Hoffman and Shea’s German Genealogical Translation Guide is Here At Last!

Christmas came early this year! While I was at the biennial conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast last weekend, I had the opportunity to purchase one of the very first copies of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume IV:聽 German by William F. Hoffman and Jonthan D. Shea. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book for several years now, because I found Volumes I, II, and III (for Polish, Russian, and Latin translations, respectively) to be absolutely indispensable research aids. My family is all too familiar with these books, because they’re the ones that never seem to make it back to the bookshelf. Instead, they’re usually found lying on the kitchen table or coffee table, next to my laptop, because I refer to them so often for a quick look-up of an unfamiliar word or review of grammatical case endings.

So why are these books so great?

I’ve always been one to do genealogy on shoestring budget. Raising four kids meant that I couldn’t afford to pay for professional translations of each and every genealogy document I found. Although we have Facebook groups nowadays that offer translation assistance, such groups didn’t exist when I made my first foray into Polish records. Moreover, I’ve discovered a profound satisfaction in learning to read records about my ancestors in the original language, and having someone else translate the record for me just isn’t as much fun. So, I realized early on that this was sink or swim. If I wanted to make progess in genealogy, it was up to me to learn to read documents in Polish, Russian, Latin, and German.

It’s very true that learning to translate foreign-language records can be intimidating. As genealogists, we often have to contend with grainy or fuzzy microfilms of original records that may have been faded, smeared, torn, taped, or exhibit bleed-through from the other side of the page. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of the illegible chicken-scratch that passes for handwriting on certain documents pertaining to our ancestors. Throw a foreign language in there — or worse, a foreign language written in a different alphabet, like Cyrillic — and it’s enough to make us want to give in to frustration and take up a different hobby. But in reality, learning to read foreign-language records is very doable. Most vital records tend to be pretty formulaic, so it’s not necessary to be fluent in a language in order to read genealogical records written in that language. It’s necessary to have the right tools, however, and that’s where the translation guides by Hoffman and Shea come in.

These books were game-changers for me, allowing me to gain confidence and develop proficiency with translations in Polish, Russian and Latin. They provide numerous examples of an impressive variety of genealogical documents with transcriptions, translations, and discussions of the grammar and vocabulary used in each. They offer historical insight into obscure and archaic words that you’ll never find in a modern dictionary, and they provide multiple examples of the forms that each letter of the alphabet can take in print and cursive. One could even argue that their books have driven the course of my research. Like many of us, I often choose the path of least resistence when it comes to my genealogy research. Since Polish, Russian and Latin records are pretty comfortable for me at this point, I’ve developed a preference for research using documents written in those languages, and I’ve been putting off research that involves German-language records, for both my own family, and for my husband’s ancestors from Prussian Poland.聽 But no more! Now that their German guide has made its way into my eager hands, I have no more excuses. Onward and upward!

So my next post will include my very first German translation, but I admit, I’m on a sharp learning curve right now. The old German cursive (Kurrentschrift) in this 1857 marriage record that I’ve chosen is making my head spin, but hey, practice makes perfect. Stay tuned. And if you’re interested in reading more about Hoffman and Shea’s German translation guide, or you’d like to purchase a copy, you can do so at the authors’ website. I should mention that I have no commercial interest in the sale of their books. I recommend them because I happen to think they’re wonderful resources. However, in the interest of full disclosure, Jonathan was kind enough to give me a “speaker’s discount” and sell me a copy of the book at $9 off the cover price.

Time to get back to work on that record. It’s not going to translate itself. 馃槈

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz



5 Strategies for Finding Living Relatives In Poland

Many of us family historians are eager to connect with distant cousins, for a variety of reasons. It’s interesting to share family photos and see what stories were handed down in a cousin’s family. It’s satisfying to reunite descendants of a family that has dispersed through time and across continents. If one is lucky enough to connect with cousins who are also interested in genealogy, it’s wonderful to have a research collaborators to share the thrills, challenges, frustrations and victories inherent to family history research. If a new cousin can be persuaded to contribute a cheek swab sample for DNA testing, it’s great to gain added insights into one’s genetic heritage by identifying matching DNA segments. And for those of us whose ancestors immigrated within the past few generations, sharing with cousins in the ancestral home country can be a wonderful way to learn how familiar cultural traditions are practiced in that country today.

Unfortunately, many family historians with Polish roots feel that it’s more difficult to connect with cousins in Poland than it is to connect with distant cousins in the U.S. Although there are always exceptions, genealogy as a hobby isn’t generally as popular in Poland as it is here. During the Cold War era, the Communist vision of a classless society did not encourge hobbies that might potentially lead to the discovery of noble ancestry. Moreover, the difficult economic conditions dictated that few people had time or money to spend on genealogy research. However, Poland’s increasing prosperity in modern times has brought with it an increased interest in genealogy research, and researchers may be surprised to discover that our Polish cousins are as interested in meeting us, as we are in meeting them.

With that in mind, here are five strategies that I recommend for identifying cousins in Poland today:

1. Check out those attics!

Your first step is to call up all the elders in the family to see if there’s any chance that correspondence has survived. 聽Someone just might have saved a box of letters in the basement or attic, cherished remnants of correspondence with family in Poland. If the letters are in Polish and no one in the family speaks the language any longer, it’s definitely worth it to get them translated for clues. If you hit the jackpot and find an old address, compose a letter explaining that you’re seeking family who used to live at this address. Provide some details about your relationship and your desire to reconnect the families. Address the envelope to “The family of Antoni Kowalski” (specify the name of the family member who was at that address most recently) and add a note along the bottom of the envelope to the mail carrier, to please forward if the family has moved. If that doesn’t work, you can also try writing to the parish priest, explaining your dilemma and asking him to please pass your letter along to any of his parishioners who share your surname of interest and might be related to you. Similarly, the village head, or so艂tys, is usually acquainted with everyone in the village (in small villages) or can determine how best to direct your letter (in larger ones).

2. Develop your own tree first.

When it comes to identifying living family in Poland as well as understanding DNA matches, it helps to have a well-developed family tree, which means spending time on researching collateral lines. Too often, family historians are so focused on tracing their ancestry as far back as possible, that they neglect thorough research into the families of each ancestor’s siblings. By tracing all those lines forward in time, you’ll know what surnames to look for, both in your ancestral villages, and in the family trees of your DNA matches.

3.聽Get your surnames out there.

Genealogy blogs are a great way to make your research interests known and make it easy for you to be found by distant cousins who are interested in family history. Utilize the old-fashioned聽message boards and surname registries like the ones at Rootsweb, or post your surnames and geographic places associated with them in the alphabetized surname registry documents located in the “Files” section in Polish Genealogy on Facebook. You can also create an account at Genealodzy.pl, which is the home page of the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (Polish Genealogical Society, or PTG). Once your account is established, you can add your surnames and parishes of interest so that others can search for them from the site menu on the left of the home page.

4. Reach out in the right places.

Ancestry.com is not well known in Poland. Poles are more likely to use MyHeritage to host their family trees, so searching that site may produce better results when it comes to connecting with cousins. Many Poles have Facebook accounts, or you could try creating an account at NK (formerly known as Nasza Klasa, “Our Class”), a Polish social media site. The idea here is to search for individuals with your surnames of interest, who are living in or near the places associated with those surnames in your family tree. It may sound like a long shot, but it’s been known to work, especially if your surname of interest isn’t exceptionally popular. In addition, the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook has had its share of serendipitous cousin connections, so be sure to search the group’s history for your surnames and places of interest, in addition to adding them to the group’s surname registry files as mentioned previously.

5. When in Poland….

If you have the opportunity to visit Poland and would like to visit your ancestral villages while there, be sure to go with a genealogical tour guide or interpreter, since most of the elderly residents of the village, who might be most likely to remember your family names, will not speak English. The village聽so艂tys聽should be your first stop, especially if it’s a small village, since he or she will be able to direct you to the homes of those who share your surnames. Be sure to bring some copies of your family tree with you, or at least the branch of the tree that’s relevant for that village, and some old family photos, as well as business cards or something with your contact information on it.

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Poland was meeting the widow of my 3rd cousin once removed, who was previously unknown to our family. After the so艂tys gave us directions to her home, we knocked on the door, and when she answered, our translator explained who we were and that we were looking for relatives of my great-grandfather. She told us the names of her late husband, his father, and his grandfather, and recalled that the grandfather had worked for a few years in the U.S. before returning to Poland, although she didn’t recall where he went. Based on the information she shared at that time, I was sure we were related, although I was not able to obtain direct confirmation of the relationship until we were back home in the U.S. However, her Christmas card with聽op艂atek and a warm note welcoming me to the family was something I will always cherish, and I continue to correspond with her daughter via e-mail.

Another great strategy shared by Dan Wolinski of the Polish Genealogy group is to leave notes on the monuments in the local cemetery. I thought this was really brilliant, and it worked out beautifully for the group member, whose note was discovered by a cousin while the group member was still in Poland, allowing an opportunity for a meeting. As with all these strategies, there are no guarantees in life, but if you happen to find a headstone with your surname of interest in the village cemetery, there’s a chance that the grave is being maintained by a relative. Write a note about the family you’re seeking, include your contact information, and have it translated into Polish by someone reputable. Seal it in a waterproof zipper-lock bag, tape it securely to the headstone, and cross your fingers.

When it comes to searching for relatives in Poland, you have little to lose, but everything to gain. If you try any of the strategies I suggest here, I’d love to hear how they work for you. And if you have any novel strategies that have been successful in the past, I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Happy hunting!

Note: William F. Hoffman, noted author, linguist, and editor for several publications relating to Polish Genealogy, made a further recommendation for places to list your surnames of interest. He suggested that the surname registry hosted by the popular Polish genealogical tour service, PolishOrigins, is another great place to put your surnames online so that others can find you easily. Thanks for the tip, Fred!


漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017









Frank Zielinski and the Board of Special Inquiry

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883.

Despite Lazarus’ idealized portrayal of America’s welcome toward immigrants, there has always been a fair amount of suspicion toward the most recent wave of newcomers, and concern that they would take away jobs from American citizens or require public assistance. Any family historian who has ever studied a passenger manifest from the early 20th century has seen the columns in which immigrants were required to verify that they were in good mental and physical health, that they were not deformed or crippled, that they were not anarchists or polygamists. Immigrants could be sent back home for any number of reasons, and although only about 2% of Ellis Island immigrants were actually turned away, many of our ancestors were subjected to a more detailed physical exam or a special hearing prior to admittance.

Consequently, many of us have discovered evidence in our own family trees of 聽immigrants who were detained for a hearing with the Board of Special Inquiry. In my family, my great-grandfather’s brother, Franciszek (Frank) Zieli艅ski, was one such example. Franciszek arrived at Ellis Island on 7 April 1907, and his passenger manifest is shown here on the聽Ellis Island site聽(free) or via Ancestry, here (Figure 1).

Figure 1: 聽Extract from passenger manifest of Franciszek Zelinski (sic) from the S.S. Breslau, 7 April 1907.1Frank Zielinski marked manifest left crop

Franciszek appears on line 11, a single, male farm laborer, age 26, not able to read or write, which was not unusual for men living in Russian Poland at that time. His last permanent residence was noted to be Sochaczew, Russian Poland. Franciszek did not have a ticket to his final destination and he had only one dollar to his name, but he was reported to have paid for his ticket himself. Franciszek and a traveling companion, Aleksander Winnicki, were both going to join the brother-in-law of a third companion, Walenty Jankowski, who reported that he was from the village of Czyste, which is near Sochaczew. Walenty’s brother-in-law, Antoni Bejger (?), was living in Buffalo, New York. Although this manifest page is genealogical gold, it tells only half the story. As evidenced by the “SI” notations and subsequent “Admitted” stamps, all three of these men, along with four others on this page, were flagged for detainment and a hearing with the Board of Special Inquiry (SI).

These Records of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry appear as separate documents that usually constitute the final pages of the ship’s manifest, or possibly the first few pages of the manifest, as some manifests were microfilmed in reverse order. It’s common for a search on Ancestry to reveal one of the manifest pages for a particular immigrant (the main manifest page or the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry page), but not both. However, you can always browse manually to find the additional page if there is reason to suspect that it should exist. Figure 2 shows the page from the Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry where Franciszek聽Zieli艅ski was mentioned.

Figure 2: Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry, Franceszek Zelinski (sic),聽S.S. Breslau, 7 April 1907.2

Board of Special Inquiry manifest Frank Zielinski crop

The left-most columns on this manifest confirm the data found in the original manifest entry for Franciszek, indicating “26m” for a 26-year-old male, followed by his name. The next columns report group number and page number on the manifest where he was originally recorded. There is a column for number of persons held, which was only one, in Franciszek’s case. However, other entries note larger traveling parties, such as the group of 8 recorded further down on the page — a mother traveling with 7 children, who was detained as a Likely Public Charge (L.P.C.). The next column reveals the reason for Frank’s detainment, “C.L.” This notation stands for “Contract Labor,” and Franciszek’s traveling companions, Aleksander Winnicki and Walenty Jankowski, were detained for this same reason.

