of Młodzieszyn sometime between the baptism of Władysław in 1897 and the baptism of Jan in 1899.

Mistrzewice

We might predict, then, that Stanisław and Marianna were married in or near Mistrzewice circa 1885, before the birth of their oldest child in 1886. However, no marriage records were found for this couple anywhere in present-day Mazowieckie province when we searched for records mentioning both their surnames. Why might that be? The answer can be found by careful examination of the range of records indexed for each parish. To illustrate, let’s go back and repeat our search for surnames Zieliński and Kalota in Mazowieckie, this time using the drop-down menu in the “Parish/Parafia” search box to limit the search to results from Mistrzewice parish. When we do that, the results are displayed with the handy graphic, shown below, which gives us a timeline of the range of years available for indexed records.

Parish search bar

If we switch over to marriages, we see that marriage records for Mistrzewice are indexed from 1855-1863, with a gap in 1864, then continue from 1865-1893, followed by another one-year gap in 1894, and then finish with 1895-1898. Since we anticipate that Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota were married circa 1885, their marriage record should appear in this index if they married in Mistrzewice, but it does not. So where did they marry? Probably someplace nearby, so let’s repeat the search using the “Include search in nearby parishes (15 km radius)/Wyszukaj również w pobliskich parafiach (15km)” option.

Mistrzewice marriages

When we repeat the search with that box checked, the display will tell us exactly which indexed parishes were searched, and their distance from the target parish.

Nearby parishes

However, there’s still no marriage record. Why? Well, in this case, further research revealed that Marianna Kalota’s family was from the parish of Młodzieszyn. Since it’s customary to marry in the bride’s parish, the answer to the problem is apparent after a quick check on the availability of indexed marriage records for Młodzieszyn.

Mlodzieszyn marriages

Stanisław and Marianna married circa 1885, and marriage records for Młodzieszyn are not indexed until 1889. Unfortunately, the State Archive has no earlier records for this parish beyond what’s indexed in Geneteka, nor does the diocesan archive, and the parish website states that records exist only back to 1945. Apparently, I’m out of luck with that marriage record. However, this example demonstrates the importance of paying attention to the range of years that’s indexed for your parish of interest, because it will absolutely influence your results.

Using the Parish Records Collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych

There’s another handy feature associated with that timeline graphic that’s worth mentioning. This is the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, circled here in red.

Parish records collection

When you click that link, it takes you to a page with information about the selected parish in the Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych, which is one of the sister sites to Geneteka sponsored by the PTG. (You can also access the site directly, without going through Geneteka, here.) Theoretically, this page is only available in Polish, as indicated by the lack of an American/British flag icon.

Mistrzewice in KZM

In fact, you really don’t need to know a whole lot of Polish to be able to use the site as-is. However, if you’re really uncomfortable this way, there are two options for translating the page into English. The first is to use Google Chrome as your browser, then right-click anywhere on the page and select, “Translate to English,” as shown here.

Translate to English

The second is to copy the URL, and then paste that into the “input” box in Google Translate for Polish to English translation. The URL won’t appear to change, but if you click on the URL in the “output” box, the page will appear in English.

Once we do either of those things, we see that this page has some great information about the parish, including the parish name (Sts. Stanisław and Dorothy), the year the parish was founded, and some information about the old Województwo (province) in which the parish was located prior to the administrative reform of 1998, when Poland reorganized its 49 provinces into the 16 provinces that exist today. Knowing the old province can be useful for looking up the parish at sites like Baza PRADZIAD, which use the old administrative designations to distinguish between parishes with the same name. Similarly, information is provided about the new province and powiat (county) in which the parish is located today.

English version for Mistrzewice

We also see a very helpful note about which portal(s) contain indexed records for this parish, as well as which books are available from the archives. In this case, the only records that are available from the State Archive branch in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are already indexed in Geneteka, so no further information is provided in these boxes about available birth, marriage (“oath”) or death records. There’s also a note explaining that the parish ceased to exist in 1915, which isn’t strictly true. As mentioned previously, the parish functions were transferred to Młodzieszyn in 1898, but the church in Mistrzewice was destroyed by a fire in 1915, which is probably what was meant here. In any case, let’s look at another example, the parish in Kowalewo-Opactwo, Wielkopolskie province, to see an example of a Katalog entry for a parish that’s currently active.

kowalewo

The parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo (which translates as Kowalewo Abbey) is in the historical Poznań area, so marriage records from this parish are indexed in the Poznan Project, in addition to being indexed in Geneteka for the range of years noted. The parish itself only has records since 1916 (births) or 1947 (marriages and deaths), as shown here, underlined in green, so you could presumably write to them to request a copy of a recent record, and they might be willing to comply, within the restrictions imposed by Polish privacy laws. (Under current Polish privacy laws, access to birth records is restricted for a period of 100 years from the date of the event, and access to marriage and death records is restricted for 80 years. Only immediate family or direct descendants can request copies of records dated within this interval.) Finally, this tells us that the Archdiocesan Archive in Włocławek has additional marriage records from 1828-1866, which implies that there’s an extra year’s worth of marriage records available that’s not indexed in either Geneteka or the Poznan Project.

While the information available in the Katalog can be extremely helpful in identifying the repositories in which one might find records for a particular parish, it’s important to realize that you should still do your own research. In this case, the entry fails to mention the LDS microfilms/digitized records that cover births, marriages and deaths for the period from 1868-1879 which were created from original records held by the State Archive in Poznań. Additional records (1880-1889, and 1910-1914) are also available online at Szukajwarchiwach. There are also these microfilms of parish records for Kowalewo that go all the way up to 1979, covering births from 1916-1958, with a gap from 1936-1944, as well as marriages from 1947-1956 and deaths from 1947-1979. Since such recent records are clearly protected by the aforementioned Polish privacy laws, it’s unlikely that these will be digitized any time soon but could nonetheless be researched in person or by proxy at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Despite these occasional flaws, it’s convenient to have so much parish information in one place, which is why it’s worth clicking that “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link on the Geneteka search page for your parish of interest.

Using “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para”

The remaining search options that we haven’t discussed in depth include “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para,” “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” and “Exact search/Wyszukiwanie dokładne.” To illustrate the first one, let’s give Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota a break and use the example of Stanisław’s parents, Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz. Let’s pretend we have no idea where this family was from, and want to search in all of Mazowiecki province. Since it’s possible that there will be records for this family that don’t mention Antonina’s maiden name, we’ll try searching according to just Michał’s name and Antonina’s given name. As noted previously, Zieliński is a popular name, so that strategy will yield a lot of results to wade through.

Michal and Antonina results

Moreover, as mentioned previously, this search will return results for these names in any field. So for example, the first birth in the list is for Antonina Kucharczyk, daughter of Michał Kucharczyk and Zofia Zielińska — not what we’re searching for at all. However, Geneteka gives us the option to tie Michał Zieliński together with Antonina and search for them as a pair. If we repeat the search with the “Relationship search/Wyszukaj jako para” box checked, our results are much more targeted.

Michal and Antonina as a pair

With this box checked, every birth record that is returned is a child of Michał Zieliński and a mother named Antonina. In all of the instances shown here, the mother’s maiden name was included, so we probably could have narrowed the search just by specifying that piece of information. However, if we switch over to the page of death records from this same search, we see that there is, in fact, one death record we would have missed if we’d specified that maiden name.

Waleria Zielinski death no mother's maiden name

Sure enough, the death record of Waleria Zielińska from 1900 did not mention her mother’s maiden name, and so we might have missed it if we’d been too rigid in our search methods.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer some examples of using the final two search options that require a bit more discussion, “Skip search in parents’ column/Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” and “Exact search/Wyszukiwanie dokładne.” Then we’ll get into the various options for finding scans, based on the repository to which the “skan” button is linked. See you then!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Geneteka: Part I

A little over a year ago, I wrote a tutorial for using the popular Polish vital records database, Geneteka, and I’m happy to report that many users found it very helpful. At that time, Geneteka had recently made significant changes to their user interface, and my primary goal was to address those changes. Consequently, the tutorial wasn’t as comprehensive as it could have been, especially in regard to locating scans of indexed records discovered through the database. With that in mind, I decided it was time for a major revision. This version is definitely more comprehensive, but now it’s also exceptionally long for a blog post. For that reason, I decided to break it up into three posts which I’ll publish over the next few days. This first installment provides an introduction to Geneteka, a walk through the search interface, and some information about how Geneteka’s search algorithms work. So without further ado, here is my “Version 2.0” of a user’s guide to Geneteka.

What is Geneteka?

Geneteka is a database of nearly 25 million (as of today) Polish vital records that have been indexed by surname and given name, from parishes and registry offices which are grouped according to the contemporary province in Poland in which they lie. Geneteka is part of a family of websites sponsored by the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (PTG), which is the Polish Genealogical Society. All of these sites are created entirely be volunteers, and they’re hosted online by membership dues paid to the PTG and donations from users. Geneteka is also an evolving work in progress, and indexing requirements have changed since its inception. Therefore it’s important to realize that some indexes are more limited than others in the information they provide, and the differences in information included in these indexes will be discussed in more detail in this tutorial. Each of Geneteka’s “sister sites” is wonderful in its own way, and several of these will probably be discussed in future blog posts. (One of these, Metryki, was already discussed in a previous blog post.) But today, let’s focus on Geneteka.

Geneteka’s home page appears in Polish by default. However, you can easily switch the language to English by clicking the American/British flag, circled here in red.

Geneteka main page

This main page offers an interactive map where we can click on the name of a province of interest, as well as a search box near the top right, where we can type in the name of a parish to see if records for that parish have been indexed here. Some indexes for locations in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine are also included, as well as an additional category called Pozostałe (“Others”) that includes indexes from a few places in Russia, a church in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, and St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, New York. Below that search box, there is a list of Polish provinces. Click the name of a province to search for records from that entire province, as an alternative to clicking it on the map. To the right of the list of provinces, there is information on the number of parishes and civil registry offices that have been indexed for each province, as well as the total number of indexed records. From this we can get a feel for how good the coverage is for each particular area. For example, there are fewer than 350 parishes and registry offices that have been indexed for the Lesser Poland province (województwo małopolskie), with about half a million vital records, whereas there are over 1,800 parishes and registry offices indexed for the Mazovian province (województwo mazowieckie), with more than 6.6 million records. Note that even though the city of Warsaw is located in the Mazovian province, there are so many vital records from the city itself that these records are included in a separate category.

Malopolska vs. Mazovia

It’s important to remember that Geneteka is still a work in progress. New indexes are being added weekly, all created by volunteers, who are the unsung heroes of the genealogy community, and to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. However, many parishes have not yet been indexed at all, or have not yet been indexed for the particular range of years needed for one’s research. Therefore I still recommend that you determine your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin first, using records created in his new homeland, rather than trying to make the leap back to Poland by checking Geneteka first. It’s all too easy to attach spurious ancestors to one’s family tree by haphazard searches in Geneteka, especially if the surname is common, or there is a lack of identifying information such as parents’ names for the immigrant ancestor.

As a side note, if you’re interested in checking the most recent additions to the Geneteka database, you can click the link that says, “Nowości w serwisie/News,” circled in red, and it will take you to a page that provides specific information on this.

News

For example, on the day I’m writing this, indexes were added for the parishes of Białotarsk and Grudusk. Both of these parishes are located in Mazowieckie province (MZ), and for Białotarsk, the new information consists of expanded entries (rozszerzenie) for indexes that existed previously in a more limited form, covering births (U), marriages, (M), and deaths (Z) from 1845-1848 and from 1850-1852. The indexer was Bożena Prymus (thank you, Bożena!). If you wish to search the updates for a specific province, you can do that using the drop-down menu.