Apparently, Franciszek and the others were suspected of immigrating in violation of the Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885. This law was intended to discourage the practice among American companies of promising jobs to immigrants upon arrival, bringing them in under contract, or prepaying their passage. In addition,

The law aimed at reducing immigration to the country and supplying the workforce with better skilled trained craftsmen. The act prohibited all companies and individuals from bringing immigrants into the United States under contract or through indentured servitude. A less overt purpose of the law was to raise the quality of new immigrants by excluding people who could not pay their own way to reach the United States. Immigrants who could afford to travel to the United States on their own income were most welcome.3

The next columns on the manifest report the name of the immigration inspector, Leonard, and the actions of the Boards of Special Inquiry. In the case of Franciszek and his friends, the hearings took place on that same day, 7 April (reported in the “Date” column), and a transcript of the proceedings was recorded by the secretary “Lov” on page 10 of the stenographer’s notebook. One such transcript can be found here, although the transcript from Franciszek’s hearing would not have been preserved because he was ultimately admitted to the United States. The only records that were not destroyed were for cases in which the BSI judged in favor of exclusion an immigrant, and the immigrant appealed the decision. The documents surrounding those appeals are housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and additional information about obtaining them can be found here.

The final columns on the far right side of the page are also interesting, in that they provide a tally for the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners the detained person or party received while in detainment. The cost of these meals was billed to the steamship company. Unfortunately, the top corner of the original page was torn prior to microfilming, so this information is not available in Frank’s case.

Ultimately, Frank was admitted to the U.S., possibly because he was able to persuade the BSI that he did, in fact, pay for his own ticket as he reported on the manifest. Nevertheless, these Records of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry provide fascinating details to add to our understanding of our immigrant ancestors’ stories. So the next time you see an “admitted” stamp on a manifest next to the name of an immigrant ancestor, be sure to dig a little deeper in the manifest to uncover the rest of the story.


For further reading:

Grounds for Exclusion noted on BSI lists: 聽http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/manifests/bsi/causes.html, and


Interesting story about an immigrant whose admittance was denied by the BSI, but who gained entry upon appeal:



1New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Ancestry.com, (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003), Record for Franciszek Zelinski, S.S. Breslau, 7 April 1907, list 10, line 11, accessed 8 October 2017.

2聽New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Ancestry.com, (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003), Franceszek Zelinski (sic) in Record of Aliens Held for Special Inquiry,聽S.S. Breslau, 7 April 1907, page 121, accessed 8 October 2017.

3聽Bell, Keith J. “Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885,” 聽Immigration to the United States,聽http://immigrationtounitedstates.org, accessed 8 October 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017





The Leonard Zarzycki Family of Warsaw

Genealogists are often too familiar with the frustration of painstakingly gathering documentation to identify an ancestral village, only to discover that the family didn’t stay there for long, nor did they leave any hint about where they went. Sometimes, it’s just a branch or two that disappears from the records, but in such cases, it can be really difficult to find people in the absence of indexed records. I have quite a few family lines that dead-end this way, but the good news is that indexing efforts in Poland are bringing more and more of these missing relatives to light. Just yesterday, in fact, I managed to discover evidence for a previously unknown Zarzycki cousin who went to Warsaw.

I’ve written about my Zarzycki/Za偶ycki family in the past. This is the family of my great-grandfather, Jan聽Za偶ycki, who was born in the village of聽Bronis艂awy in Sochaczew County in 1866, and聽immigrated to Buffalo, New York. The village of Bronis艂awy belongs to the parish of Rybno, and it’s challenging to obtain records from this parish since so few of the parish books were ever transferred to the state or diocesan archive. Most of them are still onsite at the parish itself, but thanks to the diligence of my onsite researcher, Justyna Krogulska, and the generous pastor who was willing to permit access to the records, I’ve been able to gather baptismal records for Jan and his siblings, trace the family’s roots a bit further back, and also trace some of Jan’s siblings forward, to identify their spouses and at least some of their children. However, some of Jan’s siblings disappeared from the records in Rybno. Did they die in infancy, and their deaths were somehow not recorded? Did they move and perhaps marry elsewhere in Poland? So far I haven’t found evidence of emigration (I’ve looked), but maybe a surname was dramatically altered?

Today, one of those missing siblings emerged, in the indexed records for Warsaw in the vital records database, Geneteka. Leonard Zarzycki was the youngest brother of my great-grandfather Jan. Leonard was born 6 November 1876,1聽and his marriage to Marianna Majewska was recorded in Rybno parish on 14 February 1904.2 After that marriage, however, the couple disappeared from the records. No birth records for their children were discovered in Rybno, and I had no idea where they went until today, when I discovered the following聽marriage record for Leonard and Marianna’s son, Zygmunt, at All Saints Church in Warsaw in 1929.3

Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Kurkiewicz 1929 crop

The translation of the record is as follows:

“#525. This happened in Warsaw in the office of All Saints parish on the eighth day of September in the year one thousand nine hundred twenty-nine at ten o’clock in the morning. We declare that — in the presence of witnesses, Leonard Zarzycki, public works entrepreneur, and聽Micha艂 Kurkiewicz, railroad official, adult residents of Warsaw — that on this day, in this church, was contracted a religous marriage between Zygmunt Zarzycki, bachelor, office worker, having twenty-four years of age, born in the parish of St.聽Stanis艂aw, son of the living Leonard and Marianna n茅e Majewska, the spouses Zarzycki, residing in Warsaw on Krochmalna Street in house number five thousand four hundred ninety eight in St. Andrew’s parish, and Henryka Michalina Kurkiewicz, single, [residing] with her father, having twenty-four years of age, born in the parish of St. Barbara in Warsaw, daughter of the living聽Micha艂 and the late Leokadia n茅e Mia艂kowska, residing in Warsaw on聽Pa艅ska聽Street in house number one thousand two hundred forty-three in the parish here. The marriage was preceded by three announcements, proclaimed in the parish of St. Andrew’s and here, on the eighteenth and twenty-fifth days of August and the first day of September. The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Jan Mecheta, local vicar. This document was read aloud to the newlyweds and witnesses, and we signed. [Signed] Fr. Mecheta, Zygmunt Zarzycki, Henryka Kurkiewicz,聽Micha艂 Kurkiewicz.”


The ages reported here suggest that both Zygmunt and his bride, Henryka, were born circa 1905 in Warsaw. The parish in which Zygmunt was baptized, St.聽Stanis艂aw, Bishop and Martyr, was founded in 1611 in the Wola district of Warsaw, and Zygmunt’s birth record was subsequently located in the records from that parish. The address at which Leonard Zarzycki’s family was living at the time of Zygmunt’s marriage, 5498 Krochmalna Street, appears not to correspond to any present address there, but this is hardly surprising, given that 90% of Warsaw was destroyed during World War II. Krochmalna Street itself was a very poor neighborhood, largely Jewish, and the eastern part of the street was within the area walled off by the Nazis in November 1940 to form the Warsaw Ghetto, just 11 years after the date of Zygmunt and Henryka’s wedding.

I have to wonder what happened to the Zarzyckis during the war. Did they leave the city and go back to family in聽Bronis艂awy? Were they forcibly relocated? Might they have participated in the Warsaw Uprising? One resource to check for answers to these questions is the “Loss” database. In 2006, The Polish Instytut Pami臋ci Narodowej聽(Institute of National Memory) and the Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego聽(Ministry of Culture and National Heritage) developed this database聽to assist families in discovering the fates of individuals who suffered the loss of life or property as a result of Nazi oppression. A broad search for Zarzycki/Zarzycka, with father’s name Leonard (to locate Zygmunt) or Ignacy (to locate Zygmunt’s father, Leonard) did not produce any likely matches, suggesting that the family might, indeed, have left Warsaw before the war.

Another broad search in the indexed records at Geneteka for聽St.聽Stanis艂aw Church in Warszawa-Wola reveals a large number of births to Zarzyckis between 1904, when Leonard and Marianna were married, and 1908, when indexed records end for this parish. I hoped that some of these might be for additional children of this couple, so I examined each record individually, since the index is of the “bare bones” variety which lacks key identifying information such as mother’s maiden name. Unfortunately, none were for children of Leonard and Marianna. Zygmunt’s marriage record stated that the family was living in Warsaw in St. Andrew’s parish at that time, so perhaps they moved there soon after he was born, and additional siblings can be found in those records. Birth records for St. Andrew’s are not indexed in Geneteka for the period from 1904-1912, but they’re available (unindexed) at Geneteka‘s sister site, Metryki. So perhaps I’ll be able to discover a few more children of Leonard and Marianna Zarzycki in due time. Stay tuned!


Featured Image: All Saints Church in Warsaw, Poland, image courtesy of Wikipedia user Masti, licensed under聽CC-BY-SA 2.5.

1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Ksi臋ga urodze艅 1870-1880, 1876, #87, baptismal record for Leonard Zarzycki.

2聽Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl,聽1904, #15, marriage record for Leonard Zarzycki and Maryanna Majewska, accessed on 28 September 2017.

3聽Ksiegi metrykalne parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wszystkich Swietych w Warszawie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl), Ksiega zaslubionych 1929 r., #525, marriage record for Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Michalina Kurkiewicz, accessed on 28 September 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

The Mysterious Wanda Gruberska: The Next Chapter

In my last post, I shared an article I wrote for the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s journal, Rodziny, about finding a new DNA match to a cousin who knew only his grandmother’s birth name, Wanda Gruberska, but little else about her, since she was adopted as a child and had her name changed. Today I’d like to provide a few updates to the story, based on new research findings since its publication.

To briefly recap, when I was contacted by this DNA match, I recognized the Gruberski surname because my maternal grandmother’s Zazycki family had multiple ties to the Gruberski family in Poland through marriage. However, Wanda Gruberska herself was not in my family tree, and at that point, I did not know who her parents might be. By process of elimination I was able to identify Wanda’s parents as Jan/John Gruberski and Marianna/Mary (n茅e Pindur) Gruberska, demonstrate that they immigrated to Minnesota, prove that Mary died in 1918, and discover that one of the Gruberskis’ children was living in an orphanage in St. Paul in 1920. However, I still had no direct evidence of Wanda’s birth to these parents or of her own placement in that orphanage. I suspected that Wanda might have been baptized at St. Adalbert’s church in St. Paul, Minnesota, based on her family’s address in city directories.

The Smoking Gun, and a New Sister

What I did not realize at that time was that baptisms and marriages from this parish, as well as other Polish parishes in Minnesota, were indexed by John Rys and compiled into searchable databases which can be accessed via the website of the Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota. John kindly provided me with a copy of Wanda’s baptismal record (Figure 1),1 as well as a copy of the baptismal record for another sister, Helena Josepha (Figure 2).2

Figure 1: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Wanda Grubarska, born 7 May 1916.1Wanda Gruberska baptism 1916

Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Helen Josepha, born 18 March 1914.2Helena Gruberska baptism 1914

Wanda’s surname is spelled “Grubarska” in the first record, and her year of birth, 1916, makes her a full three years younger than her family suspected. However, this birth record is nonetheless a “smoking gun” — 聽the direct evidence which irrefutably identifies Wanda as a child of the parents whom I predicted for her, based on all prior evidence. Although I was previously unaware of another sister, Helena, it makes sense that John and Mary might have had another child born in the U.S. if Wanda was born as late as 1916. John and Mary’s oldest children, Stanis艂aw and Genowefa, were born in Poland in 1908 and 1910, respectively, and arrived in the U.S. in April 1913 with their mother Mary and uncle Boles艂aw (Bill) Gruberski.聽Helena had to have been the first of John and Mary’s children born in the U.S., since her March 1914 birth date suggests that she was conceived in June 1913.

The Godfather

Helena’s godfather, Leon Gruberski, was another surprise, since I don’t have him in my family tree. However, my data on the children of Marianna Zarzycka and聽J贸zef Gruberski are still incomplete. As mentioned previously, the family lived in聽Bronis艂awy, a village belonging to the parish in Rybno. The majority of the 19th-century records for Rybno have not been microfilmed, nor are they available from the Polish State Archives (apart from a narrow range of years starting in 1886). Instead, the records are still in possession of the local Catholic parish. Thanks to a gracious pastor and a diligent researcher (Justyna Krogulska), I have been able to obtain records for my family from this parish, but it looks like another round of research is in order, focusing specifically on the Gruberski family.