News details

An introduction to the search boxes

With that introduction out of the way, we can move on to the nitty-gritty. Let’s take the example of a search for ancestors in Mazowieckie province. We click “Mazowieckie” on the map or in the list of provinces on the home page, and arrive at the search screen for indexes from parishes and registry offices in Mazowieckie province.

Mazowiecki search screen

Remember that you can switch the language at any time, on any screen, using the appropriate flag icon at the top, which is very convenient for those who might not be completely comfortable with searching in Polish. As an alternative to clicking the flag icon, people sometimes try to use Google Chrome as their browser and then right-click on the page to translate it, or they attempt to translate the page by copying the URL into Google Translate. While either of these methods will work to some extent, they are not recommended because they produce the unfortunate side-effect of translation of certain surnames and place names, which can make the search results difficult to interpret. Try looking for the Polish villages of “Helmets” (Kaski), “Vineyard” (Winnica), and “Tenement House” (Kamienica) on a map! Page translation using the flag icon will eliminate these undesirable side-effects.

Let’s start by taking a look at each of the search boxes at the top on the left. As we examine the first one, “Teren” (Polish) or “Province” (English), we see that, although we already selected the province, Mazowieckie, on the home page, there’s a drop-down menu which will allow us to switch provinces at any time during the search, which is handy if your ancestors lived near the border between two modern-day provinces.

Province drop down menu

Next, we see the search box for “Parafia” or “Parish.” The default search covers “Wszystkie Miejscowości,” or “All Locations.” Again, this only means all the parishes or registry offices whose records have been indexed for some time period and placed in Geneteka. It does not suggest that the locations that appear in the drop-down menu are the only parishes or registry offices in that province, nor does it even suggest that these are the only indexed records that exist for a particular parish or registry office. There are other indexing databases that are more comprehensive than Geneteka for particular parts of Poland, such as Lubgens for the Lublin area, Projekt Podlasie for the historical Podlasie region, or the Poznan Project for marriage records (only) from the historical Poznań region. (For a more complete list of databases of indexed Polish vital records, please see here.)

Parish drop-down menu

Next, we come to the “Osoba,” or “Person” fields, where one is prompted to enter a surname (at minimum) or a surname and given name. Below that is the option for “oraz” (“or”), where we can enter a second surname (“nazwisko”) and given name (“imię”). This is an exceptionally handy way to drill down to the most relevant results, since it allows you to enter a mother’s maiden name. However, there are a few caveats about using this technique, which we’ll discuss later on.

At the top right, we see that we can limit our search results by specifying a particular range of years (“Zakres lat”). Below that is a list of further options (“Opcje”) which include “Wyszukiwanie dokładne,” or “Exact Search,” “Wyszukaj jako para,” or “Relationship Search,” (literally, “search as a pair”), “Nie wyszukuj w rodzicach,” or “Skip Search in Parents’ Column,” and each of these options has a small “i” next to it.

infodots

If you hover your cursor over these “i” infodots (hover, don’t click!), additional information is provided by way of explanation. However, in some cases it’s still not clear exactly what those explanations mean until you play around with the website a bit, or read this tutorial. I’ll offer some examples to illustrate the use of these options as we progress.

The next two options are fairly self-explanatory. There is an option to perform a search for a target parish and then include additional parishes within a 15-kilometer radius (“Wyszukaj również w pobliskich parafiach (15km)”). Obviously, if you start with the default search, which is for all locations, this feature is disabled because it’s not relevant. Furthermore, these “additional parishes” are once again limited to parishes whose records are indexed in Geneteka. Selecting this option will not identify every parish that ever existed or exists today within a 15-kilometer radius of the target parish. Finally, there is “Wyszukaj tylko indeksy z ostatnich X dni,” or ” Search only indexes added in past X days.” If you’d like to use this, you must first check the selection box before you attempt to change the search interval. Another info dot explains that this option limits the search to recently added, updated, or corrected indexes within the chosen time frame.

Starting a search: What’s in a name?

Let’s start with a real-life example: searching for my great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, anywhere in records from Mazowieckie province. If we’re going to research Polish ancestors, it’s important to recognize that their original Polish given names might not be the names that they used in America. For example, the name Joseph is spelled “Józef” in Polish, Thomas is “Tomasz,” and Adalbert (or sometimes Albert) is the usual translation for the Polish name “Wojciech.” My preference is to input the correct Polish version into the “Imię/Name” box when starting a search. However, the developers of  Geneteka anticipated this issue to some extent, and provided an option to search by certain English given names. Therefore a search for “Joseph,”  “Thomas” or “Albert” in the given name field will produce the same results as a search for “Józef,” “Tomasz,” or “Wojciech.” However, this only works to a point, since there are many traditional Slavic names like Stanisław, Czesław, and Bronisława which lack direct English translations. Morevoer, there are names like Pelagia and Petronilla, that are the same in English as they are in Polish, but weren’t popular in English-speaking countries in the 19th and 20th centuries. Polish immigrants who bore these names typically chose a different name to use in English, and the names they chose were entirely personal, possibly bearing some vague phonetic similarity to their original name, but not necessarily. Thus, Stanisław could become Stanley or Stephen, Czesław could become Chester or Charlie, and Bronislawa could become Bernice or Bertha, while Pelagia and Petronilla could be Pearl or Polly. Consequently, searching for these English names will not produce results, or will produce erroneous results. This underscores the need for solid research in U.S. documents prior to beginning your search in Polish databases so you know what your ancestors’ names actually were. Note that diacritics aren’t important in either the surname or the given name field, so you can type “Jozef Zielinski” and still find results for Józef Zieliński. Assuming we add no other identifying information, here’s what that search would produce:

Jozef Zielinski search results

Let’s take a moment to examine these results so we can understand how results are reported. There are three separate tabs for viewing births, marriages and deaths. Births are presented first, by default. Since we didn’t narrow the range of dates at all, results begin in 1707 and continue for 29 pages, through 1916, with such an impressive number of results owing in part to the popularity of the surname “Zieliński.” Reported data include, from left to right, the year of the record (“Rok”), the record number (“Akt”), the given name and surname of the person named in the birth record (“Imię”and “Nazwisko”), the given name of his father (“Imię ojca”), the given name and maiden surname of his mother (“Imię matki” and “Nazwisko matki”), the parish where the event was recorded (“Parafia”), the specific village within the parish where the event took place (“Miejscowość”), and remarks (“Uwagi”). Remember that for rural areas, one Catholic or Protestant parish typically served a number of small villages. Births and deaths typically occurred at home, but then the child or deceased was brought to the parish for baptism (after a birth) or a funeral (after a death). This is why the specific village might be different from the parish in the case of birth and death records. Since marriages always took place in the church (usually in the bride’s parish), there are no additional columns for specific villages in which the bride and groom resided, although this information may optionally be linked to the “i” infodot in the “Remarks” section.

Births, marriages and deaths

Note also that each column heading has next to it a pair of small blue triangles. These allow you to sort the results according to that column, in either ascending or descending order. By default, results are sorted by year, starting with the oldest records first.

Year

However, if we wish to alphabetize search results according to given name, for example, we could click the top blue triangle in the given name column, and the results would be presented as shown below:Given name

Geneteka offers another option for sorting results via the search box located in the upper right corner.

Search

This feature can be used to search for all entries that mention a specific surname, for example, or a particular place. It’s worth noting that if you use this option, diacritics matter. A search for “Dabrow” will return no results, but a search for “Dąbrow” will return results that include this string of characters in any field.

DAbrow

Thus, results include the subset of births which mention given name “Józef,” surname “Zieliński” and also “Dąbrowska” as the mother’s maiden name or Dąbrowa as the place of baptism.

In practice, I don’t use these sorting features much. I prefer to set up the search with sufficient restrictions in other fields that I am able to drill down to the results that are important to me without having to do extensive searching through pages of results. However, others might prefer different methods, and it’s good to know that these options exist for searching and sorting your results, in case you ever need them.

Zielińskis and Zielewskis and Zieleks, oh my! A look at Geneteka’s search algorithms

Let’s take a closer look at the way Geneteka’s search algorithm performs by starting with a broader search for “Zielinski” in Mazowieckie province, with only the surname and no further restrictions.

Zielinski results

The results include a whopping 347 pages of births, but as you start to look through them, you’ll notice a few things about the results that are returned. First, both male and female names are included in the results. The algorithm truncates the final i/a in surnames which exhibit masculine and feminine forms, so that a search for either form will produce results for both forms. There’s one exception to this rule, and that’s for names ending in –dzki/-dzka. For this reason, a search for “Grodzki” will only produce results that reflect the masculine form of the name, and “Grodzka” must be searched separately.

The second thing you’ll notice is that results include not only the surname Zieliński/Zielińska, but also Zielinski/Zielinska — a surname which exists in Poland, but is much less popular and is considered to be “incorrect.” This confirms that the search engine ignores diacritics, as mentioned previously, which is a significant help to English-speaking researchers who might not be aware that their target surname originally included them. In the majority of cases where the spelling “Zielinski” exists in these indexes, it’s because the diacritic was missing in the original record. This is most likely because the priest was a bit sloppy and did not include the kreska (the Polish name for the acute accent on the n), or it was faded and unreadable, rather than that the indexer was sloppy. Indexers are instructed to record surnames and given names exactly as they appear in the record, rather correcting them to their modern spellings. Moreover, if you find that your family name was spelled without a diacritic on a particular record, it does not suggest that your family exhibited a strong preference for spelling the name that way. Many of our ancestors were illiterate, and even if they were not, consistency in surname spellings was just not a priority back then as it is today.

So far, we’ve established that a basic search ignores both diacritics and gender. However, it does more than just that. Closer inspection of the search results reveals additional surnames such as Zielek, Ziła, Zielewska, and Żulińska. These surnames appear because Geneteka’s search algorithm has a built-in flexibility regarding letter substitutions commonly found in old records. For example, “e” and “ew” are treated as equivalents, so that a search for “Olszewski” will also produce results for Olszeski. Other pairs of equivalents include “oy/oj” (so Woyciechowski equals Wojciechowski), “ei/ej” (so Szweikowski equals Szwejkowski), and “sz/ś” (so Szczygielski equals Ścigielski). Since Geneteka ignores diacritics, however, surnames containing certain phonetic equivalents such as “rz/ż” must nonetheless be searched separately, e.g. Zarzycki and Zażycki. Geneteka’s search algorithm also takes into account transliterations between Polish and other languages, so a search for the German surname Schmidt will produce results for Szmit, Schmiedt, Schmit, Szmitt, etc. Also, names ending in “e,” “y” or “a” are truncated, so a search for “Mishke” will return results for Miszke, Miszka, Mischke, and Mischka.

In my next post, I’ll discuss searching with two surnames, using the infodots in the “Remarks/Uwagi” column, searching within a specified parish, using the “Parish records collection/Katalog Zasobów Metrykalnych” link, and using the “Relationship serach/Wyszukaj jako para.” Stay tuned!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Digital Images in the FamilySearch Catalog

Recently, I discussed the use of Catholic church records for discovering the place of origin in the Old Country for one’s immigrant ancestors. Many people seem to be put off by the idea of obtaining church records from parishes in the U.S. because it may require some extra effort — letter writing, phone calls, or personal visits to the parish. However, in some cases, it’s possible to find church records — and many other types of records as well — online, at FamilySearch. The key is to know how to search the site to get the most out of it, and many beginners just don’t know how to do that. So today, I’d like to demonstrate the different results that are obtained by using two different strategies to find records in FamilySearch, and to explain how to access browsable images for those who may be unfamiliar with the process.

Even if you’re new to genealogy, you may have heard of FamilySearch. FamilySearch is the search portal for records gathered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). If you’re really brand new to genealogy and have never visited their site before, then you should begin by registering to create a free account.Search box

Once you’ve created an account and are logged in, you can begin by clicking the “search” icon at the bottom, near the center of the page.

Searching Indexed Historical Records at FamilySearch

There are a number of different ways you can use this site to search for records pertaining to your ancestors. Most people begin by using the “Search Historical Records” interface, shown here:Search Historical Records

This is a great way to see what indexed records might be available, but it’s important to remember that it only taps into records that are included in indexed databases. To give you an example of what this strategy will find and what it will not find, let’s look for a baptismal record for Zofia/Sophia Klaus, born in Buffalo, New York in 1891. If I enter that information into the search form, as shown above, here’s what results:

Sophia Klaus, search results

Notice that the top search results include hits from two databases, the Social Security Death Index and Ellis Island passenger arrivals, but no birth records. These aren’t all the results, however. These are just the search results that were determined to be the best matches according to the search algorithm. If we want to view the results another way which allows us to drill down to birth records more easily, we can click the “Collections” view at the top (shown in red in the image above) rather than the “Records” view which is the default display format. Once we click “Collections,” the results are broken down into various categories, such as “Birth, Marriage & Death,” “Census & Lists,” “Migration & Naturalization,” etc. Since we’re looking for a birth record, we’re only interested in results from that first category.

Birth Marriage and Death

The image above shows collections in which an approximate match was found for our Zofia/Sophia Klaus. Notice that the top five “Birth, Marriage & Death” databases are all death records and obituaries. While this may be helpful in locating a birth date (based on a death date) it’s not going to give us an actual birth certificate or baptismal record. For that matter, it helps to realize that, prior to about 1915, there was no full compliance with the law requiring birth registrations in New York State , so we’re better off seeking a baptismal record for someone born in 1891, rather than a birth certificate, in any case. Although the top five databases weren’t much help, maybe we can find something for Zofia in another collection? Let’s try clicking on “Show all 9” (circled in red in the image above) to see what they’ve got.

All 9

The result? Nada.

Searching Browsable Scans at FamilySearch

At this point, many family historians might conclude that FamilySearch doesn’t have any baptismal records for Zofia/Sophia Klaus. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. In reality, FamilySearch offers a vast wealth of genealogical records that have not yet been indexed, but can nonetheless be viewed online as browsable scans. How do we find those records? We search the Family History Library (FHL) catalog, which can be accessed by going back to that “Search” option at the top, and selecting “Catalog” from the drop-down menu.

Catalog search

Once we click “Catalog,” it takes us to the page shown below, where we can search for a place name, in this case, “Buffalo.” Various options are offered for places with “Buffalo” in the name, but if we type anything further (e.g. “New York”) it narrows the options until we’re only looking at one place.

Buffalo, NY

Once we’ve clicked on the desired place (in the green box), we can see all the types of records that are available from the Family History Library pertaining to Buffalo. We’re interested in church records, near the bottom of this image:

Church records

I know that Zofia/Sophia Klaus was the daughter of Polish immigrants Andrew/Andrzej and Marianna/Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, who were Catholic, so she was likely to have been baptized in an ethnic Polish Catholic parish. When I click on “Church records,” I have a variety of options for records from a number of different Christian faiths. If I didn’t know which parishes in Buffalo were founded by Polish immigrants (and which of those parishes were in existence by 1891), a quick internet search could probably assist me, and might in fact lead me to this list of Polish parishes in Western New York, offered by the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State (PGSNYS).

Once all the collections in the catalog which pertain to Polish parishes have been identified, I could search through all of them, looking for baptisms circa 1891 in order to find Zofia. However, a better strategy would be to try to determine which parish the family might have belonged to based on their address in city directories around the time of Zofia’s birth. Cutting to the chase here, let’s take a look at records from St. Adalbert’s Basilica in Buffalo, which we find in the list of available parish records:

Church records St. Adelbert

This is perhaps the only confusing part in this process. I’ve had people come to me saying, “But I clicked ‘Add’ and it didn’t do anything!” At this point, you want to click on the title of the collection, “Church records, 1887-1916,” do not click where it says, “Add.” When you click on the title, you come to this page:

St. Adalbert's

Once you arrive here, it’s important to realize that the good stuff is at the bottom. Don’t click “Add to Print List,” just scroll down on the page, as indicated by the red arrow. Once you scroll down, you’ll see the following:

Film notes

The first thing you should look at is the part that says “Notes,” because this tells you precisely what the film contains — in this case, “Microfilm of original records at St. Adalbert Basilica Parish, Buffalo, New York.” The language of the records is usually noted here (in this case, Latin), as is other helpful information, such as the fact that most volumes include an internal index. This means that you won’t have to search page by page to find your ancestors — you can consult the internal index created by the priest within the parish register itself, and then find the relevant entries pertaining to your ancestors. Finally, the film notes specify the exact range of years that are included for each type of vital event — births, marriages, and deaths.

Below the Notes, there is a section called “Film/Digital Notes.” This tells you the original microfilm number for this collection, as well as the corresponding DGS number (digital folder number) for the images. On the far right, there is a camera icon. This indicates that the images are freely available online, from any computer. Sometimes you’ll see an icon depicting a camera with a key above it. In those instances, access to the images is restricted, and they must be viewed at a Family History Center (FHC). Although this restriction may seem like a nuisance, the situation is really no different than in the “good old days” of microfilm rental, since travel to the FHC was necessary in order to view the microfilms, too. However, in this case we’re really lucky, because we can peruse church records from St. Adalbert’s at 2 am if we wish, wearing our favorite jammies in our comfiest chair.

Once you click that “camera” icon, you see an array of thumbnail images:

Film images

Note also that the DGS number, the image number, and the total number of available images in the collection are noted in the upper left corner. You’ll want to make note of these in your source citation, which is your trail of breadcrumbs for locating the record again should you or another researcher wish to understand how you found the record in the first place. (If you’re not sure how to cite online images like this, Elizabeth Shown Mills explains it all here.)

By browsing through the thumbnails, you can locate the internal index, and ultimately, find the baptismal record for little Zofia/Sophia:

Zofia Klaus

By now you may realize that the catalog can also be used to find other types of genealogical records, including vital records from places in Europe. The important thing to remember when doing a place search in the FHL catalog is that you need to search for the name of the place where the records were created, rather than searching for the name of the village where your ancestors was born. These two places are not always the same. In Russian Poland, for example, the local Roman Catholic church maintained both church registers and the civil vital registers for Roman Catholic residents within the parish, so it is the parish name that should be searched in the FHL catalog. The parish which served a particular village can be determined by checking a gazetteer, and I’ve provided a list of some good ones here.

As an example, let’s suppose that I have evidence that my ancestors came from the village of Wierzbno in Słupca County in the former Kalisz gubernia (province) of Russian Poland. I won’t find that particular village in the FHL catalog, because Wierzbno was not the seat of a parish. Even worse, I will find 3 places called Wierzbno in the catalog, but none of them will be correct because all of these results pertain to places by the same name that are located in other parts of Poland. Searching for my ancestors in these records will be a complete waste of time.

Wierzbno

However, if I check a gazetteer (in this case, Volume 2 of the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, published in 1877), I see that the village of Wierzbno in Słupca County belongs to the parish of Kowalewo (indicated below, with a small typo, as “Kowalew,” — an issue which can be resolved by looking at a map).

Wierzbno in SKP With this information in hand, I can go back to the FHL catalog and check for “Kowalewo,” select the result for the Kowalewo that’s in Słupca County, and find both the original church records (księgi metrykalne, written in Latin) and the copies created for the civil authorities (kopie księg metrykalnych, written in Polish until 1868, and then in Russian).

Kowalewo records

As noted previously, clicking on the title of the collection will bring up the full list of films available. In the case of the księgi metrykalne, we see that none of these microfilms have been digitized. Unfortunately, the Family History Library discontinued their microfilm rental service last year due to the rising costs associated with supporting this outdated technology, and in light of the progress they’ve made with digitizing their vast collection of microfilms. They hope to digitize the remaining microfilms by 2020, but in the meantime, these microfilms are only available at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City. If you’re desperate to obtain records from these microfilms right now, your best option would be to hire a researcher in Poland who could obtain copies from the Archdiocesan Archive in Gniezno for you, since the film notes state that this is the archive which possesses the original records. Alternatively, you could hire a researcher in Salt Lake City to access those microfilms for you, or try some of the other strategies suggested here.

The situation regarding access is much more promising with the civil records (kopie księg metrykalnych) for Kowalewo, however. The “camera + key” icon tells us that each of the seven microfilms has already been digitized, although they can only be viewed at your local FHC. When viewing, you’ll want to pay attention to the item numbers, underlined in red in the image below, because it often happens that the same roll of microfilm or digital folder contains records from different parishes in Poland.

Kopie

Thus, in order to access Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów 1876-1879 (birth, marriage and death records from 1876-1879) from Kowalewo parish, you’ll have to skip ahead through the images in the digital folder until you get to Item 15.

Sometimes it happens that one finds records for one’s family in an indexing database like Geneteka, but the indexed entry is not linked to a scan. (If you’re researching Polish ancestors but are not familiar with Geneteka, please see this tutorial.) This does not suggest that no scan is available online. Rather, since Geneteka is created by volunteers, and new scans are being added regularly at sites like FamilySearch, Szukajwarchiwach, etc., it may just be that the volunteers have not yet had an opportunity to put links in place.  Therefore, the FHL catalog should always be one of the sites you routinely check when you look for scans for indexed entries found in Geneteka.

An example of this is shown here. Geneteka contains an entry for the marriage record of Wincenty Tomaszewski and Franciszka Czapkiewicz who married in Chrostkowo in 1858.

Tomaszewski

No scan is linked to this entry, so should we assume that this record has not been digitized somewhere? No. A search of the FHL catalog reveals that both church and civil records are available for Chrostkowo. As was true with records for Kowalewo, accessibility is a mixed bag, with some records being available for viewing only at the FHC. On first glance, it appears that our 1858 marriage is going to be one of those records with restricted access, since we anticipate that it will be included in the collection, Akta małżeństw 1846-1889.

Akta malzenstw

However, if we keep scrolling down that page, it becomes clear that there is sometimes overlap or redundancy in the microfilmed/digitized collections from the FHL for a particular parish. In this case, our 1858 marriage record is freely accessible in the collection, Akta małżeństw 1846-1863.

1846-1863

From that point, it’s not too difficult to locate marriage record #25 from 1858, which was accurately described in the Geneteka index as the marriage record for Wincenty Tomaszewski and Franciszka Czapkiewicz, whose names are underlined in red in the image below.

Tomaszewski marriage

At this point, you may be wondering about the reason behind the difference in accessibility for different collections of records from the same parish. The answer to this question often lies in the Notes within the FHL catalog entry. In the case of civil records for Chrostkowo parish (Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1889), the microfilms were made from original records which are held by three different archives: the Geheimen Staatsarchiv in Berlin, the Katholischen Kirchenbuchamt in Munich, and the Archiwum Diecezjalne in Płock.

Archives

In order to place scans online, the LDS must negotiate terms with the owners of the records. Some archives don’t mind if the scans are freely available, but others will allow the LDS to place them online only under more restricted access conditions. From a practical standpoint, most of us don’t really care which archive owns the original records, as long as we can access them one way or another. However, it’s important to be aware of this potential for redundancy in the available collections, and the consequent need for close examination of the Film/Digital Notes in the FHL catalog entry for your parish of interest before concluding that a trip to the FHC is necessary.