Although Leon’s birth record is currently unavailable, a quick check on Ancestry produced his passenger manifest (Figures 3a and b, which can also be viewed free via Ellis Island):

Figure 3a: 聽Extract from first page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4Leon Gruberski passenger manifest page 1

Figure 3b: Extract from second page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4Leon Gruberski passenger manifest page 2

The manifest informs us that Leon arrived in New York on 5 May 1909, that he was single, and that he was born about 1885 in “Bronislawa.” His nearest relative in that place was his father,聽J贸zef Gruberski, who was living in “Bronislawa, Warschau,” and Leon was a citizen of Russia. All of this is consistent with the village of聽Bronis艂awy, which was located in the Warsaw gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire. On page 2, we see that he was headed to his “step brother,” Piotr Przanowski, living at 153 Box (?) Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leon may have used the term “step brother” in a rather broad sense. The Przanowski family was clearly associated with the Gruberski family because Leon’s brother, Roman Gruberski, was married to Julianna Przanowska, who was the daughter of聽Stanis艂aw Przanowski and Franciszka Dobi艅ska. A quick check in Geneteka reveals that Julianna did indeed have a brother named Piotr Przanowski, who married聽艁ucja Gajowniczek in I艂贸w in 1897, and this is probably the Piotr Przanowski mentioned in Leon’s passenger manifest. Assuming that further research does not turn up evidence of a closer relationship, Piotr can’t properly be called a “step brother” to Leon. However, our ancestors typically employed a very expansive concept of family when reporting their relationships to contacts in the U.S., and this fact, compounded with the language barrier, probably explains the notation on the manifest.

In any case, Leon seems to disappear from U.S. records subsequent to that 1909 passenger manifest. We know he must have remained in the U.S. through 1914 at least, since he was godfather to his niece, Helena聽J贸zefa, in April of that year. This, in turn, implies that he should be found in the 1910 census. Very often, Polish immigrants can be tough to locate in U.S. census records because their names were misspelled by the census-taker on the original form, or mistranscribed during the indexing process. One of my favorite tricks for getting around this is to omit the surname entirely and search using other known data. However, a search of the 1910 census for men named Leon, no surname specified, born 1880-1890 in Russia, living in St. Paul, Minnesota, produced no promising hits. I also checked for his contact in the U.S., Piotr Przanowski, since occasionally one might see a boarder mistakenly recorded on a census record under the surname of the head of household. I successfully located the household of Peter Przanowski — misindexed as Peter Pozanowski — living in South St. Paul in 1910. I’m sure it’s the right family, because his wife’s name was Lucy and he and his wife reported that they’d been married for 13 years, suggesting a marriage date of 1897. Both of these facts match the marriage record in Geneteka precisely. However, there was no Leon living with them, so for now I’ll put Leon on the back burner and move on.

Crowdsourcing at its Best

Since publishing聽that article, I also obtained Mary Gruberski’s death certificate (Figure 4).4

Figure 4: Death certificate for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, 11 December 1918.Mary Gruberski death 1918.jpg

At the time of her death, the Gruberskis were living at 844 Gaulthier (sic) Street in St. Paul. Mary’s date of birth was reported to be 25 March 1880, but based on her age reported on her marriage record, 1890 would be a more probable birth year for her. Mary died of epidemic influenza on 14 December 1918 and was buried two days later in Calvary Cemetery. She was reported to be the wife of John Gruberski, but the document is worded in such a way that it makes no distinction between a wife, a widow, and a聽divorc茅e, so we cannot tell from this information whether or not John Gruberski is already deceased. However, the fact that John himself was not the informant is potentially significant. The name of the person who was the informant is unclear, but he did not know Mary’s parents’ names, or her precise place of birth, which suggests that he may not have known her well.

I was really bothered by the fact that I couldn’t read the informant’s name on this document. The disjointed appearance of the signature made it look almost like a short name, e.g. Geo. (George) Doun or Dorn, followed by a phrase, which I thought might contain some clue about the relationship of the informant to the deceased. Moreover, the 1910 census did indeed show a man by the name of George Dorn who lived at 1058 Rice Street in St. Paul in 1910, less than a mile from the Gruberskis’ address on the death certificate. However, this theory was blown out of the water last night by the amazing Kasia Dane in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook.

One of my favorite strategies when I need another pair of eyes or a fresh perspective, is to crowdsource the problem by posting in a Facebook group. I posted this record in Polish Genealogy recently, and after some discussion, Kasia produced irrefutable evidence that the informant was a Belgian immigrant named Georges Dommels-Huizen. Kasia’s most compelling piece of evidence was this World War I draft card, which informs us that Georges was employed as a records clerk at the City and County Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a hospital records clerk, Georges would have had access to the basic information contained in Mary’s medical chart when she was admitted to the hospital.

Bill Gruberski’s Day in Court

Rather than resting on her laurels, Kasia dug a little deeper and turned up a spectacular find in Internet Archive. It’s often surprising what information one can find by a simple internet search using the name of a research subject combined with an identifying fact or two. In this case, a search for “Mary Gruberski 1918” produced a book entitled Minnesota Reports, which is a summary of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, published in 1922.5 The case summary tells us that Mary took out a life insurance policy on herself in 1918, shortly before her death, naming her brother-in-law,聽Boles艂aw “Bill” Gruberski, as the beneficiary. The insurer was the Brotherhood of American Yeomen, which was a fraternal beneficiary organization. The policy was issued in September of 1918, but prior to issuance of the life insurance certificate, the insurer required Mary to undergo a physical examination and to answer questions about her own health history, family health history, and her physical condition. The medical examination took place on 18 August 1918, and one of the questions asked was, “Are you pregnant?” At the time of the exam, Mary was 5 1/2 months pregnant, and she delivered a full-term baby on 15 November 1918, one month before her death.

Since the death claim was made so soon after the policy issued, it seems that the insurer balked at making the payout on the policy. They argued that the policy was void if any of the statements made during the medical exam聽regarding Mary’s physical condition were untrue, and they claimed that Mary stated that she was not pregnant. Never mind that her death was completely unrelated to her pregnancy, the whole case came down to the question of whether or not the statements made during the exam were warranties that could invalidate the insurance certificate if proven to be false. The plaintiff, on the other hand, charged that the medical examiner erroneously inserted Mary’s answers into the medical report, and that Mary did, in fact, admit to being pregnant. Mary was known to be illiterate, with limited English-speaking skills. Both sides offered conflicting testimony regarding Mary’s actual oral statement, and whether or not an interpreter was used, and it was noted to be strange that the medical examiner recorded her waist measurement, yet did not realize that she was 5 1/2 months pregnant. When the case was first tried in the Ramsey County District Court, it was judged in favor of the plaintiff — that is, the insurer was required to pay a death benefit of $1,000 to Bill Gruberski for his sister-in-law’s death. The defendant appealed that verdict, but it was upheld by the State Supreme Court.

So what are the genealogical implications of this new evidence? First, we now know that John and Mary Gruberski had at least 5 children prior to Mary’s death in 1918:聽Stanis艂aw, Genowefa, Helena, Wanda, and this new baby born in November 1918, just a month before Mary’s death. Second, these data support my suspicion that John Gruberski might have preceded Mary in death. It’s a little odd that she would have named her brother-in-law as her beneficiary if her husband were still alive. Perhaps her intention was to have Bill use the money for the care of her children. In any case, the question remains as to when John Gruberski died, and the probable timeframe for this event is pretty narrow. If John and Mary’s youngest child was born in November 1918, the baby would have been conceived in February of that year. Therefore John must have died some time after the baby’s conception, but before Mary applied for the life insurance policy in August 1918, and named her brother-in-law, and not her husband, as beneficiary. It’s also theoretically possible that John did not die in 1918, but rather abandoned his family and moved back to Poland, and I hope to address this question with futher research.

The Seven Siblings

There’s one final new development that I want to share in this next chapter of the story. As mentioned previously, John聽and Mary’s oldest son,聽Stanis艂aw, was reported in the 1920 census聽to be an inmate at St. Joseph’s German Catholic Orphan Society Home in St. Paul, Minnesota. I contacted the聽Archdiocesan Archives for St. Paul to inquire about records from the orphanage, and was delighted to learn that they do have records for Wanda and all her siblings, which I can request from their archive 100 years after the date of the record. 聽The earliest records will be available in January 2019 and the latest in September 2025. 聽It seems a long time to wait, but I’m in this for the long haul.聽The surprise came when the archivist wrote that they have records for seven Gruberski children, not just five. 聽Based on the dates of birth of the children previously discovered, the remaining two children must have been born in 1915 and 1917. 聽Given how large this family was, it seems odd that Stanis艂aw was the only one of the siblings who was reported to be living in the orphanage in 1920. Prior to my correspondence with the Archdiocesan Archive, I assumed that the younger children might already have been adopted by 1920, leaving only Stanis艂aw there. However, assuming that the release dates on the orphanage case files correspond to the dates when each child was legally adopted, there should have been three additional Gruberski children reported on the census, based on the census date of January 1920. Why they were not reported on the census is another mystery for another day.

There’s also the mystery of where these children would have been baptized, since the only baptismal records found at St. Adalbert’s were for Wanda and Helena. The obvious answer is that they must have been baptized in a different parish, so I took a look at the family’s addresses in city directories to determine what other parish they might have lived in. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t help much. In the 19147聽city directory for St. Paul, John Gruberski was reported to be living at 720 S. Concord Street, which isn’t especially close to any of the ethnic Polish Roman Catholic churches in St. Paul. In 1915,8 he was listed in several places in the directory. 聽He appears first in the alphabetical listing of residents, which confirmed the previous home address of 720 S. Concord Street, and was also mentioned in the business directory under both “blacksmiths” and “horseshoers” where it was noted that his blacksmithing business was located at 161 Milford. In 1916,9聽the only Gruberski listing is for “Jochim,” although it’s clearly the same as our John, since he’s a blacksmith working at 161 Milford. This time his residence is reported to be 865 Rice Street, but that’s still only a mile away from St. Adalbert’s.

In 1917,10 I found John’s brother, Bill Gruberski, living and working at his brother’s former address, 161 Milford. Moreover, the 1917 directory shows “Joachim Gruberski,” also a blacksmith, living at 887 Albemarle. Google Maps informs me that 887 Albemarle is about 26 feet away from 161 Milford, so right next door. By 1918,11 there’s no longer any mention of any John, Jochim, or Joachim Gruberski, but William Grubarski is mentioned as a “helper” living at 844 Galtier, which is again, quite close to St. Adalbert’s. 844 Galtier is an address we’ve seen before: 聽it’s where Mary Gruberski was living at the time of her death in December 1918. Moreover, both of these facts are consistent with our present hypothesis, that John Gruberski died (or perhaps abandoned his family) between February 1918 and November 1918. It seems quite plausible that Mary and her children might have moved in with her brother-in-law and his family if her husband died suddenly while she was pregnant with her seventh child.

Although this analysis of the city directories has helped us to understand some aspects of the story, it did not suggest any other parishes where the Gruberski children might have been baptized, since all the addresses associated with the family point to St. Adalbert’s. At this point, I don’t have any answers, merely speculation. Maybe, for some reason, some of the children were baptized at nearby St. Stanislaus parish, even though it was an ethnic Czech parish and therefore probably not the first choice for Polish immigrants? They were most likely not baptized at the ethnic Polish St. Casimir church in St. Paul, because their baptisms would have been captured in John Rys’s database. So this, too, remains another mystery for another day.

To Be Continued….

To sum it up, this next chapter in the saga of the Gruberski family in St. Paul has been pretty interesting, and the pieces of the story are starting to come together. We now have Wanda’s baptismal record, which provides direct evidence for her parentage, and we have a baptismal record for one additional sibling, Helena. We’ve learned of the existence of three more siblings, previously unknown, and we know the dates on which we can request adoption records for each of the seven siblings from the Archdiocesan Archive. We’ve discovered Leon Gruberski, John’s brother, and have a plan in place for further research in Polish records to obtain his birth record, and the birth records for all additional children of聽J贸zef Gruberski and Marianna Zarzycka. The report of a successful lawsuit, brought by Bill Gruberski against the Brotherhood of American Yeomen after their refusal to pay the death claim on Mary Gruberski’s life insurance policy, provided key genealogical details including the date of birth of Mary’s youngest child, and the fact that Mary named her Bill, rather than her husband, as her beneficiary. This, in combination with data from Mary’s death record and city directories, contributed evidence to our developing hypothesis that John Gruberski died between February 1918 and August 1918.聽Some questions still remain, of which the most important are those regarding the fate of John Gruberski, but hopefully further research can resolve those. Stay tuned!


1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1916, #61, baptismal record for Wanda Gruberska.

2聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1914, #15, baptismal record for Helena Josepha Gruberski.

3聽 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957聽 (images and transcription),聽Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1257; Line: 14; Page Number: 149, record for Leon Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017

4聽Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics, Death Certificates, 1918, #8746, record for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, died 14 December 1918 in St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota.

5聽Minnesota Reports, Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota (1922), Bill Gruberski v. Brotherhood of American Yeomen, a Fraternal Beneficiary Organization, May 6, 1921, Case number 22,197, pp. 49-53.; book digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb., Internet Archive (https://archive.org/), accessed 31 August 2017.

61920 United States Federal Census聽(image and transcription), Year: 1920; Census Place: St Paul Ward 11, Ramsey, Minnesota; Roll: T625_855; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 140; Image: 1041, https://www.ancestry.com, Record for Stanislaus Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017.

7U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1914, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, p. 734, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.

8聽U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1915, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, pp. 698 and 1757, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.

9聽U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1916, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Jochim Gruberski, p. 712, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.

10聽U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1917, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Bill and Joachim Gruberski, p. 708, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.