As you can see from these examples, there’s much more to FamilySearch than just the indexed records. By utilizing the the catalog, you may discover collections of browsable scans that will allow you to break through your brick walls with unimagined ease. As always, I wish you the very best of luck with your research, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments. Happy hunting!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

End of an Era

Many of you know me from the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook, where I’ve been an administrator since the summer of 2013. Back then, the group was growing quickly, approaching 1,000 members, and the group’s founder and sole admin, Michael Mulholland, was looking to bring in some new admins to help with managing the group’s day-to-day activities. I was a fairly active participant at the time, so he asked me and a few others to help out as admins. The group has now grown to over 15,000 members, blossoming into a community that I was proud to be a part of. With a core group of experienced, knowledgeable group members who were passionate, dedicated researchers, willing to share their expertise, there was an exciting dynamic. It was not an uncommon experience to have a newcomer present a research problem on which the group would work collaboratively in real time, ultimately producing a document or documents, such as the birth record from Poland for the target immigrant.

Besides being a place to learn about genealogy, I loved the Polish Genealogy group because of all the colleagues-turned-friends that I met there. I learned so much from them, and it was truly an honor and a privilege to serve in that community as admin for the past 5 years. I especially loved the atmosphere that we created, which was warm, friendly, welcoming, helpful, and knowledgeable — a community in which we could all learn from one another in an atmosphere of respect and encouragement.

As much as I have loved this community and the work that is accomplished there, all good things must come to an end. After much reflection, I feel that the time has come for me to turn over the reins to others who have a new vision with which to guide the group. For this reason, two days ago, I stepped down as admin in Polish Genealogy. I wish my friends on the admin team the very best as they lead the group into the future.

 

On the Merits of Church Records

I have a guilty secret. Church records aren’t always the ultimate source when it comes to identifying the place of origin of our immigrant ancestors. They’re like the little girl in the old poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — the one with the curl on her forehead. When they are good, they are very good indeed, and when they are bad, they are horrid.1 (Horridly disappointing, at least.) In the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook, we often hammer home the importance of checking church records for our immigrant ancestors. That’s especially important in the case of Roman Catholics, which describes the overwhelming majority of Polish immigrants, because Catholic church records often specify the precise place of birth for the bride and groom in a marriage record, the place of birth of the deceased in a death record, and even the places of birth of each parent of the baptized child in a baptismal record. For example, here is a best-case scenario — the marriage record of Polish immigrants Waleria Majczyk and Jan Kłusek, who married at St. Hyacinth’s Church in Lackawanna, New York in 1913 (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: Extract of record from St. Hyacinth’s Church, Lackawanna, New York for the marriage of Jan Kłusek and Walerya Walczak (sic), 7 May 1913. 2

Waleria Majczyk & Jan Klusek 1913 (part 1)

Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that the priest erroneously recorded the bride’s surname as Walczak instead of Majczyk. The third column heading for this record reports “Datum et Locus Baptismi” and the information given in this column tells us the parishes in which the bride and groom were baptized. In this case, the groom, Jan Kłusek, was baptized in “Swiniary, Kr. Pol.” and the bride, Walerya Majczyk was baptized in Gracanów, Kr. Pol. The notation, “Kr. Pol.” refers to the Królestwo Polskie, or Kingdom of Poland, which was the official name for the Polish puppet state that was under Russian rule. The next column reports the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and then after that, we have the column “Domicilia” which reports the place of residence of the parents of the bride and groom. This reveals that Jan Kłusek’s parents were living in Oblekon, Kr. Pol., while the bride’s parents were living in Rostów, Kr. Pol. This is pretty remarkable, when you think about it, because this single document gives us two geographic points of reference for locating the birthplaces of both Jan and Walerya. It’s especially nice to have two points of reference, since these place names are slightly misspelled — the bride’s village was Rostowa, and her baptismal parish was Gradzanowo, which is phonetically similar to Gracanów, and the groom’s village was Oblekoń (missing only the diacritic) in the parish of Świniary. But even despite the misspellings, with just the information from this one church record, it’s a straight shot back to records in Poland.

Baptismal records from St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo are also a thing of beauty, and as a bonus, they’re already digitized on FamilySearch, so there’s no excuse not to check them. Here’s the baptismal record for my great-grandmother, Genowefa Klaus (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: Extract of record from St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, New York for the baptism of Genowefa Klaus, born 28 September 1897.3Genowefa Klaus birth 1897 marked

The column headings are cut off in this image, but this tells us that Genowefa was baptized on 3 October 1897, was born on 28 September of that year, and was the daughter of Andrzej Klaus of “Maniewo (sic), Gal.” and Marya Łącka of “Kołaczyce, Gal.” The abbreviation “Gal.” refers to the region of Galicia, which was a crownland of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that is divided today between southeast Poland and western Ukraine. Andrzej Klaus’s hometown is slightly misspelled here — he was born in the village of Maniów in Dąbrowa County. However, it’s easy to deduce the correct location based on evidence from multiple baptismal records from this parish, since several of his children were baptized here. Once again, church records prove to be a home-run in terms of finding evidence for place of origin of immigrant ancestors.

Here’s another example, this time from the death record of Apolonia Bogacka, a Polish immigrant who died in Buffalo, New York, and was buried from St. Stanislaus Church (Figure 3).4

Figure 3: Extract of record from St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, New York for the death and burial of Apolonia Bogacka, who died 16 April 1906.4Apolonia Bogacka death 1906 marked

It’s obvious from the column headings that the parish adapted the preprinted register pages to suit their own needs, for which we can be grateful, since parents’ names and birthplace are arguably more useful information from a genealogical standpoint than the name and address of the nearest relative. Apolonia Bogacka was about 84 when she died, and her parents’ names were apparently not known to the informant. However, it’s useful to infer that her maiden name was Prusiecka, which is the feminine singular form of the plural surname recorded here for her parents, Prusieccy. (The Polish language exhibits a great deal of grammatical inflection, and the endings of both given names and surnames will change depending on grammatical context.) Moreover, this entry reveals that Apolonia was born in Chełmno, which was at that time in Prussia but is located in Poland today.

At this point you may be wondering if Catholic church records are generally useful in noting the place of origin of immigrants, or if Polish Catholic priests were particularly conscientious in that regard. In the course of my own research, I’ve found that the ethnic character of a parish has no relationship to their sacramental record-keeping practices. For example, Figure 4 shows the baptismal record for Augustinus (“John”) Wagner from Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit.5

Figure 4: Extract from baptismal record for Augustinus Wagner, born 3 May 1856 in Detroit.5Augustinus Wagner 1856 p 1marked

St. Mary’s was not an ethnic Polish parish, but nonetheless, this record tells us the place of origin of both parents of the baptized child. The baby’s father, Henry Wagner, was from “Roßdorf, Chur Hessen” which is a reference to Kurhessen, properly called Kurfürstentum Hessen, or the Electorate of Hesse, a German state also known as Hesse-Cassel. The baby’s mother, Catherine Grenzinger, was from “Steinsolz, Alsatiae,” which refers to the village of Steinsoultz, located in the Haut-Rhin Department of Alsace, France. This is the kind of precise evidence for place of origin that is necessary in order to make the leap back into European records, so it’s clear why church records are so valuable for researching immigrant ancestors.

However, if we’re being honest, it’s not fair to say that church records will always come through with that kind of information. If all the children of my great-great-grandparents, Andrzej and Marya Klaus, had been baptized in the neighboring parish of St. Adalbert’s, instead of being baptized at St. Stanislaus, I might have had a more difficult time determining where Andrzej and Marya were born. Here’s the baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s for their daughter Zofia, who was born 3 December 1891 (Figure 3).6

Figure 3: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s Church in Buffalo, New York, for Sophia Klaus, born 3 December 1891.6Sophia Klaus 1891

See those empty lines after “ex loco”? That’s where the priest might have done me a favor if he’d recorded the place of origin of each of the parents more specifically than just “Galicia,” as he wrote for Andrzej. Unfortunately, he did not. Likewise, in this marriage record for Stanisław Lewandowski (“Edward Levanduski”) and Antonina Budzyńska, the priest provided very little information (Figure 5).7

Figure 5: Marriage record from St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Middleport, New York for Eduardus Levenduski (sic) and Antonia Budzinski (sic), 12 May 1896.7Levinduski Budzinski

The marriage record, written in Latin, tells us only that, after three publications of the banns, Edward Levenduski, son of Michael Levenduski and Elizabeth Rotka, was joined in marriage with Antonia Budzinski, daughter of John Budzinski and Catherine Lukomski. The record goes on to mention the witnesses’ names, but that’s it. It’s short and sweet, with no mention of where either the bride or groom was born. Interestingly, there is also no mention of this being a second marriage for Edward, whose first wife, Mary (née Woźniak) Levanduski, had died 7 months earlier. That’s another detail that one might typically hope to see in a marriage record, which was unfortunately omitted here.

The record for the remarriage of another immigrant ancestor, Jacob Boehringer, also fails to reveal his place of origin (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Marriage record from St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, for Jacobus Boehringer and Theresia Fuchs, 25 October 1866.Jacob Boehringer and Theresa Liebler marriage 1866 marked

This was a second marriage for both Jacob Boehringer and Theresia (née Liebler) Fuchs. Their parents’ names were mentioned, which was ultimately very helpful in allowing me to confirm Jacob’s place of origin in Germany, after I determined it using other resource strategies. However, the record itself offered no indication of the birthplace of either the bride or the groom.

Finally, Figure 7 shows the baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh, who was baptized in the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, Canada West (present-day Ontario). Although her father, Robert Walsh, was an immigrant from Ireland, no mention is made of his place of birth or that of the child’s mother, Canadian-born Elizabeth Hodgkinson (recorded here as “Hutchkison”).

Figure 7: Baptismal record from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, Ontario for Elizabeth Walsh, born 21 May 1854.Elizabeth Walsh baptism marked

This record was a huge disappointment, along with the baptismal records for the other Walsh children which I was able to discover in this parish. My great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh, is one of my most stubborn brick walls, because I have not been able to discover his place of origin in Ireland, nor have I even been able to determine his parents’ names based on existing Canadian records. I had really hoped that church records might give me a clue about Robert’s place of birth, so it would have been great if Fr. Grattan had come through for me back in 1854 when he recorded the baptism of little Elizabeth Walsh. Alas, he did not. So I guess church records aren’t much good after all, huh? Based on the representative sampling from my research that I’ve shown here, there’s perhaps a 50-50 chance that a church record might tell you the place from whence your immigrant ancestor came.

And yet….

Even in darkness, there is often a glimmer of light. The page opposite the baptism of Elizabeth Walsh contains this marriage record for Patrick Powers and Mary Bennett (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Marriage record from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, Ontario, for Patrick Powers and Mary Bennett, 27 May 1854.Irish marriage record

This record reveals that Patrick Powers was a native of Ballyguran (sic), County Waterford in Ireland, and that his bride was a native of Newport, County Mayo, Ireland. The name “Ballyguran” suggests the townland of Ballygarran in Waterford County, and interestingly, Patrick was noted to be the son of James Powers and Catherine Walsh. Now, at present, I have no idea who these people are, or if there’s any connection between this Catherine Walsh and my Robert Walsh. Walsh is ranked 4th in most popular Irish surnames, and it would be foolhardy for me to think that every Walsh who migrated from Ireland to St. Catharines was related. That way madness lies. And yet, chain migration is a real phenomenon, and cluster research strategies could potentially be leveraged here to break through that brick wall in the absence of direct evidence for Robert Walsh’s place of birth. Perhaps it’s possible to find a link between these two families, or to study all these early church records for Walshes in St. Catharines and see if there’s a common theme or pattern in their recorded places of origin. Hope dies last.