11聽U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1918, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Wm. Grubarski, p. 501, https://www.ancestry.com, accessed 31 August 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017


The Mysterious Wanda Gruberska: A Genetic Genealogy Success Story

Note: This story was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Rodziny, the journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America. With their permission, I’m publishing it again here, with the intention of following it up with some new data that I’ve obtained since it was published.

Recently I got some exciting new autosomal DNA test results for my “Uncle” (mother’s maternal first cousin), Fred Zazycki. 聽Uncle Fred generously consented to provide a saliva sample for autosomal DNA testing through Ancestry, which is really an incredible gift. 聽Why is it better for me to have his DNA tested in addition to my own? 聽Let’s quickly review some basic concepts in genetic genealogy.

The ABCs of DNA

Each of us has 23 pairs of chromosomes located in the nucleus of almost every cell in the body. 聽These chromosomes contain the genetic material (DNA) that makes us unique individuals. 聽Of these 23 pairs of chromosomes, 22 pairs are called autosomes, and the final pair are the sex chromosomes. 聽For men, the sex chromosomes are an X inherited from the mother and a Y inherited from the father. 聽Women inherit two X chromosomes, one from the mother and one from the father.

One copy of each of the 22 paired autosomes comes from the mother, and one from the father, so roughly half our genetic material comes from each parent. Each parent’s genetic contribution gets cut in half with each successive generation, so although I inherit half my DNA from my mother, I only inherit a quarter of my DNA (on average) from each of my maternal grandparents, and only 1/8 of my DNA (on average) from each of my maternal great-grandparents. If we extend this further, each of us has 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, and each of them will only contribute 1/64 of our genetic makeup, or about 1.563%, on average. However, due to a process called recombination that affects the way bits of DNA are inherited, these are only statistical averages. 聽In practice, 聽one might inherit a bit more or a bit less from any given ancestor, and all of us have many ancestors from whom we’ve inherited no DNA at all.

For this reason, it’s important to try to test the oldest generations in a family first. 聽Since Uncle Fred is one generation closer than I am to our immigrant ancestor, John Zazycki, Uncle Fred will have inherited an average of twice as much DNA from John Zazycki as I did. This means that his DNA “looks back” into the family tree a generation further than mine is able to.

The Zarzycki and Gruberski families of聽Bronis艂awy and B艂臋d贸w

Almost as soon as Uncle Fred’s DNA test results posted, and before I’d even had a chance to look at them, I already had a message in my Ancestry inbox from a DNA match who wanted to investigate the connection. The DNA match,”Cousin Jon,” has a family tree on Ancestry which included a surname I recognized: 聽Gruberski. 聽My great-grandfather John Zazycki had an oldest sister, Marianna Zarzycka, who married聽J贸zef Gruberski in 1874 in Rybno (Figure 1).

Figure 1: 聽Marriage record from the parish in Rybno, Sochaczew County, for Marianna Zarzycka and聽聽J贸zef Gruberski, 25 October 1874.1


A full translation of this record is provided in the footnotes, if you’re really interested in reading the whole thing.

From this record and from the parish records in 艁owicz, we know that J贸zef Gruberski was a 40-year-old widower when he married 24-year-old Marianna Zarzycka. His first wife, Anna Trojanowska, had died four years earlier, and he came into this second marriage with four children. The records of Rybno also reveal that the paths of the Zarzycki and Gruberski families crossed in other ways besides just this marriage. 聽In 1890, J贸zef Gruberski and Anna Trojanowska’s third son, Antoni Gruberski, married Aniela Zarzycka. 聽Aniela was the younger sister of Antoni’s step-mother, Marianna (n茅e Zarzycka) Gruberska. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: 聽Marriage record from聽the parish in Rybno, Sochaczew County, for Aniela Zarzycka and Antoni Gruberski, 19 January 1890.2aniela-zarzycka-and-antoni-gruberski-1890

For my great-grandfather Jan Zarzycki, J贸zef Gruberski was not only husband to his sister Marianna and father-in-law to his sister Aniela, he was also the boss. 聽J贸zef Gruberski was the master blacksmith under whom Jan had apprenticed. 聽We know this because one of the documents which Jan brought with him from Poland, which was handed down in our family, was an identification booklet that included basic biographical information written in Russian and Polish. (Figure 3).

Figure 3: 聽Identification booklet from Russian Poland for Jan聽Za偶ycki.3jan-zazycki-working-papers-p3

In our family, my grandmother’s brother, Joseph, fondly known as Uncle J, was the one who inherited the book from his father, Jan Za偶ycki. 聽He, in turn, passed it down to my cousin, John, who is Jan聽Za偶ycki’s namesake. 聽Consequently, I don’t have the actual book in my possession, but my cousin kindly made a photocopy of some of the pages for me, which included notes from a translator. Some of these aren’t especially accurate, but I don’t have a copy without the notes, so we’ll overlook that part. 聽The interesting thing to note in this context is the part highlighted in red, that states, “Pracuje u聽J贸zefa Gruberskiego/Majstra聽tego偶 kunsztu kowalskiego.” 聽This tells us that聽Jan聽Za偶ycki was a blacksmith who was working for聽J贸zef Gruberski, master of the blacksmithing craft. The word “czeladnik” in the corner next to Jan’s name means “journeyman,” which would suggest that Jan had completed his training and was now fully qualified to be employed as a blacksmith.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker….

Given all the ways in which the Zarzycki family and the Gruberski family had intertwined, it seemed very likely that this must be how Uncle Fred’s new DNA match was connected to our family. 聽So what do we know about the match itself? Well, GEDmatch reports that it consists of substantial matches on Chromosome 12 (32.8 cM), Chromosome 17 (28.4 cM) and Chromosome 21 (30.4 cM), for a total of a whopping 91.5 cM, which is fantastic, given that this is to a cousin previously unknown to the family (Figures 4a and 4b).

Figure 4a: 聽GEDmatch Autosomal Comparison Between Uncle Fred and Cousin Jon. Green = base pairs with full match, yellow = base pairs with half match, red = base pairs with no match, and blue = matching segments > 7 cM (centiMorgans, a measure of genetic distance).gedmatch-1

Figure 4b: 聽gedmatch-2

GEDmatch estimates 3.6 generations to the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) between Uncle Fred and Cousin Jon. 聽Interestingly, when I checked my own matches, I also match Cousin Jon, although the match is much smaller. 聽I ran a GEDmatch Segment Triangulation, which verified that all three of us do share a common segment consisting of 12.2 cM on Chromosome 17 (Figure 5):

Figure 5: 聽GEDmatch Segment Triangulation graphic showing start and stop points for the matching segment shared by Uncle Fred, Cousin Jon and me.Figure 4

In my case, GEDmatch estimates 5.1 generations to MRCA, even though I’m only one generation away from Uncle Fred, which nicely illustrates the inequalities of DNA inheritance.

The Sad Tale of Wanda Gruberska

So who was the mystery Gruberska cousin? Unfortunately, Cousin Jon’s family didn’t know much about the Gruberski family at all. 聽According to family recollection, Jon’s grandmother was born Wanda Evangeline Gruberska. 聽The family believed that she was Polish. 聽Wanda was born circa 1913, and was left at an orphanage, either in Minnesota or Michigan, shortly after arriving in America. 聽She was adopted out of the orphanage and her name was changed to Katherine Burke. 聽By the time the 1930 census was enumerated, she was living with her adoptive family. 聽Cousin Jon’s family suspected that she was not actually an orphan, but that her biological mother was unable to care for her. Armed with that information, I set out to see how Wanda fit into my family tree.

Since two of the Zarzycki women (Marianna and Aniela) had married Gruberski men (J贸zef and Antoni), I took a look at both of those lineages to identify the most likely candidates to be Wanda’s father. 聽J贸zef and Marianna Gruberski had four children that I’d been able to discover through Polish vital records: 聽Roman (b. 1876), Jan (b. 1877),聽Boles艂aw Leopold (b.1880), and Julia Antonina (b. 1887). 聽Any one of the boys could have been Wanda’s father, or Julia might have been Wanda’s unwed mother.

Antoni and Aniela Gruberski had two sons, both named聽Bronis艂aw, the second one (b. 1903) named after the first son Bronis艂aw who died at the age of three. Aniela Gruberska was born in 1863, so she would have been 50 by 1913 when Wanda was born — too old to be Wanda’s mother. 聽Similarly, her son聽Bronis艂aw, and any unknown sons born after him, would be too young to be Wanda’s father. 聽That ruled out that lineage, so the focus must be on the children of J贸zef and Marianna Gruberski. 聽What was known about their descendants?

Parish records from聽Il贸w show that Roman Gruberski married Julianna Przanowska on 21 February 1906.4 聽Althoughbirth records for this parish are online and indexed at Geneteka through 1909, there are no births to this couple during that time, nor are there any births to this couple recorded in any of the indexed records on Geneteka.聽Parish records from聽Szyman贸w reveal that Jan Gruberski married Marianna Pindor on 23 July 1907.5 聽In addition to the marriage record, indexed records in Geneteka contain one birth for a child from this marriage, that of聽Stanis艂aw Alfons Gruberski, who was born in聽Il贸w on 1 May 1908.6聽Finally, parish records from Rybno indicate that聽Boles艂aw Gruberski married Helena Zarzycka on 6 March 1902.7 聽Yes, it’s another connection between the Zarzycki and Gruberski families. 聽Helena was聽Boles艂aw’s first cousin once removed, the youngest of the ten children of Wojciech Zarzycki and his wife, Aniela (n茅e Tempi艅ska). Therefore she was first cousin to聽Boles艂aw’s mother, Marianna Gruberska, even though there was 31 years’ difference in the ages of the two women. 聽Boles艂aw and Helena had at least four children that I’ve been able to discover,聽Wac艂aw (b. 1902), Marianna (b. 1903), Genowefa (b. 1905) and Stanis艂aw (b. 1906), all of whom married in聽Nowy Dw贸r Mazowiecki parish between 1926-1930.

So at this point, we have some individuals who might be good candidates to be the parent(s) of Wanda Gruberska. 聽Was there any evidence that any of them had emigrated?Yep! 聽A little digging on Ancestry turned up a passenger manifest from 1910, which showed both Jan and Roman Gruberski coming to the U.S. in 1910 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: First page of the passenger manifest聽for Jan and Roman Gruberski, arriving 4 May 1910.8new-york-passenger-lists-1820-1957-jan-gruberski

On closer inspection, we see that Jan and Roman Gruberski are reported to be 31 and 34, respectively, suggesting birth years of 1879 and 1876, which is reasonably consistent with what we’d expect for our Gruberski brothers. Younger brother Jan is noted to be a laborer, while Roman was recorded as a blacksmith, consistent with the tradition of blacksmithing in the Gruberski family. Jan is reported to be from “Bl臋dowo,” while Roman is from “Bronis艂awow,” which correspond to the locations of聽B艂臋d贸w and Bronis艂awy, where the family is know to have lived. 聽Jan’s nearest relative in the old country is his wife, Marya Gruberska, and Roman’s is his wife, Julia Gruberska — names that fit exactly with what is known about our Gruberski brothers. 聽They were headed to Buffalo, New York, which is where my great-grandfather Jan Zazycki first settled when he immigrated in 1895. 聽The manifest contains a second page which I won’t discuss in detail, since we already have more than enough information to verify that these are our Gruberski brothers and since it doesn’t add anything significant or contradict anything already supposed.

So far, so good. 聽Two of our potential candidates for Wanda’s Gruberska’s father have made it to Buffalo. 聽But how do we get from Buffalo to an orphanage in Michigan or Minnesota, and which one is the father?聽Further digging produces a second passenger manifest, this one from 1913, which shows the third brother,聽Boles艂aw Gruberski, accompanying his sister-in-law, Marianna Gruberska, to the United States, along with her two children,聽Stanis艂aw and Genowefa (Figure 7).

Figure 7: 聽First page of the passenger manifest聽for the Gruberski family, arriving 22 April 1913.9new-york-passenger-lists-1820-1957-boleslaw-leopold-gruberski

Again, the ages match with what we would expect for our three known Gruberski family members, and there is a new addition to the family: 聽little Genowefa Gruberska, age 2 years 6 months, who is the daughter of Marianna Gruberska. 聽Genowefa’s age indicates a birth date of October 1910. 聽All of them are reported to be from “Jeziorka,” which suggests the village of Jeziorko, about halfway in between聽B艂臋d贸w and Bronis艂awy. 聽Marianna reported her nearest relative in the old country to be her mother, Florentyna Gonsewska. 聽The surname Gonsewska is new, perhaps indicating a second marriage, but her mother’s given name was definitely Florentyna. 聽Marianna’s brother-in-law,聽Boles艂aw Gruberski, reports his nearest relative as his wife, Helena Gruberska. The final column gives us a critical bit of information: 聽they were headed to St. Paul, Minnesota!

The second page of the manifest confirms that their relative in St. Paul is, in fact, Marianna’s husband, Jan Gruberski, who is also reported as the father of聽Stanis艂aw and Genowefa and the brother of聽Boles艂aw (Figure 8).