That’s pretty much the point of looking at church records. Hope dies last, and if there’s even a 50-50 chance that the records will reveal your immigrant ancestor’s place of origin, it may be worth the extra effort it sometimes takes to obtain them. If you’ve already got abundant evidence for place of origin, and the pastor is reluctant to provide digital photos of the original parish records, perhaps you can do without them. But a good genealogist leaves no stone unturned, so if it’s at all possible, you should really take the time to examine church records. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you might even discover an ancestral village along the way.

Sources:

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “There Was a Little Girl,” Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org, accessed 21 March 2018.

2 Roman Catholic Church, Queen of Angels parish (merged from the former parishes of St. Hyacinth’s, St. Barbara’s, Our Lady of Grace,  and St. Michael the Archangel), (Lackawanna, Erie, New York, USA), Records from St. Hyacinth Church, 1913, Marriages, record for Jan Kłusek and Walerya Walczak (sic), May 7, 1913.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1897, #620, baptismal record for Genowefa Klaus, born 28 September 1897, FamilySearch, http://familysearch.org, FHL film no.1292864/DGS no. 7897436, image 1074, accessed 21 March 2018.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Transfiguration Parish (Buffalo, New York), Deaths, 1893-1917, 1906, p. 20, #20, record for Apolonia Bogacka, accessed as browsable images, FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org,” Church records, 1893-1982,” FHL Film no. 1292859, DGS no. 7900112, image 567 of 955, accessed 21 March 2018.

 5 Roman Catholic Church, Old St. Mary’s Parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Baptisms, 1856, #116, p. 219, record for Augustinus Wagner. “[Record number] 116, [date of baptism] 4 Maji, [date of birth] 3 Maji, [child’s name] Augustinus, [father and place of birth] Henricus Wagner Roßdorf ChurHessen, [mother and place of birth] Catharina Grenzinger, Steinsolz, Alsatiae, [godparents] Augustinus Wagner et Gertrudis Wagner, [residence] Detroit, [minister] P. Beranek.”

6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Basilica (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), “Church records,” Baptisms, 1891, p. 69, record for Sophia Klaus, FamilySearch, http://familysearch.org, FHL film no.1292864/DGS no. 7897436, image 1074, accessed 21 March 2018.

7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stephen’s parish (Middleport, Niagara, New York, USA), “Church Records, 1878-1917,” 1896, Marriages, p. 16, record for Edward Levenduski and Antonia Budzinski, 12 May 1896, FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org, FHL film no. 1378522/DGS no. 8273181, image 132, accessed 21 March 2018.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Boniface Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), “Church records, 1849-1899,” Marriages 1849-1899, 1866, #22, record for Jacobus Boehringer and Theresia Fuchs, 25 October 1866, FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org, FHL Film no. 928704/DGS no. 7585930, accessed March 2018.

Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1854, #88, baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 21 March 2018), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 28 of 104.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

The Baptism of Nellie Walsh

Every spring, right around St. Patrick’s Day, I have an urge to research my Irish Canadian ancestors. Although my research time has been rather limited lately, this past weekend I decided I would treat myself. I had a very specific goal in mind: I wanted to find the baptismal record for Ellen M. “Nellie” Walsh, sister to my great-great-grandfather, Henry Walsh. I’ve written about my Walsh family in St. Catharines, Ontario, previously. Nellie was among the younger children of Robert Walsh, an Irish-born tailor, and his Canadian-born wife, Elizabeth Hodgkinson, who was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Loyalists. Although Elizabeth was Protestant, three of the youngest four Walsh children were baptized in the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Catharines, and it seems likely that Robert and Elizabeth were married there as well. The parish was certainly in existence circa 1840 when the Walshes were married, but unfortunately, early records were destroyed when an arsonist burned down the original wooden church in 1842.1 No one seems to know what became of the records created after the fire, between 1842 and 1851. The earliest records that have survived date back to 1852 (baptisms and marriages only). Apparently, duplicate copies of the parish registers were never made, and neither the parish itself, nor the archives for the dioceses of Toronto (to which the parish belonged before 1958) or St. Catharines (to which the parish belonged after 1958) is in possession of any records from before 1852.2,3,4

The oldest Walsh children — B. Maria, James George, Henry, Mary Ann, and Robert — were all born prior to 1852, so if they were baptized at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, their baptismal records would unfortunately be included in that missing batch of records dated between 1842 and 1851. However, the younger Walsh children — Elizabeth, Ellen (Nellie), Thomas, and Joseph — were all born between 1854 and 1861, within the range of dates for which baptismal records still exist for the Cathedral. There was plenty of evidence based on census records and other documents for the dates of birth of each of them, and in fact, baptismal records for Elizabeth, Thomas and Joseph, were quickly discovered in a previous round of research. Nellie, however, remained elusive. Why might that be?

Quite simply, I wasn’t sufficiently broad in my search the first time I looked for her. The province of Ontario did not begin civil birth registration until 1869,5 prior to Nellie’s birth, so the most precise evidence I had for her date of birth came from the 1900 U.S. census (Figure 1).6

Figure 1: Extract from 1900 U.S. census for Buffalo, New York, showing Nellie Devere in the household of Charles Devere.6Nellie Devere 1900 census

Like many members of the Walsh family, Nellie M. Devere and her husband, Charles Devere, had a habit of migrating back and forth between St. Catharines and Buffalo, New York. In 1900, they were found living in Buffalo, and in the census that year they reported that they immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. Nellie was reported to be 42 years old and married to her husband for 17 years, which suggests that they married just prior to their move to the U.S. Nellie was reported to have no living children, nor any children who had died prior to the census. She was born in Canada, of an Irish-born father and Canadian-born mother, consistent with established facts. Her mother, Elizabeth Welsh (sic) appears in the next line, recorded as mother-in-law to head-of-household Charles Devere. Most germane to the current question is Nellie’s date of birth, which was recorded as December 1857.

When I discovered baptismal records for Nellie’s siblings, I had employed a targeted approach, starting my search a month or so before the individual’s date of birth as established from existing evidence. In the case of Nellie’s siblings, this strategy worked very well, and I was able to locate their birth records quickly, since they were accurate reporters of their own dates of birth in later years. However, Nellie was not born in December of 1857, as was stated in the 1900 census. In my first pass through the baptismal records, I searched for Nellie from December 1857 all the way up through December 1858, but did not find her. At the time, I didn’t worry too much about it, but instead skipped ahead to find baptismal records for her brothers in February 1859 and February 1861.

At that point, life moved on, as it usually does, and Nellie was put on the back burner until this past weekend, when I decided to take a fresh look at those records from the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria. I wanted to find Nellie’s baptism, but this time, I also wanted to cast a wider net, making note of all the Walsh baptisms and marriages that took place in this parish. (In this earliest parish register, records of marriages and baptisms were mixed in together in chronological order.) Ultimately, I want to see if there are any obvious connections between Walsh family groups in this parish, and I’d like to obtain information about their places of origin in Ireland, with an eye toward determining where in Ireland my own ancestors were from. While that part of my research is ongoing, my short-term goal was realized as I discovered Nellie’s baptism in the records from August 1857 (Figure 2).7

Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Catharines, Ontario for Ellenor (sic) Margaret Walsh, born 24 December 1856.7Baptism Eleanor Walsh

Ellenor Margaret was born on Christmas Eve in 1856 but not baptized until August of the following year. Her date of birth was exactly one year earlier than what was reported in the 1900 census. All it took was a more thorough review of the records to find it.

What a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day!

Sources:

Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint Catharines,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org, accessed 19 March 2018.

Price, Rev. Brian, Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kingston, e-mail message to the author, July 7, 2016.

Sweetapple, Lori, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, e-mail message to the author, July 11, 2016.

Wilson-Zorzetto, Liz, Archives of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Catharines, e-mail message to the author, July 14, 2016.

5 “Ontario Civil Registration (National Institute),” FamilySearch, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 20 March 2018.

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, Nellie M. Devere, line 42, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DTL8-36?cc=1325221&wc=9BQG-JW1%3A1030551901%2C1033310401%2C1034132801 : 5 August 2014), New York > Erie > ED 212 Election District 7 Buffalo city Ward 24 > image 5 of 8; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1857, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 17 March 2018), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria, > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 . image 72 of 104.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

A Beginner’s Guide to Polish Genealogy, Revised Edition

Back in 2016, I wrote up a quick list of search tips for beginners in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook, to give some direction to our group members who were just getting started with their genealogical research. Recently, we’ve had some comments from members who pointed out that these search tips are now a bit outdated, since they reference things like microfilm rentals from the Family History Library, which have been discontinued by the FHL in light of the increasing scarcity of raw microfilm and the emphasis on offering digital images of genealogical records. So, this seemed like a good time to give the whole list an overhaul and a bit of reorganization. Bear in mind that although these search tips were originally written specifically for research into Polish ancestors, many of the same principles apply no matter what ethnicity your immigrant ancestors were.

Tracing your family back to Poland is as easy as one, two three

There are three basic steps involved in tracing your family back into Polish records:

  1. Gather evidence from U.S. records to establish the place of birth of your immigrant ancestor. This assumes your Polish ancestor migrated to the U.S., but of course if he did not, then you use records from the country in which he settled.
  2. Use one or more gazetteers to determine the parish or registry office which served that village.
  3. Identify the repositories that hold records for this parish or registry office. These repositories might include state archives, diocesan archives, the parish itself, the local civil registry office (urząd stanu cywilnego), or most likely a combination of all of these. These records may or may not be digitized or microfilmed, but you can always hire an onsite researcher to access records for you if they are not available any other way, and it might not be as expensive as you think (see “Tips for Hiring a Professional Researcher in Poland”).

Even experienced genealogical researchers often need help with steps 2 and 3 if they are not experienced with research in Polish records in particular. For that reason, it’s wise to join us over in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook and we can assist with those questions. However, for the purpose of this guide, I’ll focus on just the first step, which is gathering evidence from U.S. records to establish the birthplace of your immigrant ancestor.

Interview family members

Now, if you’re scratching your head and asking yourself, “Was it Dziadzia who was born in Poland, or was it his father?,” then the first step might be to make a few phone calls to older family members and see what they remember. Gather all the information you can, because you never know how some small detail might become relevant at a later point in your research. (For one example of this, see my story about “The Old Mill.”) Additional hints for interviewing older family members can be found here. If all your older family members are deceased, don’t panic. Their paper trail is still there, and that’s what we all use to document those family stories anyway. However, you should still write down your own memories and stories about earlier generations of your family, and talk with any cousins who are still living to see what they remember. Armed with this information, it’s time to go online!

Check out sites for “one-stop shopping”

There are a number of great sites that can help you begin to gather documentation for your family. My two favorites are FamilySearch and Ancestry, but additional sites like Fold3, My Heritage, Heritage Quest, GenealogyBank, etc. can all be used quickly gather some basic documentation like census records, passenger manifests, military records, possibly vital records and naturalization records, and more.  FamilySearch is free and can be accessed from any computer; you only need to register to use the site. Many of the other databases can be accessed at your local public library (if you’re in the U.S.) or at a LDS (Mormon) Family History Center.  Another common strategy for using the subscription-based sites is to sign up for a free 2-week trial, locate and download as many records as possible in that 2-week period, and then cancel the subscription before the two weeks are up so there is no charge on the credit card.

Please note that the information available on these sites represents only the tip of the iceberg for what’s out there.  Many of the documents you’ll need are still sitting in churches, courthouses, archives, and libraries, waiting for you to discover them.  In this era of immediate gratification via the internet, people sometimes begin with the unrealistic expectation that somewhere, someone out there has done all the work for them.  While this might be true (to a point) if your ancestors have been living in the U.S. since Colonial times, it’s much less likely to be true if your ancestors arrived here from Poland just a generation or two ago.  Don’t forget that genealogy still requires patience, persistence, time, and good-old fashioned research done with letter-writing, phone calls, and personal visits, if possible.

Do your homework in U.S. records before attempting to trace your family in Poland

It’s a common mistake for people to find one document with a place of birth on it (most likely misspelled) and to try to use that to begin tracing their family in Poland.  Be patient.  In many cases, there are multiple towns and villages in Poland with the same name — think of researching a U.S. place called “Springfield.” So it’s a good idea to obtain several documents with information about an immigrant’s birthplace so you can compare them before trying to research in Poland.  It’ll save you time (and maybe money) in the long run. It’s also advisable to be suspicious of family stories that an ancestor came from a large city, like Warsaw, Kraków, or Poznań. Most of our ancestors came from small villages, but it was common for an immigrant to approximate her place of birth to the closest large city when describing her hometown to an American audience that was unfamiliar with Polish geography (see “Grandma Said She Was From Poznań: Decoding Stories About Ancestors from Poland”). Don’t worry too much at this point if there are apparent conflicts between the place of birth as it’s recorded in different documents. It may be that one document refers to the village, another refers to the gmina (an administrative level similar to a township, composed of several villages) and a third refers to the county. A good gazetteer can help you make sense of all of this, or we can help you in the Polish Genealogy group.

Which types of documents are most useful for identifying an immigrant’s place of birth?My personal top three go-to sources for this information are church records, passenger manifests, and naturalization records. However, it’s important to think broadly here and leave no stone unturned. Place of origin might be recorded in a newspaper death notice (especially a newspaper published in the immigrant’s mother tongue, like the Dziennik dla wszystkich from Buffalo, New York, or the Dziennik Chicagoski from Chicago, Illinois), on a grave marker (see “The Final Clue: Tracing the Wagners Back to Germany”), on a draft registration, in a Social Security application, in an application for a life insurance policy, in a letter or some other document handed down through the family, etc. For now, let’s take a closer look at those top three sources.

Church records

The vast majority of ethnic Poles were Roman Catholic, and Roman Catholic church records are often very good about including specific place of origin for Polish immigrants, beyond just something broad like “Russia,” “Prussia,” “Austria,” “Galicia,” or “Posen.” (If you’re not sure why an ethnic Pole would be likely to be recorded as being from one of those places, please see “Those Infamous Border Changes: A Crash Course in Polish History”). While church records can’t be guaranteed to contain that all-important place of origin, they come through often enough that it’s worth the extra effort to obtain them. Moreover, these places were probably recorded by a Polish priest, so they’re likely to be spelled more or less correctly.  In addition to obtaining marriage and death records for Polish immigrants who married in the U.S., you should also obtain baptismal records for the U.S.-born children of your immigrant ancestors.  These frequently contain an “ex loco” portion that will tell you where the parents came from. It’s important to be thorough, since the priest may not have recorded precise place of origin on every record pertaining to your family. So for example, if you know that your great-grandmother’s sister also immigrated from Poland and married in the U.S., get her church marriage and death records, as well as your those for your great-grandmother. Similarly, get copies of all the baptismal records, not just for your own direct line of descent.  Documents from collateral lines can often provide that critical breakthrough you need.

If you don’t know what parish your ancestors attended, you can usually determine this based on their address(es) as reported in census records and city directories. Parishes had defined geographic boundaries (and they still do!) and people were less likely to “shop around” for a parish they liked, as is often the case today.  Group members in the Polish Genealogy group can often assist with identifying the correct parish, so ask if you need help. Before you write to a parish, check the Family History Library catalog to see if records for that parish are available. A small percentage of U.S. Catholic church records have been microfilmed/digitized by the LDS, but it’s definitely worthwhile to check first.

If you do need to write to the parish, keep in mind that the primary function of the parish staff is to meet the spiritual needs of their congregation, not to fulfill genealogy requests. Make sure to enclose a donation for the parish, and be prepared to wait a while. It’s best to request only a few records (1-3) at a time, keep your letter brief, and be as specific as you can. If you’re requesting a marriage record, for example, obtain the civil equivalent first – that way, you already know the exact date of the event. Be sure to ask for a clear digital photo or photocopy of the parish register, rather than a typed extract, which Catholic parishes sometimes provide as proof that a sacrament was administered in their parish. Explain that the original record may contain information that’s vitally important to your search, so you need the full, original record. If they hesitate due to “privacy concerns” suggest that they cover up the other entries on the page with a sheet of paper, so that only the key entry (and the column headings, if there are any) are showing. Be polite and respectful — churches are under no obligation to provide copies of their records, so it’s an act of kindness if they choose to do it.  It’s okay to follow up with phone calls, e-mails or letters if a decent interval (4-6 weeks) has gone by and you still have not received a reply. When you do receive your records, remember to send a thank-you note.

Passenger Manifests

Passenger manifests can be searched free at the Ellis Island database, which contains manifests from passengers who entered the port of New York between 1892 and 1957. Prior to the construction of the Ellis Island Immigration Station, immigrants who arrived at the port of New York were processed at the Castle Garden inspection station, which was in operation from 1855 to 1892. Access to indexed records in the Castle Garden database is also free, but the manifests themselves can only be obtained via one of the subscription-based sites like Ancestry. Be aware of the fact that some of the later manifests from Ellis Island cover two pages, and an immigrant’s last place of residence might be recorded on the first page, but his place of birth (potentially different from his last place of residence) might be on the second page. In addition to the port of New York, many Polish immigrants arrived in the U.S. via the ports of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston, in addition to some more minor ports of entry. Some immigrants may also have arrived through Canadian ports. More information, including links to additional indexes for passenger manifests, can be found here. Digital images of passenger manifests for these other ports of arrival can be found on Ancestry,

Naturalization records

It’s important to note that not every immigrant chose to become a U.S. citizen. Immigration and naturalization are two distinct processes, and naturalization has never been required of those choosing to live and work in the U.S. If your immigrant ancestor naturalized, this will be indicated on U.S. census records. The 1900, 1910, 1930 and 1940 censuses all asked about the year of immigration to the U.S., and whether or not the person was naturalized, and the 1920 census additionally asked for the specific year of naturalization. If your ancestor naturalized prior to 1906, his records are less likely to indicate specific place of birth information, beyond stating the country of which he was formerly a citizen. However, with the creation of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in 1906, changes were introduced in the way naturalization was handled by the various courts, and new, standardized forms were implemented which were much more detailed than the forms that were in use previously.  As a result, naturalization records dated after 26 September 1906 are very likely to tell you precisely where your immigrant ancestor was born., as well as date of birth, date and port of arrival in the U.S., the name of the ship on which he traveled, the names and dates of birth of the immigrant’s spouse and children, and more. Note that prior to the Cable Act of 1922, a woman’s citizenship was a reflection of her husband’s (see this article on women and naturalization for more information).  So if your female immigrant ancestor stated that she was naturalized prior to 1922, it was very likely a derivative naturalization through her husband or father, and you’ll want to check their naturalization records to discover her place of birth, instead of searching for records in her name.

Naturalization records can be found in a variety of ways. Sometimes they’re available online and you can find them on Ancestry or in the FamilySearch catalog. If your ancestor naturalized in a county court, as many of mine did, you can visit, call or write to the county courthouse to obtain a copy of the record. I’ve been able to request many naturalization records through the mail this way, at a very low cost. However, you may need to check other sources, such as the National Archives, or request an index search from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If the 1940 census states that your ancestor was still an alien at that point, then he would have had to register as such when the U.S. began creating alien case files in 1944. You can search for your ancestor’s A-file by entering his name into the search box in the National Archives Catalog.

Using indexed records from Poland

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you may have difficulty in determining your immigrant ancestor’s place of birth. Maybe his church marriage and death records don’t state a specific place of origin, and neither do his civil records. Maybe he immigrated and naturalized early on, and those documents don’t specify his birthplace precisely. Perhaps you know only a general region from whence he came, such as Warsaw or Poznań. In cases such as these, it’s sometimes possible to take a shortcut and locate his birthplace using indexed records from Poland. Thanks to volunteer indexing efforts in Poland, more and more indexed vital records are coming online every day, and these can be leveraged to great advantage to jump-start your research. However, it is still important to gather information from U.S. records first — at minimum, you should know your immigrant ancestor’s name, approximate date of birth, and parents’ names. Parents’ names can usually be determined using a marriage record, death record, or Social Security application (SS-5 form; see here for details). It’s also very helpful to determine at least generally where he was from. Knowing the partition of Poland in which he was born is helpful, but more specific regional information, e.g. West Prussia, “Warsaw,” “Kalisz,” etc., is preferable. The more you know about your immigrant ancestor before you begin, the less likely you are to start barking up the wrong family tree, especially if you’re working with a common surname.

So where can you find indexed vital records from Poland? That depends to some extent on your region of interest, and a more complete list of indexed and digitized records can be found here. But these are a few databases that top the list:

For all of Poland: Geneteka

For the Poznań region: Poznań Project (marriage records only), BaSIA (has births, marriages and deaths)

For Pomerania: Pomeranian Genealogical Society database

For the Lublin area: Lubgens

For Polish records indexed by FamilySearch (as of today, this includes the Tarnów, Radom, and Lublin areas, as well as some BillionGrave and Find-A-Grave indexes): FamilySearch

For the Dobrzyń nad Wisłą region: Szpejankowski and Szpejankowski Family Portal

For the Podlasie area: Projekt Podlasie (Note that you must register with this site — it’s free — before you can search their indexes.)

For the Częstochowa area: Częstochowa Genealogical Society database (Note that you must register with this site — it’s free — before you can search their indexes.)

For Volhynia/Wołyń: Metryki Wołyń

 

Remember that there is no, single, comprehensive database that includes every birth, marriage or death that ever occurred anywhere in any place that was known to have an ethnic Polish presence historically (wouldn’t that be nice!), so if you don’t find your ancestors in one of these indexes, it doesn’t mean their records were destroyed. It means you need to go back to using the paper trail to deduce exactly where they were born, identify the parish that served that village, and determine where the records are for that parish — those three steps I mentioned at the very beginning.

Hopefully these links, strategies and tips will help you get your research off to a good start. The Polish Genealogy group is also a great asset, and volunteers are ready to help you at every step of the way. So what are you waiting for? Let’s find those ancestors!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

 

The Many Wives of Józef Grzesiak

Veritatem Temporis filiam esse dixit.” (Truth is the daughter of time.) — Aulus Gellius

Conflicts in documentary evidence happen all the time. The logical resolution of such conflicts is one of the hallmarks of sound genealogical research that separates the professionals and experienced family history researchers from the novices. A perfect illustration of this is the story of my great-great-grandfather, Józef Grzesiak, and his many (?) wives.