Figure 8: 聽Detail of second page of passenger manifest for Gruberski family, arriving 22 April 1913.9detail-of-manifest

The pieces are starting to fall into place, and we’re getting closer now to the orphanage in “Michigan or Minnesota” where Wanda Gruberska was adopted. 聽The 1915 St. Paul City Directory confirms that our John Gruberski is still living there, two years after the arrival of his wife and children, and that he’s still working as a blacksmith (Figure 9).

Figure 9: 聽Detail of R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1915, showing John Gruberski.10john-gruberski-1915-city-directory-marked

Since John’s wife Marianna arrived in April of 1913, it’s entirely possible that another daughter, Wanda, could have been born to them by January of 1914, which is reasonably consistent with Wanda’s approximate birth year of 1913. Minnesota did not conduct a state census in 1915, so the next opportunity for catching a glimpse of the whole family in documents would be the 1920 U.S. Census. 聽However, the only member of the family who is readily found in the 1920 census is the young son,聽Stanis艂aw — living in an orphanage (Figure 10).

Figure 10: 聽Detail of the 1920 census for St. Paul (Ward 11), Minnesota, showing Stanislaus Gruberski.111920-united-states-federal-census-stanislaw-alfons-gruberski

Interestingly,聽Stanis艂aw is the only Gruberski child found in the census listings for that orphanage. His sister Genowefa is not there, nor is there any sign of a sister Wanda. Moreover, I have not yet been able to locate the parents, Jan and Marianna, in the 1920 census. 聽So what happened?

The Minnesota Deaths and Burials database gives us a clue (Figure 11), although the year of birth is significantly off from what we’ve seen in other records.

Figure 11: 聽Entry for Mary Gruberski in the Minnesota Deaths and Burials database.12mary-gruberski-death

Marianna’s year of birth suggested by records from Poland (her marriage record and聽Stanis艂aw’s birth record) was 1890-1891. 聽However, it was 1886 based on her passenger manifest, and the fact that her husband was the only Gruberski noted in the 1915 St. Paul City Directory suggests that Gruberski wasn’t a popular surname in the city at that time. 聽Morever, the death date of 1918 is consistent with her son being placed in an orphanage by 1920. 聽Without a family support system to help care for his children after his wife’s death, John Gruberski may have felt that he had few options.


Of course, this still leaves many unanswered questions, which can hopefully be resolved with more data. 聽Although the evidence points to Wanda Gruberska being the daughter of Jan and Marianna (n茅e Pindor) Gruberski, it should be possible to confirm that by locating a birth/baptismal record for Wanda. 聽It would also be nice to obtain death and burial records for her mother and possibly her sister, Genowefa. St. Adalbert’s parish was an ethnic Polish parish located just one mile from the Milford Street address noted for John Gruberski in the 1915 city directory, so that would be a reasonable place to search for such records. 聽And what became of the father, John Gruberski? 聽He and his brother Roman seem to disappear from indexed records. However, the paper trail for his brother聽Boles艂aw suggests that he adopted the name William in the U.S. (a common choice for men named聽Boles艂aw), was still married to Helena (“Ellen”) when he registered for the draft in 1917, was a widower by 1940, and died in Chicago in 1943. Helen is not mentioned in any indexed records in the U.S. discovered to date, apart from her husband’s World War I draft registration. So her stay in the U.S. may have been brief, especially considering that all her children married in Poland.

The story had a happy ending for young Wanda, who became Katherine Burke. 聽Cousin Jon’s family reports that she married, raised her family, loved to cook, and was beloved by her grandchildren until her death in 1991. 聽But what of her brother, Stanis艂aw Gruberski, last seen as an 11-year-old boy in the orphanage in 1920? 聽He, too, disappears from the records, but like his sister Wanda, his name might have been changed upon adoption. 聽We may never know if there are any cousins stemming from his line — unless, of course, they wonder about their origins and turn to DNA testing for answers.


1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Ksi臋ga 艣lub贸w 1868-1886, 1874, #15, marriage record for J贸zef Gruberski and Maryanna Zarzycka. “#15, Bronis艂awy. 聽It happened in the village of Rybno on the thirteenth/twenty-fifth day of October in the year one thousand eight hundred seventy-four at four o鈥檆lock in the afternoon. 聽We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Maciej Bartoszewski, age thirty-eight, and Wawrzyniec Pytkowski, age forty, both farmers residing in the village of Bronis艂awy, that on this day was contracted a religious marital union between J贸zef Gruberski, widower after the death on the tenth/twenty-second day of October in the year one thousand eight hundred seventy in the village of B艂臋d贸w of his wife, Anna n茅e Trojanowska; blacksmith residing in the village of B艂臋d贸w, born in the village of O偶ar贸w, age forty, son of the late Mateusz and Nepomucena n茅e Banowska, the spouses Gruberski; and Maryanna Zarzycka, single, born in the village of Bronis艂awy, age twenty-four, daughter of Ignacy and Antonina n茅e Naci膮偶ek, the spouses Zarzycki, farmers residing in the village of Bronis艂awy; in that same village of Bronis艂awy residing with her parents. 聽The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the twenty-second day of September/fourth day of October, the twenty-ninth day of September/eleventh day of October, and the sixth/eighteenth day of October of the current year in Rybno and in the parish church in 艁owicz. 聽The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. 聽The marriage ceremony was performed by Fr. J贸zef Bijakowski (?). 聽This Act to the declarant and witnesses was read aloud but signed only by us because they are unable to write. 聽 [Signed] Fr. J贸zef Bijakowski, pastor of Rybno performing the duties of Civil Registrar.”

2聽Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: 聽Projekt indeksacjia metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1890, Marriages, #1, accessed on 26 January 2017. “#1. This happened in the village of Rybno on the seventh/nineteenth day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety at three o’clock in the afternoon. 聽We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Mateusz Kania, farmer residing in the village of Bronislawy, age thirty-seven (?), and Aleksander Lesiak, organist residing in the village of Rybno, age thirty-two; on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Antoni Gruberski, blacksmith, soldier on leave, single, born in the village of Bled贸w, in the district of Lowicz, son of J贸zef and the late Anna n茅e Trojanowska, the spouses Gruberski, residing in the village of Bronislawy, having twenty-six years of age; and Aniela Zarzycka, single, residing and born in the village of Bronislawy, living with her parents, daughter of Ignacy and Antonina n茅e Naciazek, the spouses Zarzycki, having twenty-four years of age. 聽The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local parish church on the twenty-fourth and thirty-first days of December in the year one thousand eight hundred eighty nine [corresponding to the fifth and twelvth days of January and the] seventh/nineteenth days of January of the current year, after which no impediments were found. 聽The newlyweds stated that they had no premarital agreement between them. 聽The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Grigori Gruzinski (?), local administrator of the parish of Rybno. 聽This document was read aloud to the declarants and witnesses and was signed by Us and by the second witness due to the illiteracy of the other witnesses. [Signed] Fr. Grigori Gruzinski, Administrator of the parish and keeper of vital records [signed] Aleksander Lesiak”

3聽Ksi膮偶ka Rzemie艣lnicza Czeladnika Kunsztu Kowalskiego Jana Zarzyckiego,聽Worker’s identification book for Jan Zarzycki, 29 August 1886, privately held by John D. Zazycki, Milford, Ohio, 2000.

4 聽Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Ilowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: 聽Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1906, Marriages, #15, record for Roman Gruberski and Julianna Przanowska, accessed on 26 January 2017.

5聽Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Szymanowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: 聽Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1907, marriages, #25, record for Jan Gruberski and Maryanna Pindor, accessed on 26 January 2017.

6聽Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Ilowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: 聽Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1908, births, #52, record for Stanislaw Alfons Gruberski, accessed on 26 January 2017.

7 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: 聽Projekt indeksacjia metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), Ksiega slub贸w 1888-1908, 1902, #6, marriage record for Boleslaw Leopold Gruberski and Helena Zarzycka, accessed on 26 January 2017.

8聽New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Jan Gruberski and Roman Gruberski,聽S.S. Bremen, 4 May 1910, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

9聽New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Marianna,聽Stanis艂aw, Genowefa, and Boles艂aw Gruberski, S.S. President Lincoln, 22 April 1913,聽http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

10 U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (images), John Gruberski, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1915, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

11 1920聽U.S. Census (population schedule), St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, ED 140, sheet 4A, Stanislaus Gruberski, St. Joseph’s German Catholic Orphan Society (institution), http://familysearch.org, accessed January 2017.

12Minnesota Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990, index-only database, https://familysearch.org, record for Mary Gruberski, 14 Dec 1918; citing St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, reference 1407; FHL microfilm 2,218,025, accessed on 27 January 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017



The Dog That Didn’t Bark: New Discoveries in my Klaus Family Research, Part II

Negative evidence can play an important role in genealogical research. In his short story, “Silver Blaze,”聽Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, uses negative evidence to solve the case of a racehorse who went missing the same night that his trainer was killed. Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” When the detective from Scotland Yard points out, “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” Holmes replies, “That was the curious incident.” In this case, it was the fact that the watch dog did not bark that led Holmes to the realization that it was someone familiar — the horse’s trainer himself — who had led the horse out of his stall during the night. Similarly, negative evidence can be used to support or reject various genealogical research hypotheses, and today I’d like to describe some negative evidence I’ve found in my Klaus research that might back up a family story.

Last week, I began to discuss some wonderful new discoveries that proceeded from my recent dicovery of the marriage record for my great-great-grandparents, Andrzej/Andrew Klaus and Marianna/Mary聽艁膮cka, in Buffalo, New York.聽Previously,聽I’d written about my erroneous assumption that they鈥檇 married in Texas, based on the family story (still unproven) that their oldest sons, Joseph and John, were born there. However, I was astonished to discover that Andrew and Mary actually married in Buffalo on 21 January 1891.1 Although this discovery offers indisputable evidence that Andrew and Mary did not immediately proceed to Texas after their respective arrivals in the U.S., it does not eliminate the possibility that they ever lived there. The lingering question remains, where and when were their oldest sons, Joseph and John, born?

Oh, Baby!

Based on existing evidence, the timeline for the Klaus family history in the U.S. is as follows (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Timeline of聽艁膮cki-Klaus history in the U.S. from 1884-1895.

Timeline for Klauses

The聽first birth that has been documented for this family is that of their third child, Anna, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 26 November 1892.2 If we assume that births are rarely spaced closer than 11 months apart, that suggests that John Klaus could not have been born any more recently than December 1891, and Joseph Klaus could not have been born any more recently than January 1891, assuming the practical minimum of 11 months between births. So there seem to be three possibilities that would fit the timeline:

  1. Joseph and John were twins, both born circa December 1891 after Andrew and Mary’s marriage in January of that year. (This scenario seems least likely, since the 1900 census suggests that Joseph was older.3)
  2. Mary was 9 months pregnant when she married Andrew Klaus and delivered Joseph almost immediately after their marriage.
  3. Joseph was born out of wedlock, circa 1890.

Regarding scenarios 2 and 3, hey, it happens. As the say in genealogy circles, “the first baby can come at any time, after that each pregnancy takes 9 months.”

Deep in the Heart of…. Buffalo?

Now that we’ve reviewed the data and back-calculated to get some idea of when Joseph and John were likely to have been born, we can examine again the issue of where those events might have taken place. This new discovery of Andrew and Mary’s marriage in Buffalo immediately suggested that perhaps the family story about Texas was nothing more than a tall tale. They each entered through the port of New York, and whether or not Andrew ever made it to Plymouth, Pennsylvania, which was the destination he reported on his passenger manifest in 1889,4 they were clearly both in Buffalo by January 1891. So it’s possible that both their oldest sons might also have been born in Buffalo, consistent with all of their documentation.

With this in mind, I decided to start checking baptismal records at ethnic Polish churches in Buffalo, looking for the baptismal records for Joseph and John, starting in December 1891. By 1891, there were only four ethnic Polish Roman Catholic churches in Buffalo:

The only baptisms for children of Andrew and Mary Klaus at St. Stanislaus were the baptisms of the four children born between 1895 and 1900, when the Klaus family returned to Buffalo after their sojourn in St. Louis from 1892-1894.

However, I struck pay dirt almost immediately in the baptisms at St. Adalbert’s from December 1891 — exactly when I predicted I might find a Klaus baptism! 聽However, it wasn’t a birth record I expected. Instead of finding John Klaus’s birth, or perhaps baptismal records for twins Joseph and John, I found…. Sophia?! (Figure 2):

Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s parish in Buffalo, New York, for Zofia Klaus, born 3 December 1891.5Sophia Klaus 1891

Sophia, or in Polish, Zofia. Holy cow. She was completely unknown to our family. She must have died in infancy or childhood since she did not appear in the 1900 census. Of course, this raises all kinds of new questions. When and where did she die? Where is she buried?

More importantly, the birth of an additional child really messes up my putative timeline. If Zofia was born in December 1891, that means that John must have been born January 1891, around the same time as his parents’ marriage, or earlier. That, in turn, implies that Joseph must have been born earlier still — circa February 1890. The new timeline looks like this (Figure 3).

Figure 3: New Timeline of 艁膮cki-Klaus history in the U.S. from 1884-1895, based on birth of Sophia Klaus in December 1891.New Klaus timeline

The Plot Thickens

Having one child out of wedlock was no more unusual then than it is now, and I’m not here to judge my ancestors or anyone else. My job is to discover their stories, document their lives, and remember those who came before us. However, it’s probably safe to say that among Polish Roman Catholics of this era, it聽was less common for the same couple to have more than one child born out of wedlock, which raises possibilities I hadn’t previously considered. Could Mary聽艁膮cka have had Joseph with another man prior to her relationship with Andrew, so that Andrew was Joseph’s adoptive father, but not his biological father? Could Mary聽艁膮cka have been married previously, and could Joseph be Mary’s son from that marriage?

Unfortunately, no hints are found in Mary and Andrew’s marriage record. In some cases, the priest would use the term “deflorata virgo” in the marriage record of a bride who had had a child out of wedlock or was obviously pregnant when she married. However, this term is not found in the marriage records from St. Stanislaus. It is significantly more likely that the priest would have noted if Mary was a widow, as it was a fairly standard practice throughout the Catholic Church to note any prior marriages for the bride and groom on a marriage record. However, in all of the marriages indexed by Kasia Dane from St. Stan’s for the period from 1873-1913, there was only one, #112 in 1892,聽that noted that the bride, Rozalia Sierotowska, was a widow. Her previous marriage was mentioned only in the column for the names of her parents, which states, “wdowa kt贸rej rodzice s膮 nieznani” (widow whose parents are unknown), and the record does not make it clear whether Sierotowska was her married surname or her maiden name. Rather than suggesting that Rozalia was the only widow who remarried at St. Stan’s during all the time, I rather suspect that she was the only widow whose parents’ names were unknown. It seems more probable that other widows and widowers remarried at St. Stan’s between 1873 and 1913, but the priest probably noted previous marriages during the premarital exam, rather than on the actual marriage record itself. 聽Whether records from the premarital exams were preserved, and whether the church might permit access to them, remains to be determined. However, they might be more informative than these marriage records regarding any prior marriages for Mary聽艁膮cka.

Always a Bridesmaid….

So are there any other clues that we can glean from the marriage records themselves that might shed light on Mary聽艁膮cka’s history from 1884-1891? You betcha. Kasia Dane’s index is really invaluable in this regard, since it’s simple to search each document for keywords. (For those among you who might be less computer-savvy, you can open a search box for a pdf document by hitting “ctrl-f”.) In the document with marriages from 1874-1888, a search for “Lacka” (no diacritics needed!) informs us that Maria聽艁膮cka was a witness to the marriage of Katarzyna聽W臋grzyn and Jan Lewczyk聽on 30 June 1886 (#64). Like Mary 艁膮cka, the bride in this record was also from聽Ko艂aczyce, so we can be certain that the Mary聽艁膮cka mentioned here is indeed my great-great-grandmother, and not merely another person in the parish with the same name. There’s another record from 31 January 1887, the marriage of Stanis艂aw Baran and Katarzyna Strusikowska (#21, at the bottom of the page), which is very faded, but the female witness is arguably聽Maria聽艁膮cka again. Two weeks later, on 14 February 1887,聽Maria聽艁膮cka was again named as a witness to the marriage of聽Stanis艂aw Skarbek and Maria聽Micha艂ek (#32). There is no further mention of Maria聽艁膮cka or Maria Klaus in any of the marriage records through 1913.

From this, we can conclude the following:

  1. Mary 艁膮cka was in Buffalo as early as 30 June 1886, after her arrival in the U.S. with her father Jakub and brothers聽J贸zef and Jan in 1884.
  2. If Mary 艁膮cka was married prior to her marriage with Andrew Klaus, it must have been after 14 February 1887, and that marriage did not take place at St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo.. The fact that her name was recorded as “Maria 艁膮cka” when she witnessed three marriages between 1886 and 1887 argues strongly in favor of the fact that she was still single at that time, and there are no marriage records for Maria 艁膮cka recorded at St. Stan’s other than the record of her marriage to Andrew Klaus. The likelihood that she was married after 14 February 1887, gave birth to her son Joseph circa 1890, was widowed before January 1891, and was recorded under her maiden name on her marriage record, seems pretty slim. So at this point, I’m leaning toward the “two pregnancies outside of marriage” hypothesis. However, a previous marriage between 1887 and 1890 would still fit the timeline and hasn’t yet been ruled out completely.

“The Dogs That Didn’t Bark” in Buffalo and St. Louis

Finding Zofia’s birth record at St. Adalbert’s was quite a surprise, but interestingly, that was the only Klaus baptismal record I found there. I searched all available baptismal records (back to 1889) and did not find birth records for Joseph and John Klaus. Similarly, I searched baptismal records at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish back to 1888 and did not find records for Joseph and John Klaus. The last Polish Catholic parish in Buffalo that they could possibly have been baptized in, St. Casimir, has no records available online. I wrote to them to request a search for these two births, but have not yet received a reply.

On a similar note, I searched death records from St. Adalbert’s for a record for Zofia Klaus, starting from December 1891, when she was born, through December 1892. Her sister Anna was born in St. Louis in November 1892, so the logical possibilities based on existing evidence are:

  1. Zofia died in infancy in another parish in Buffalo.
  2. Zofia died in St. Louis.
  3. Zofia died after her family returned to Buffalo circa 1895. At this point all I know is that she was already deceased by 1900.

To rule out the possibility that Zofia was buried from another parish in Buffalo in infancy, I searched the index to deaths from St. Stanislaus Church, Buffalo, NY (online at Family Search) for her death record. Book 2 contains deaths from 1886-1895, and in the index for this book, there were no listings for Klaus at all. Unfortunately, the collection of records available online for Assumption parish (founded in 1888) contains no death records, and similarly, I can’t check St. Casimir’s records, either. So for the moment, this is as thorough as I can be with the Buffalo records prior to 1892.

To rule out the possibility that Zofia died in St. Louis, I searched death records from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis, Missouri, online at Family Search. I searched from December 1891 through the end of 1895, so if she’d died in St. Louis, I should have picked up her death. Nothing found.

To rule out Possibility #3, that Zofia died after her family returned to Buffalo in 1895, I checked the death index from St. Stan’s (Book 3, deaths from 1895-1927), as well as death records from St. Adalbert’s from 1895-1900 (inclusive), but her death was not found. And again, church records from Assumption parish in Buffalo do not include deaths, so those can’t be checked easily.

So, to recap:

  1. Joseph and John Klaus were both born no later than January 1891, when their parents married. Joseph was probably born circa February 1890.
  2. If they were born in Buffalo, they were not baptized in 3 of the 4 Polish Roman Catholic parishes that existed at that time.
  3. If Sophia Klaus died in Buffalo before 1892 (when her sister was born in St. Louis), her death was not recorded in 2 of the 4 Polish Roman Catholic parishes that existed at that time.
  4. Sophia Klaus’s death was not recorded in the Polish Catholic parish in St. Louis where her sisters were baptized, nor was she buried out of St. Stan’s or St. Adalbert’s between 1895 (when her family returned to Buffalo) and 1900 (when she fails to appear in the 1900 census).

Admittedly, my search is still incomplete since I can’t easily check any parish records for St. Casimir’s and the death records from Assumption parish. But it looks to me like the family story about Joseph and John being born in Texas is still entirely possible. I just need to figure out where the family would have lived, and I have a pretty good idea about how to do that. It’s just a matter of time…. so stay tuned!


1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA),聽Church records, 1873-1917, Marriages, 1891, #26, record for Andrzej Klaus and Marya 艁膮czka, accessed 16 August 2017.

2聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA),聽Church records, 1880-1993, Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1892, #127, record for Anna Klaus, FHL film #1872178, accessed 16 August 2017.

3聽1900 U.S. Federal census聽(population schedule), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 84, sheet 28A, Andro Klano (sic) household,聽https://familysearch.org, accessed 16 August 2017.

4聽Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934聽(Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008),聽http://www.ancestry.com,聽record for Andrzey Klaus, accessed on 16 August 2017.

5聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Basilica (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Church records, 1887-1916, Baptisms, 1891, p. 69, record for Sophia Klaus, accessed 16 August 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017


And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: New Discoveries in my Klaus Family Research, Part I

This morning I feel like a genealogical Joshua at the battle of Jericho, because there are brick walls crumbling all over the place. It’s amazing how one discovery can lead to seven more. So many pieces are falling into place that I’m positively giddy, but each answer leads to another question. Today I’d like to tell you about some new discoveries that came about over the past few days as a direct result of the marriage record I found last week for my great-great-grandparents, Andrzej/Andrew Klaus and Marianna/Mary聽艁膮cka, in Buffalo, New York. Previously, I wrote about my erroneous assumption that they’d married in Texas, based on the family story (still unproven) that their oldest sons, Joseph and John, were born there. It turns out that their marriage record is already available online, thanks to a recent efforts to digitize all the microfilms from the Family History Library. So without further ado, here is the record for Andrew and Mary Klaus’s marriage (Figures 1a-b).1

Figure 1a: Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish, Buffalo, New York, for Andrzej Klaus and Marya聽艁膮czka (sic), 21 January 1891, page 1.1Andrzej Klaus and Marya Lacka 1891 left crop

Starting with the information on the left side of the register, the record states that the bride and groom were married on 21 January 1891 by Fr. W.聽Su艂ek. The groom’s name was recorded as Andrzej Klaus, and he was reported to be the son of聽Jak贸b Klaus and Anna聽S艂owik of “Maniowo, Gal.” The page on the right (Figure 1 b) reports that the bride was Marya聽艁膮czka (sic), daughter of聽Jak贸b聽艁膮czki and Anna Ptaszek of聽Ko艂aczyce, Galicia. Witnesses were Ludwik Cebulski and Aniela聽Ko艣mider.

Figure 1b: Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish, Buffalo, New York, for Andrzej Klaus and Marya聽艁膮czka (sic), 21 January 1891, page 2.1

Andrzej Klaus and Marya Lacka 1891 right crop

Most of this information is nicely consistent with other evidence for this couple. Although the maiden name of the bride’s mother is more often reported as Ptaszkiewicz in records from Poland, the variant form Ptaszek is a close second, used almost as freqently, so it’s not surprising that Mary Klaus might not have been too particular about which form she reported. In fact, she reported her mother’s maiden name as Ptaszkiewicz, rather than Ptaszek, on her second marriage record when she married W艂adys艂aw Olszanowicz in 1916 after Andrew Klaus’s death in 1914.2,3 In this case, the civil clerk recorded it with an approximately phonetic spelling as “Taskovich” (Figure 2), just as he or she recorded Mary’s maiden name as “Wauske” rather than聽艁膮cka.

Figure 2: Extract from marriage record for聽W艂adys艂aw Olsanowic (sic) and Mary Klaus, North Tonawanda, New York, 21 November 1916.Wladyslaw Olszanowicz and Mary Klaus

A minor source of concern for me in discovering the marriage record for Andrew and Mary Klaus was the fact that his mother’s name was recorded as Anna聽S艂owik, rather than Franciszka Liguz. Needless to say, those names aren’t even close. However, I’m still confident that I’m tracking the right Klaus family in Polish records. For one thing, Andrew’s date of birth was reported on his death record as 26 November 1866 (Figure 3), which was an important clue.3

Figure 3: Death certificate for Andro (sic) Klaus, 14 June 1914, with date of birth and father’s name highlighted.3Andrew Klaus death certificate marked

Additionally, I’m confident in my identification of Andrew’s birth location as the village of Mani贸w that’s presently located in D膮browa County, Ma艂opolska. 聽All the records for his children who were baptized at St. Stanislaus parish mentioned some variant of “Mani贸w,” and there were only 2 places by that name in Galicia, according to Jan Bigo’s 1918 index,.4 However, there were also places called Maniowy and Maniawa, which could arguably have been intended. When faced with a problem like this, the best way to get around it is to keep digging for documentation that references place of birth. In this case, Fr. Kasprzak at St. Stan’s did me a huge favor by recording a slightly different reference to Andrew’s birthplace on the baptismal record for his son, Edward (Figure 4).5

Figure 4: Extract from baptismal record from St. Stanislaus parish, Buffalo, New York, for Edward Klaus, born 11 September 1899, with father’s place of birth underlined in red.5Edward Klaus birth marked

On this record, Andrzej Klaus is noted to be from Szczeciny, and in context with the previous references to聽Mani贸w, this can be understood to be a reference to Szczucin, the parish which served the village of聽Mani贸w.

Records for this parish, and other parishes in the Diocese of Tarn贸w, are indexed at Family Search. Granted, this index is far from perfect; in my experience, it contains many inaccuracies and also seems to miss some records. However, a search for Andrew or Andreas (the Latin form of the name) Klaus, born between 1863 and 1867 — not even specifying the father’s name or the precise place of birth — returns only one result that is not only close, it’s nearly perfect: the birth of the Andrzej Klaus whose baptismal record I referenced in my last post (Figure 5):

Figure 5: Search result for Andreas Klaus in index to聽Tarn贸w Roman Catholic Diocese Church Books, 1612-1900 at FamilySearch.