Growing up, I used to ask my maternal grandmother to tell me about her mother’s family in Poland, and my desire to document those stories inspired my early family history efforts. Grandma’s mother was Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki, but Grandma never knew the names of her grandparents, because “people didn’t talk about those things back then,” as she told me time and again. Nevertheless, Grandma knew a few details, such as the fact that her mother’s parents owned the grain mill that I wrote about previously. She told the story of how “Veronica’s mother died when Josephine was born, so at age 18, Veronica came to America. She found employment working in the kitchen of a restaurant.  She spoke no English, so her employers called her Mary and they communicated through signs and gestures.  She saved her money and sent it to her two brothers, Władysław (“Walter”) and Tadeusz, (Thaddeus), and her sister Józefa (Josephine), so they could come to America.”1 Grandma also told the story, shared previously, of how Walter married an actress in Poland who didn’t want to leave her career, which ultimately ended their marriage.

When I started my research, I didn’t know whether or not I’d ever be able to document some of these details, but I figured that it should be easy to answer the question, “Who were Veronica Grzesiak’s parents?” And in fact, it was pretty easy. On her marriage record to John Zazycki in 1901, Veronica reported her parents’ names as Joseph Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczynska (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: Marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak, 5 August 1901.2Jan & Weronika Zazyki Marriage 1 marked

This document also told me which partition of Poland Grandma’s parents were from (Russian), and Veronica’s age reported here, 22, allowed me to estimate that she was born circa 1879. So far, so good.  However, when Veronica’s brother Thaddeus was married to Mary Gorski, he reported his parents’ names as Joseph Grzesiak and Mary Cebulska (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: Extract from marriage record for Thaddeus Grzesiak and Mayme (Mary) Gorski, 20 April 1910.3

Tadeusz Gresiak & Marya Gorska marriage record 1 marked

Now this was interesting, and it seemed like just the kind of detail that those family stories were likely to gloss over, since “people never talked about these things back then.” Okay, I concluded, no big deal, apparently Veronica and Thaddeus were half-siblings, sharing a father, but different mothers.

However, their sister Josephine named yet a different mother on her marriage record. When she married Joseph Cymerman in 1902, she stated that her parents were Joseph Grzesiak and Anna Nowacka (Figure 3).4

Figure 3: Extract from marriage record for Joseph Cymerman and Josepha Grzesiak, 5 August 1902.4

Jozefa Grzesiak & Jozef Cymermann marriage record 1 marked

Well, okay, maybe Joseph Grzesiak was very unlucky and lost two of his wives, so he married for a third time. It happened. But then there is yet another wife’s name reported on the death record for the oldest Grzesiak sibling, Walter (Figure 4).5

Figure 4: Extract from death record for Walter Grzesiak.5

Walter_Grzesiak_-_death

On this document, Walter was reported to be the son of Joseph Grzesiak and Maryanna Szafron. Now, most genealogists consider death records to be less accurate sources for information about an individual than some other types of records (e.g. marriage records) since the informant is probably grieving, possibly in shock, and may not be well-informed about the early life of the decedent, including parents’ names.  However, in this case, the informant was none other than Thaddeus (signing himself here as Theodore) Grzesiak — Walter’s brother.

So what do we make of this?  We have four siblings, all children of Joseph Grzesiak, but four different mother’s names reported on four different documents by three of the siblings.  Were they all half-siblings, each with the same father but a different mother?  I ran this theory past Grandma while she was still alive, and she didn’t buy it.  She had never heard of Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine being half-siblings to her mother, but she had no explanation for the discrepancies on the documents.  The maiden names reported for the mothers — Marianna Krawczyńska, Marianna Szafron, Marya Cebulska, and Anna Nowacka — weren’t even phonetically similar, apart from the fact that the siblings more or less agreed on a first name of Marianna. And was it grief that caused Thaddeus to change his story, reporting on his own marriage record that his mother was Maria Cebulska but then deciding 36 years later that her name was Marianna Szafron? Was it possible that the Grzesiak siblings did not even know their own mother’s name?  Perhaps there was an explanation:  Grandma said that Veronica’s mother had died (shortly?) after the birth of the youngest sibling, Josephine. Since Thaddeus and Veronica were only 7 and 5 when Josephine was born, maybe none of the children knew her well?

The only way to answer this question was to examine evidence from Polish records. The birth records for Walter, Veronica, Thaddeus and Josephine should tell us who their mothers were. If Joseph had several wives who died in succession, there would be death records for those wives and marriage records to tell the tale.

Polish Records to the Rescue

A very robust paper trail consisting of naturalization records (Figure 5),6 passenger manifests,7,8 and draft registrations,9 in addition to a personal recollection shared with me by Tadeusz Grzesiak’s son, Arthur Gray,10 all pointed to the Grzesiaks’ place of origin as the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, which was at that time located in the Kalisz gubernia (province) of Russian Poland.

Figure 5: Władysław Grzesiak’s petition for naturalization, 23 January 1917, showing place of birth “Kowalewo, Poland, Russia” on 17 September 1867.Walter Grzesiak Petition

In the church records of Kowalewo, birth records were discovered for each of the immigrant Grzesiak children. Władysław Grzesiak was born 20 September 1867, fairly consistent with the birth date he reported for himself on his naturalization petition (Figure 6).11 

Figure 6: Polish-language birth record for Władysław Grzesiak, born 20 September 1867, with names of parents and child underlined in red.11OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In this document, Władysław’s parents are reported to be Józef Grzesiak, age 26, a farmhand (parobek) residing in Kowalewo, and his wife, Maryanna née Krawczyńska, age 20. Similarly, the birth record for Tadeusz Grzesiak was discovered, and his parents, too, were reported to be Józef Grzesiak and Marianna née Krawczyńska (Figure 7).12

Figure 7: Russian-language Birth record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, born 27 March 1874, with names of parents and child underlined in red.12Tadeusz Grzesiak birth record marked

It’s evident that there’s a language change between these two records. Władysław’s birth record was written in Polish, while Tadeusz’s birth record was written in Russian. This was one of the punitive measures imposed by the Russian Government on Polish territories as a result of the failure of the January Uprising of 1863. Prior to 1867, the use of the Polish language was permitted in official record-keeping, but starting in 1868 (earlier in some areas) official records and even church records were required to be kept only in Russian. Tadeusz’s birth date, 27 March 1874, is a few years off from his date of birth as he reported it on his World War II draft registration — 24 March 1878. However, it was not unusual for people to report their dates of birth inaccurately in an era when there was no reason to know this information precisely, as there is today. In this document, Józef Grzesiak was reported to be a 33-year-old “master of the house” (хозяин), while his wife, Marianna, was age 31. The age difference between Józef and Marianna, which was 6 years in the first record, has magically diminished to 2 years, but again, such discrepancies are very common in these records.

Next, we have the birth record for my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, who was born 27 December 1876 (Figure 8).13 

Figure 8: Russian-language birth record for Weronika Grzesiak, born 27 December 1876, with names of parents and child underlined in red.13Weronika Grzesiak birth marked

Once again, parents were recorded as Józef Grzesiak, “master of the house,” of Kowalewo, age 37, and his wife, Maryanna née Krawczyńska, age 33.

Finally, the birth record of Józefa Grzesiak was discovered.14 Józefa was born 6 March 1881, and yes, her parents were none other than Józef Grzesiak and Marianna née Krawczyńska (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Russian-language birth record for Józefa Grzesiak, born 6 March 1881, with names of parents and child underlined in red.14Jozefa Grzesiak birth record

This time, Józef Grzesiak was recorded as “master of the house,” age 40, while his wife, Marianna, was age 37. Ultimately, Józef’s and Marianna’s dates of birth can only be known accurately when their birth records are discovered — and I discovered those a long time ago, but that’s another story for another day.

As if this weren’t sufficient evidence to put to rest the notion that the immigrant Grzesiak siblings were half-siblings, the icing on the cake was the search in marriage records and death records for any marriages for Józef Grzesiak or death records for previous wives. The only marriage record discovered was his marriage in Kowalewo in 1865 to Marianna Kawczyńska (sic) (Figure 10).15

Figure 10: Polish-language marriage record from Kowalewo for Józef Grzesiak and Maryanna Kawczyńska (sic), 31 October 1865 with names of the groom and bride underlined in red.15Jozef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczynska marriage

The fact that this is the only marriage record found for Józef Grzesiak in Kowalewo is unsurprising, given that all of his children’s birth records name the same mother, Marianna Krawczyńska. The date of the record makes sense — they were married about 2 years before Władysław’s birth in 1867, not an unusually long period of time to be married prior to the birth of an eldest child. Józef was described as a 25-year-old bachelor, born in Cienin Zaborny but residing in Kowalewo with his parents, Stanisław and Jadwiga, at the time of his marriage. Marianna was noted to be age 22, born in Zagórów and residing in Kowalewo, daughter of Antoni and Wiktoria.

So at the end of the day, there is absolutely no evidence in Polish records for any wives of Józef Grzesiak other than Marianna Krawczyńska, whom he married in 1865 and with whom he had 6 children: the four immigrant Grzesiak siblings, as well as two daughters, Konstancja and Pelagia, who remained in Poland, and whose story I touched on a bit previously. There was no Maria Cebulska, no Anna Nowacka, no Marianna Szafron. They didn’t exist. Grandma Veronica was the only one of her siblings who accurately reported her mother’s name on a document in the U.S. So where did Tadeusz and Józefa come up with those names? Maybe Grandma was right all along — “people just didn’t talk about those things back then.” Maybe Tadeusz and Józefa really had no idea what their mother’s name was. One thing is certain, though: Marianna Grzesiak did not die when Józefa was born, or even shortly thereafter. No, Marianna Grzesiak died in Russian Poland in 1904, when her youngest daughter Józefa was 23 years old and married.16 So isn’t it a little odd that at least two of her children didn’t appear to know her name, and that the story was handed down that she died before Veronica and her siblings left Poland for America? I have some speculations about that, but it’s another story for another day.

Genealogists usually find that the best strategy for handling conflicting evidence is to keep gathering data until the truth emerges. Sometimes some analytical skill is required to interpret the data, but at other times, it’s just a question of perseverance to find the right records to settle the question. In this case, one could look at the data from U.S. records and conclude that Józef Grzesiak had three or four wives, or one could dig deeper, find the Grzesiak children’s birth records and Józef and Marianna’s marriage record from Poland, and know the truth.

Sources

1 Helen Zielinski, interviews by Julie Szczepankiewicz, circa 1986-1998; Notes from interviews privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2018.

2 City of Buffalo, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak, 5 August 1901, certificate no. 202, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

3 New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for Thaddeus Grzesiak and Mayme (Mary) Gorski, 20 April 1910, certificate no. 9051, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

City of Buffalo, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for Joseph Cymerman and Josephine Grzesiak, 5 August 1902, certificate no.198, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946, no. 2600, Buffalo, Erie, New York.

Wladyslaw Grzesiak, Petition for Naturalization, No. 4950, 23 January 1917, Supreme Court of New York, Buffalo, Erie, New York.

7 Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 (image), Veronika Grzesiak, S.S. Willehad, April 1898, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 25 February 2018.

Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 (image), Jozef, Kazimira and Jozefa Grzesiak, S.S. Rhein, May 1900, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 25 February 2018.

World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for New York State, 04/27/1942 – 04/27/1942; NAI Number: 2555973; record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147, record for Tadeusz George Grzesiak, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 25 February 2018.

10Arthur Gray, interview by Julie Szczepankiewicz, circa 1998; Notes from interview privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2018.

11 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1867, births, #39, record for Władysław Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczyński, Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78 Konin, Poland.

12 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1874, births, #17, record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl, accessed on 25 February 2018.

13Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),  Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1876, births # 72, record for Weronika Grzesiak, accessed on 25 February 2018.