Family Search index for Andrew Klaus

The actual record shows a date of birth of 25 November 1865, with baptism one day later, which is a very close match with the birth date that Mary Klaus reported on Andrew’s death certificate, 26 November 1866. The father’s name, Jacobus or Jakub, also matches. So the only problem is that the mother’s name, Franciszka Liguz, doesn’t match the mother’s name, Anna S艂owik, that Andrew reported on his marriage record. This brings me to the first new discovery I made after finding this marriage record.

Discovery #1: The marriage record of Tomasz Klaus and Wiktoria Rak

Our ancestors didn’t migrate alone — typically they followed other family members, friends, or neighbors, who had successfully settled in a new place, in a phenomenon known as chain migration. However, until recently I had not found any evidence of other members of the Klaus family living near Andrew and Mary. Since the discovery of this marriage record, I took a closer look at the marriage records for St. Stan’s in Buffalo and discovered the record for Andrew’s brother, Tomasz Klaus, to Wiktoria Rak (Figures 6a and b):6

Figure 6a:聽Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish, Buffalo, New York, for Tomasz Klaus and Wiktorya Rak, 20 November 1900, page 1.Tomasz Klaus and Wiktoria Rak 1900 marked

In this record, the groom is reported to have been born in “Mielecka Wola,” consistent with his known place of birth in Wola Mielecka in present-day Mielec County, Podkarpackie province.

Figure 6b:聽Marriage record from St. Stanislaus parish, Buffalo, New York, for Tomasz Klaus and Wiktorya Rak, 20 November 1900, page 2.Tomasz Klaus and Wiktoria Rak 1900 crop left.jpg

The bride, Wiktoria Rak, was born in Jas艂o, which is the seat of Jas艂o County in Podkarpackie province. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jas艂o is very close to her sister-in-law Mary Klaus’s place of birth in Ko艂aczyce. Tomasz’s parents were recorded as Jak贸b Klaus and Franciszka S艂owik, which is especially interesting in light of the fact that the same maiden name,聽S艂owik, was recorded on Andrew Klaus’s marriage record in 1891. However, in this case, Tomasz reported her given name as Franciszka, consistent with the actual name of Andrew Klaus’s mother, Franciszka Liguz.

Will the Real Franciszka Klaus Please Stand Up?

So why does the name S艂owik keep cropping up? Is it possible that Andrew and Tomasz were step-brothers? What do the records in Poland say about Tomasz’s mother? Well, the answer to that is a little complicated. Wola Mielecka, where Tomasz was born, originally belonged to the parish of聽Ksi膮偶nice, although a new parish, Divine Providence, was recently founded in Wola Mielecka itself. Records from Wola Mielecka, originally created in聽Ksi膮偶nice, but which currently belong to the new parish, are indexed in Geneteka under the parish name聽Ksi膮偶nice-Wola Mielecka. A聽search of birth records for children of Jakub and Franciszka Klaus produces the birth record for Tomasz Klaus in 1872 — but his mother’s name was reported to be Franciszka Nygus (Figure 7). So now how do we reconcile that surname with the surnames of Liguz and聽S艂owik already discovered?

Figure 7: Geneteka search result for birth records mentioning names Jakub Klaus and Franciszka in聽Ksi膮偶nice-Wola Mielecka between 1786-1915.Geneteka screenshot

A check of the death records which mention the same couple is very enlightening (Figure 8):

Figure 8:聽Geneteka search result for death records mentioning names Jakub Klaus and Franciszka in聽Ksi膮偶nice-Wola Mielecka between 1787-1970.

Geneteka screenshot 2

Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “Uwagi” (Remarks) column reveals that the Helena Klaus who died on 15 August 1878 was born in 1875, suggesting that this is the same Helena Klaus whose mother was reported to be Franciszka Nygus. We can therefore conclude that it was merely an error on the part of the priest when he recorded Franciszka’s name as “Nygus” rather than “Liguz” on Helena’s birth record. It’s clear that J贸zef, Helena,聽Pawe艂, and Tomasz must all be siblings to Andrew Klaus.

It’s still possible that Anna S艂owik was Jakub Klaus’s second wife, and stepmother to the Klaus children, which would explain why both Andrew and Tomasz reported that surname on their marriage records in Buffalo. Marriage and death records from Poland will be very helpful here, but I haven’t had a chance to discover any yet. Available evidence suggests that Jakub and Franciszka probably married in Szczucin, rather than Ksi膮偶nice-Wola Mielecka, and unfortunately, records for Szczucin are not yet indexed in Geneteka. Despite its name, FamilySearch’s聽index to聽Tarn贸w Roman Catholic Diocese Church Books, 1612-1900 seems to contain only baptismal records, rather than any marriages or deaths, so Jakub Klaus’s marriage record(s) cannot be discovered there, either. I recently ordered the microfilms for聽Mani贸w/Szczucin, but have not had a chance to view them yet because of the limited summer hours of operation of my local Family History Center. So, this question remains on the back burner for now.

I’m still seeking evidence for Tomasz/Thomas and Wiktoria/Victoria Klaus in U.S. records. A probable match for Thomas is buried at St. Stanislaus Cemetery. His Find-A-Grave memorial lacked his years of birth and death, but a quick phone call to the cemetery informed me that he died on 28 December 1911 at the age of 33 years, 5 months, 23 days, and that he was buried from Corpus Christi Church. His age at death suggests a birth date of 5 July 1878. The 1878 birth is a bit off from the 1872 date of birth for Tomasz Klaus in the Geneteka index, but a widow grieving the loss of her husband at a young age might have remembered him to be even younger still by a few years. Thomas and Victoria also show up in the 1910 census, but one would never find them with too restrictive a search, because Thomas’s reported age (and date of birth calculated from that) is wildly inaccurate (Figure 9):

Figure 9: Extract from 1910 U.S. census showing Thomas and Victoria Klaus in the household of John Skowronski (previous page).Thomas and Victoria Klaus census crop

Thomas and Victoria were reported to be living at or near 49 Beck Street in Buffalo, in the household of John and Stella Skowronski and their children. John was reported to be an immigrant from German Poland, while his wife Stella was a Russian Pole. Living with them were several boarders — Stanley Pietrykowski, Walter Ciesielski, Andrew Lisica, and Anthony Skowronski, and Joseph Wypych — whose relationships to the family are unclear. Although Anthony’s surname suggests a relationship to head-of-household John Skowronski, Anthony is marked as a Russian Pole, suggesting that something is amiss in the recording. Things become even more bizarre on the second page. Thomas and Victoria Klaus are correctly noted to be Austrian Poles, yet they are marked as brother and sister to head of household John Skowronski. It’s possible that some relationship might nonetheless exist (e.g. Victoria and Stella Skowronski might be sisters) but the fact that they’re purportedly from different partitions of Poland is odd. Also living in this household were the family of Albert and Alice Rak and their children. Albert and Alice are also marked as brother and sister to head of household John Skowronski, and again, any actual relationship is unclear. Albert Rak was marked as an Austrian Pole, and from his surname, it’s almost certain that he’s a relative of Victoria (n茅e Rak) Klaus, possibly a brother.

Getting back to the entry for Thomas and Victoria, they were reported to be ages 22 and 18, respectively, yet it was noted that they’d been married for 10 years. The suggested marriage year of 1900 fits with their 1900 marriage record from St. Stan’s, but they were unlikely to have been 12 and 8 at the time of their marriage. At this point, there are so many problems with this census record that one cannot help but wonder if the census taker had been hitting the bars prior to his visit to Beck Street. Thomas was reported to have arrived in 1882. However, he would have been just 10 years old at that time, so if this date is accurate (and there is good reason to doubt that) he would have to have traveled with some family member other than his brother Andrew, who didn’t arrive until 1889. He was naturalized, and working as a laborer at street work. Victoria was reported to have arrived in 1897, and was employed in 1910 as a washerwoman for a private family. There were no children from this marriage.

So, there are quite a few avenues for further research to document Thomas Klaus’s story. However, in my next post, I’ll write about a new discovery that sheds light on Andrew and Mary’s Klaus’s story, and also some negative evidence that offers insight into their family history. Stay tuned!


1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Church records, 1873-1917, Marriages, 1891, #26, record for Andrzej Klaus and Marya 艁膮czka, accessed 7 August 2017.

2New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936, Wladyslaw Olsanowic and Mary Klaus, 21 Nov 1916; citing county clerk’s office, Niagara, New York, United States; FHL microfilm 897,558. accessed on 7 August 2017.

3聽North Tonawanda, Niagara, New York, city clerk’s office, 1914, #82, death certificate for Andro Klaus, 14 June 1914.

4 Jan Bigo, Najnowszy Skorowidz Wszystkich Miejscowo艣ci z Przysi贸艂kami
w聽Kr贸lestwie Galicyi, Wielkiem Ksi臋stwie Krakowskiem i聽Ksi臋stwie Bukowi艅skiem

z聽uwzgl臋dnieniem wszystkich dot膮d zasz艂ych zmian terytoryalnych kraju
z oznaczeniem,聽(Lw贸w, 1918), p. 100,聽http://www.mtg-malopolska.org.pl/, accessed 7 August 2017.

5聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Church records, 1873-1917, Baptisms, 1899, #396, record for Edward Klaus, accessed 7 August 2017.

6聽1910 U.S. census, population schedule, (images and transcription), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 76, Sheet 3A, citing Thomas and Victoria Klaus in John Skowronski household, FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org, accessed 8 August 2017.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Missing the Forest for the Trees: Discovering the Marriage Place of Andrzej Klaus and Marianna 艁膮cka

Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn’t decide whether I should kick myself for being stupid, or rejoice at finding the answer to a question that’s been bothering me for years. I finally figured out where my great-great-grandparents, Marianna/Mary 艁膮cka and Andrzej/Andrew Klaus, were married, and it wasn’t where I expected. 聽I don’t think I’ve blogged about them previously, so let me introduce you, and explain the problem.

The聽艁膮cki family of聽Ko艂aczyce

My great-great-grandmother was Marianna聽艁膮cka, who was born on 21 April 1866聽in the village of聽Ko艂aczyce, which was at that time located in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire and is now in the Podkarpackie province of Poland (Figure 1).1 聽She was the third child, and only daughter, of Jakub 艁膮cki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz. Jakub and Anna’s second-born son, Jan, died in infancy2,3, but another son Jan was born in 1872,4 in addition to oldest son聽J贸zef, who was born in 1863.5

Figure 1: Baptismal record of Marianna聽艁膮cka, born 21 April 1866 in聽Ko艂aczyce.1Marianna Lacki birth cropped

Marianna聽艁膮cka’s baptismal record tells us that her father, Jakub/Jacob, was a shoemaker, and that her mother, Anna Ptaszkiewicz, was the daughter of Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz and Salomea Sasakiewicz, who was the daughter of Franciszek Sasakiewicz. Anna (n茅e Ptaszkiewicz)聽艁膮cka died in 1879 at the relatively young age of 45,6聽and perhaps her death was a factor in the family’s decision to emigrate. In 1884, the remaining members of the 艁膮cki family left Ko艂aczyce, and traveled from Hamburg to the port of New York on board the Moravia, arriving on May 6th (Figure 3).7,8

Figure 3: 聽Hamburg Emigration List showing Jakob Lacki, age 50, Marie Lacki, age 17, Joh. (Jan) Lacki, age 9, and Jos. Lacki, age 24, with previous residence noted as Ko艂aczyce.7

Closeup of Hamburg Emigration record for Lacki family

The Klaus Family of Mani贸w and Wola Mielecka

Meanwhile, Marianna聽艁膮cka’s future husband, Andrzej/Andrew Klaus, migrated to America independently, in 1889.9 Andrzej聽was born on 25 November 1865 in Mani贸w, Galicia, Austrian Poland,10 son ofJakub Klaus and Franciszka Liguz. At that time, the village of聽Mani贸w belonged to the parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Szczucin, which is where Andrzej was baptized.

Figure 4: 聽Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Szczucin, Malopolska, Poland, July 2015.IMG_3611

However, in 1981, a new parish was founded in Borki, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary, and the village of聽Mani贸w was reassigned to this parish. All the old records for聽Mani贸w were transferred to this new parish, so it was in Borki that I was able to see Andrzej Klaus’s baptismal record10 with my own eyes, when I visited the parish in 2015 (Figure 5). (Note that these records are also available on microfilm聽until 1 September 2017 from the Family History Library.)