14 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki) (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1881, births, #15, record for Józefa Grzesiak, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl, accessed on 25 February 2018.

15Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1865, marriages, #10, record for Józef Grzesiak and Maryanna Kawczynska, 31 October 1865, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl , image 20.jpg, accessed on 25 February 2018.

16 Roman Catholic church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, Akta zgonów 1891-1906, 1904, #52, death record for Marianna Grzesiak, DGS 8018016, Image 383, accessed on 25 February 2018.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

The Devil is in the Details: Finding the Right Adam Krupski

Happy New Year! This past weekend, I spent a delightful New Year’s Eve at a family party, talking with with my niece, Tina, who is newly engaged to her fiancé, Luke. Tina and Luke were interested in discovering Luke’s family history, so we began researching Luke’s ancestry together, starting with information from a preliminary family tree recorded in Luke’s baby book by his mom. The process was really satisfying for me, because it gave me a chance to demonstrate proper methodology, source citations, and critical analysis, so Tina can avoid making some of the sloppy rookie mistakes that I made when I started. Moreover, the research project offered an opportunity to demonstrate the necessity of resolving conflicting information as we sought to distinguish between two men with the same name and approximately the same birth year, living in the same metropolitan area, a problem frequently encountered in genealogy.

Meet William Krupski

Our starting point for the project was Luke’s great-grandfather, William L. Krupski. Luke knew that he died 25 June 1995 and lived in Elma, New York, and that was all he knew. A match for William L. Krupski from Elma, New York with this date of death in the Social Security Death Index, quickly provided William’s date of birth, 7 January 1919. Even better, an entry in Ancestry’s Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, provided his full name, William Leonard Krupski, confirmed his date and place of birth as 7 January 1919 and place of birth as Buffalo, New York, confirmed his date of death, and revealed that his parents were Adam Krupski and Maryann Houchol.

This information led to the 1930 census, in which we discovered the family of Adam and Mary Krupski, living in Elma, New York, with son William Krupski, born 1919, as well as daughters Eva, Genevieve, and Jennie. Oddly, William was marked as “relative,” rather than “son,” and at this point, we didn’t know whether this was merely an error on the part of the census taker, or whether William Krupski might have been an adopted son, rather than Adam and Mary’s biological child. However, at this early stage of the game, this was not something we needed to lose sleep over. As my old undergraduate research mentor used to tell me, “keep gathering data and truth will emerge.” The census revealed that William’s father, Adam, was born circa 1880 in Poland, immigrated in 1907, was a naturalized citizen, and that he was 22 years old at the time of his first marriage. This suggests a marriage year circa 1902, and since the data for his wife Mary suggest the same year of marriage, we have no reason to suspect that either of them was married previously. Their oldest daughter, Eva, was also born in Poland. Strangely, the census-taker chose to record her under her married name, Dubel, but in her father’s household, rather than with her husband and daughter, who appear on the next page. This may have resulted from a miscommunication, which supports the notion that William Krupski’s identification as “relative” rather than “son” may have been another miscommunication.

In the 1920 census, the family was still living in Elma, New York, and was recorded under the name Krupska, rather than Krupski, possibly suggesting that Mary was the informant, since this is the feminine form of the surname in Polish. Adam’s age once again suggests a birth year circa 1880, and his immigration year, 1908, is fairly consistent with the date he reported previously. So far, so good. William Krupski was recorded as “Bolsłew” which is clearly a misspelling of the Polish name Bolesław. It was unfortunately indexed as “Boktev” by both Family Search and Ancestry. This illustrates nicely why it’s a good idea to search for family groups, rather than trying to focus on just one individual, since a researcher focused solely on “William Krupski” is unlikely to pay much attention to a result for “Boktev Krupska.” It’s actually fairly common for Polish men named Bolesław to use the name William in American records. This is because the traditional diminutive for Bolesław is Bolek. From Bolek, they’d go to “Bill,” and then from “Bill,” they’d go to “William.” In this census, Bolesław/William was recorded as “son” rather than “relative.”

At this point, we had two records confirming that Adam Krupski of Elma, New York, was born circa 1880. We still didn’t know his date of death, but the Social Security Death Index reveals that one Adam Krupski, born 4 December 1880, from Erie County, New York, died in May 1970. Seems perfectly plausible, right? That zip code for his last residence, 14218, corresponds to Lackawanna, New York, rather than Elma, but that’s only about 15 miles away. He could have moved, right? Find-A-Grave informed us that Adam Krupski died 3 May 1970 and is buried in Cheektowaga, New York, which also seemed reasonable.

The Plot Thickens

So now we know that William Krupski’s father, Adam Krupski, was born 4 December 1880 in Poland, and died on 3 May 1970.

Or do we?

A little more digging in census records revealed that there was an Adam “Krupsk” in the 1930 census, living in Buffalo, New York, who was born circa 1880, with wife Josephine and children Joseph, Alice, and Henrietta. This Adam immigrated circa 1903, and his two daughters were born in Pennsylvania circa 1913 and 1917, respectively. This same guy showed up in the 1940 census as Adam Krupski, still living in Buffalo, with calculated birth year 1880, wife Josephine, son Aloysius, and daughter Henrietta. From this, we understood that there were two different Adam Krupskis, born circa 1880, living within 15 miles of each other. This told us that we needed to be very careful in evaluating documents so as not to confuse the two Adams.

So which Adam died 3 May 1970 and is buried in Cheektowaga? An easy way to answer this question was to check Find-A-Grave again and search for other Krupskis buried in the same cemetery as Adam. Sure enough, other burials include Henrietta, Aloysius, Joseph, and Josephine, along with a Jane and a Violet (née Smith) Krupski — probably the wife of Aloysius or Joseph. This family may still be related in some way to Luke’s Krupski family, but there’s no guarantee of that, especially since the Krupski surname is sufficiently common that several unrelated Krupski families might have immigrated to Buffalo from Poland independently.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for genealogy rookies to get confuddled when presented with data like this, and it can lead one to the wrong conclusions entirely. We discovered at least one family tree online in which a researcher conflated Adam Krupski 1 (married to Mary) with Adam Krupski 2 (married to Josephine). Ancestry’s database, Pennsylvania, Federal Naturalization Records, 1795-1931, includes a Declaration of Intention dated 26 October 1908 for one Adam Krupski, born 4 December 1881, who arrived in the U.S. on 25 June 1903. His date of birth, exactly one year off from the date of birth for Adam Krupski 2, combined with his arrival date in 1903, and the fact that he naturalized in Pennsylvania, are all consistent with this man being the same as Adam Krupski 2 who was married to Josephine and had two daughters born in Pennsylvania in 1913-1917. Unfortunately, the other Krupski researcher whose family tree we examined, concluded that this was the Declaration of Intention for Adam Krupski 1. Since this document stated that Adam Krupski was from Grodno, Russia, the researcher will be chasing the wrong family if she seeks Adam Krupski 1 in records from Grodno.

So where was the birthplace of Adam Krupski 1, the father of William Krupski, husband of Mary Houchol? That’s easy. He was born in Pobroszyn, Opatów County, in the Radom province of Russian Poland, nowhere near Grodno. How do I know this?

Rather than engaging in an exhaustive analysis of each document discovered let me hit the highlights. The 1940 census suggested a birth year circa 1873 — significantly earlier than the date of 1880 discovered previously. This could have been an error, or it could indicate that Adam really wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which was fairly common in those days since knowing this information wasn’t as important as it is today. Unfortunately, none of these census records (1920, 1930 or 1940) indicated the partition of Poland that Adam was from, which was important to discover, since Poland did not exist as an independent nation at the time of Adam’s birth, marriage, or emigration (see here for a crash course in Polish history). It’s very helpful to determine the partition that an immigrant was from because there are so many Polish place names that are not unique. Fortunately, further digging produced Jane Krupski’s birth record, which revealed that her father Adam Krupski and mother Marie Hochol were born in Russia circa 1877 and 1879, respectively. We can be sure that this is the right Jane/Jennie Krupski, because the mother’s maiden name matches the name reported by William Krupski on his Social Security application, and the 1930 census reported that  Adam and Mary’s daughter Jane was born in Indiana.

Putting it all together, I now knew that Adam and Marianna/Mary were from Russian Poland, where they married circa 1902. Adam immigrated circa 1907-1908, while Marianna stayed behind in Poland. Their oldest daugher, Ewa/Eve, was born circa 1907, and Marianna and Ewa came to the U.S. to join Adam circa 1913. Adam’s passenger manifest was the key to unlock the place of origin for the family. According to this document, Adam Krupski (line 27) was a 32-year-old ethnic Pole living in Russia, who arrived in New York on 9 July 1907. He was married, and his age suggests a birth year of 1875. His last permanent residence was Ujazd, Russia, he was headed to New York, and his contact in the Old Country was his wife, Marianna Krupska, living in Ujazd.

There were two places in Russian Poland called Ujazd, according to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego published in 1877. One was in the Kalisz province (presently in the Łódź province) and belonged to the parish in Tur. The other was in the Radom province (presently in the Świętokrzyskie province) and belonged to the parish in Iwaniska. Both these parishes are indexed in Geneteka for the time period needed to locate the family, and Iwaniska turned out to be the correct parish. Lo, and behold, Ewa Krópska’s birth record was discovered in 1907 and the facts fit perfectly. She was born in Ujazd to Adam Krópski and Marianna Chochoł. Although both of the surnames are spelled a bit differently than they appeared in U.S. records, the U.S. spellings make sense as phonetic transliterations of the Polish versions.

Although there’s no link to it in the Geneteka index, Ewa’s birth record can be found online in the Metryki database.  Adam and Marianna’s marriage record was also discovered in Geneteka in the parish of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, about 20 miles north of Ujazd. The record, which appears below, can be found online in the GenBaza database. (To access this database, you need to create a free account, and once your account is active and you are logged in, the link to the marriage record will work.)

Adam Krupski and Marianna Chochoł 1899 marriage crop

Here’s the translation from Russian, as I read it:

“#31. Ostrowiec. Adam Krupski and Marianna Chochoł. This happened in the town of Ostrowiec on the 30th day of May/11th day of June 1899 at 7:00 in the morning. They appeared, Roman Domański, blacksmith, age 40, and Artur Gregor, ???, age 22, residents of Ostrowiec. On this day was contracted a religious marriage between Adam Krópski, bachelor, age 27, son of parents Kazimierz and the late Joanna née Kocznur, born in the village of Pobroszyn, parish Opatów, and now in Ostrowiec residing in the local parish, and Marianna Chochoł, peasant, age 26, daughter of Roch and the late Julianna née Mucha, born in the village of Pęchów, parish Goźlice, Sandomierz district, and now in Ostrowiec residing in this parish. The marriage was preceded by three announcements in Ostrowiec parish church, to wit: on the 14th, 21st and 28th days of May of the current year. The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Feliks Latalski. This Act was read aloud to the illiterate witnesses and was signed only by Us. [signed] Administrator of the Parish of Ostrowiec, Fr. F. Latalski”

So there you have it. I think we made pretty good use of our New Year’s Eve, successfully tracing the family of Luke’s great-grandfather, William Krupski, through U.S. records, determining his parents’ place of origin in Poland, and discovering and translating William’s parents’ marriage record and his sister Ewa’s birth record, all before the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the research that can be done for the Krupski family in both the U.S. and Poland, but Warsaw wasn’t built in a day. The moral of the story is, if you carefully follow the paper trail — not ignoring conflicting evidence, but seeking the truth — you won’t go astray. Here’s to a New Year filled with great genealogical discoveries, for all of us!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018