Figure 5: Baptismal record for Andreas Klaus, born 25 November 1865 in聽Mani贸w,聽D膮browa County, Galicia, Austria. Godfather’s place of residence, Wola Mielecka, is underlined in red.Andrzej Klaus baptismal record marked

Although Andrzej was born in聽Mani贸w, the Klaus family was originally from Wola Mielecka, about 15 miles away, where Andrzej’s father, Jakub, was born, and where his uncle and godfather, Mattheus (Maciej) Klaus was still living at the time of Andrzej’s baptism.11 Andrzej himself also lived in Wola Mielecka just prior to his emigration, as evident from his passenger manifest (Figure 6).12

Figure 6: 聽Hamburg emigration manifest for Andrzey (sic) Klaus, departing 26 March 1889.12Andrzej Klaus manifest marked

This manifest seems like a good match for “my” Andrzej Klaus — he was reported to be 24 years of age in 1889, suggesting a birth year of 1865, which is consistent with data from other sources, and his year of immigration is consistent with the time frame (1888-1890) which he reported in later census records. The place of residence fits, and although his destination — Plymouth, Pennsylvania — was previously unknown to our family, it’s not unreasonable to believe he might have gone there to work for a while before moving on. However, the problem has been that both Andrzej Klaus and the 艁膮cki family drop out of the records for a time after their respective arrivals in the U.S. Until yesterday, I hadn’t been able to find any trace of Andrzej and Marianna until 1892, when their third child was born. Jakub and J贸zef 艁膮cki seem to disappear completely, and I don’t find Jan 艁膮cki in a record that I’m certain pertains to him until 1903, when he was naturalized in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But yesterday, I finally discovered Andrzej and Marianna’s 1891 marriage record, in Buffalo, New York — a place where it was completely unexpected, and yet, makes perfect sense, since the family did eventually settle in Western New York. So why on earth did it take so long for me to find it there? I guess sometimes what we see depends on what we look for, and where we look. I was so focused on documenting the family story of where they were supposed to be, that I didn’t think to check someplace that, in hindsight, seems pretty obvious. Here’s the story.

The Klaus and聽艁膮cki families of….Texas? (And St. Louis, and Buffalo, and North Tonawanda)

Back in 1992, I interviewed my grandfather’s cousin, Julia Ziomek, to see what information she could provide about the Klaus family history. Cousin Jul had clearly been the kind of child who sat at the knee of her grandmother, Mary (n茅e 艁膮cka) Klaus, listening to family stories, and I’ve spent the past 25 years trying to document everything she told me. In some cases, she was absolutely accurate. In other cases, she was partially correct — for example, remembering that a particular name was associated with the family, but incorrectly recalling the exact relationship. In still other instances, she was just plain wrong. So it’s difficult to know how much stock to put in her story of the Klaus family origins, but as she told it, Mary聽艁膮cka and Andrew Klaus married back in Poland, and lived in Texas when they first arrived in the U.S. It was during this time in Texas that their oldest sons, Joseph and John, were born, but by 1892, the family had moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where their oldest two daughters Anna and Apolonia/Pauline, were born in 1892 and 1894, respectively. Circa 1895, the family moved again to Buffalo, New York, where my great-grandmother, Genowefa/Genevieve, was born in 1897. Two more sons, Edward and W艂adys艂aw/Walter, were born in Buffalo, before the family finally settled in North Tonawanda, New York, where their youngest children, Rudolf and Helen, were born.

Unfortunately, the timeline is problematic. Even before I found this marriage record in Buffalo, there was pretty good evidence that Cousin Jul was wrong about her grandparents’ place of marriage. Andrew and Mary could not have married in Galicia, since their passenger manifests make it clear that they emigrated separately. Could those be the wrong manifests, after all? It seems unlikely. I spent years looking for a manifest that supported the scenario of Andrzej and Marianna Klaus migrating into a southern port such as Galveston or New Orleans, that would be consistent with a first home in Texas, but never found one, nor have I found any evidence for Marianna Klaus traveling under her married name through any port, nor is there a marriage record for them in her home parish of Ko艂aczyce. In contrast, both the manifest for Andrzej Klaus and the manifest for the family of Jakub 艁膮cki match existing evidence very nicely.

In hindsight, the fact that both Andrew and Mary entered the U.S. through the port of New York should have been more of a clue to look for their marriage record somewhere in New York — for example, in Buffalo, where they were known to have lived later in life. However, a search in city directories for Buffalo between 1889 and 1892 revealed no trace of Andrew Klaus, so until yesterday, I didn’t see much point in checking Buffalo church records for their marriage. Moreover, if I were going to suspect that they’d married somewhere other than Texas, where their first two children were purportedly born, existing evidence would point to Pennsylvania, rather than Buffalo, since Andrew’s manifest mentioned a destination of Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and since Mary’s brother John was naturalized in Pittsburgh in 1903. However, rather than trying to guess where they might have married in Pennsylvania circa 1890, I assumed that Cousin Jul was correct about the family’s general migration pattern from Texas to St. Louis to Buffalo to North Tonawanda, and I reasoned that Andrew and Mary most likely married in Texas prior to Joseph’s birth circa 1890.

Although she was mistaken about Andrew and Mary’s place of marriage, Cousin Jul was spot-on about the Klaus family’s residence in St. Louis. Anna Klaus’s baptismal record from St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in St. Louis (Figure 7) is unmistakeably correct, as is that of her sister, Apolonia/Pauline.13,14 Since Jul correctly identified which Klaus children were born in St. Louis, Buffalo, and North Tonawanda, I had reason to believe her claim that Joseph and John were born in Texas, and it seemed more logical to predict that Andrew and Mary would have married there as well, rather than marrying in Buffalo, and then moving to Texas and St. Louis before returning to Buffalo.

Figure 7: Baptismal record for Anna Klaus from St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, St. Louis, Missouri.13Anna Klaus baptismal record

Don’t Mess with Texas, or Mary Klaus

Another reason why I’ve been inclined to believe Cousin Jul’s claim that the family lived in Texas, despite the difficulties in the timeline, is that she recalled one very specific event from their time there. Jul told me that Texas was a pretty rough place back in the early 1890s, and the locals weren’t always delighted to have Polish immigrant neighbors. A day came when someone was trying to break into the Klaus family’s home by climbing in through a window. Mary Klaus grabbed an axe and cut off the man’s hands. (You go, Grandma Klaus!) It may have been this incident that precipitated the family’s move to St. Louis. I’ve often pondered this story over these many years, because on the one hand, it seems pretty far-fetched. And yet, if ever such a story would be true, it seems more plausible in the Wild West than in any of the other places associated with this family.

Part of the difficulty with tracing my Klaus family in Texas is the fact that there were more than a dozen Polish parishes that existed there by the early 1890s. Rather than searching through the records for all of them, I hoped to find some clue first as to where in Texas they might have lived. Theoretically, this should have been easy, since both Joseph and John were (supposedly!) born there, and one might expect their places of birth to be recorded on their marriage and death records. But as we all know, theory doesn’t always line up with reality.

Evidence for Joseph Klaus

Joseph Klaus (or Claus, a spelling he seemed to prefer) married Mary Brzuszkiewicz (Brooks) in St. Hedwig’s Church in Dunkirk, New York on 16 August 1910.15 According to their marriage record, Joseph was born in Buffalo, New York, circa 1887. His World War I draft registration states that he was born 19 February 1886.16 The 1915 New York State Census (in which his name appears as “Cloos”) also suggests a birth year of 1887, and only states that he was born in the U.S.聽17 The1910 census suggests that he was born circa 1885 in New York.18 In the聽1905 New York state census,聽he was not listed with his family, and it’s unclear whether he was living independently at that point, or if he was merely omitted from the census due to error or miscommunication.19 Joseph Klaus died of influenza on 7 October 1918, and his death certificate states that he was born 25 February 1886 in Buffalo, New York (Figure 8).20

Figure 8: Death certificate for Joseph Claus (sic), indicating birth on 25 February 1886 in Buffalo, New York.20Joseph Klaus death certificate

In all these documents, the details such as address, occupation, and parents’ names confirm that they relate to the same individual, despite the misspellings or variant spellings of the surname. Moreover, all these documents point to a date of birth betwen 1885-1887, probably in February of that year, and they all consistently claim that he was born in New York State, probably Buffalo. In light of the new evidence that his parents were married in Buffalo after all, maybe I should finally believe all this documentation and look for his baptismal record in Buffalo? 聽I’m definitely more inclined to do that now, but I’m still not 100% convinced that the Texas story is completely false. For one thing, these dates of birth are clearly impossible, given that his father didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 1889, so who’s to say that Joseph was not similarly ill-informed about his place of birth? And what about John Klaus? What do the records tell us about his place of birth?

Evidence for John Klaus

John Klaus’s story was even briefer than his brother’s. My grandfather was not even aware of his existence — it was Cousin Jul who first mentioned him, and I’ve since been able to verify his existence. (Score another point for Jul.) Like Joseph, he is not mentioned in the 1905 census with the rest of the family.19 John’s life was documented in only three records that I have discovered to date: his death record, dated 18 June 1905; a newspaper article from the North Tonawanda Evening News, dated 27 January 1905 (Figure 9); and the 1900 census.

Figure 9: North Tonawanda Evening News article mentioning John Klaus.21

John Klaus coal theft

Although this article does not mention his parents’ names, my Klauses were the only family by that name living in North Tonawanda at the time. John Klaus was reported to be 15 years of age in January 1905, suggesting a birth year of 1889-1890. This is consistent with his death certificate, which reports his age as 15 years, 8 months, 3 days when he died on 18 June 1905, from which we can calculate a date of birth of 15 October 1889.22聽The death certificate further states that he was employed as a “meter carrier,” that he was born in New York, and was the son of Andrew Klaus and Mary Lenke (sic), both Austrian-born. John died of tubercular meningitis.

Again, we have a problem with the timeline. How is it possible for John Klaus to have been born in New York in 1889? Do we believe the body of evidence gathered for Joseph and John, or do we believe those passenger manifests?

1900 Census to the Rescue!

For me, the 1900 census goes a long way toward resolving this conflict (Figure 10).23

Figure 10: Extract from the 1900 census for Buffalo, New York, showing the family of Andro (sic) Klaus.1900 United States Federal Census - Andrzej Klaus

Even though both Ancestry and FamilySearch indexed the family as “Klano,” rather than Klaus, there’s no doubt that this is the correct family. In 1900, the family was living at 43 Clark Street in Buffalo, New York. Andrew reported his date of birth as November 1863, reasonably close to his actual birthdate of November 1865. Similarly, his year of immigration (1888) and place of birth (“Poland-Aus”) were pretty consistent with other evidence. Mary reported that she was born August 1864 in Austrian Poland — a little bit off from her actual date of birth of April 1866, but we can live with it. She reported that she arrived 1887, which is also a little off from her actual arrival date of 1884, but is at least consistent insofar as she confirmed that she arrived in the U.S. before her husband. Andrew and Mary reported that they’d been married for 10 years, suggesting a marriage year of 1890, which fits nicely with the date on the marriage record I just discovered for them, in January 1891 (more on that in a minute).

Turning now to the children’s places of birth, we note with some dismay that all of them were reported to have been born in New York — no reference to Texas here. However, the fact that all the children were reported to have been born in New York — including the two for whom there is documented evidence of birth in St. Louis, Missouri — implies that it’s still quite possible that the oldest two might have been born somewhere other than New York — Texas, for example. All evidence suggests that the Klaus family was anything but affluent — barely making ends meet, even stealing coal to heat their home in January. Perhaps the effort of putting food on the table was sufficiently overwhelming that an accurate accounting of the children’s places of birth was simply not important to them. Who cares where the children were born? Let’s just say they were all born in New York.

Andrew and Mary were equally imprecise when reporting their children’s dates of birth. In this document, we see that 9-year-old Joseph was reported to have been born in March 1891, 7-year-old John was reported to have been born in June 1892, and 4-year-old Annie was reported to have been born in July 1896. Andrew and Mary’s system for estimating their children’s ages seems to have broken down completely by the time they reached Apolonia, since her reported date of birth was August 1896, implying that she was exactly one month younger than her sister Anna. They did somewhat better with the younger children: Genowefa’s date of birth was reported as June 1897, whereas she was actually born 28 September 1897,24 and Edward’s date of birth was reported as October 1899, while his actual date of birth was 11 September 1899.25

Clearly, these dates are off: 聽We know that Anna was born November 1892, and we know now that Andrew and Mary were married in January 1891. If we assume that children aren’t typically spaced closer than 11 months, that would suggest that John Klaus was born no later than December 1891. This, in turn, suggests that Joseph was either conceived out of wedlock prior to his parents’ marriage in January 1891, or that he and John were twins. 聽Although twins were common in both the Klaus and 艁膮cki families (Mary’s father, Jacob, was a twin, and Andrew had two younger brothers who were twins), it seems unlikely that such was the case here, since one might expect Andrew and Mary to report on census records that the boys were the same age, even if they couldn’t remember exactly how old they were.

In any case, it’s unlikely that Joseph Klaus was born as early as 1885-1887, as he reported in documents later in life, because there’s a big difference between a child of 9, and a teenager of 13-15. Even if the parents couldn’t remember his exact date of birth, they’d be unlikely to be so far off in reporting his age. On the other hand, according to the proposed timeline, Joseph would have been born in 1890, and John would have been born in 1891, which seems pretty plausible, given their ages reported here.

So what about that marriage record for Andrew and Mary Klaus, and where does this leave us with knowing where Joseph and John might have been born, as well as finding their birth records?

The Rest of the Story

I discovered Andrew and Mary’s marriage record in a wonderful online index to church records from St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, created by Kasia Dane. Her index isn’t new, it’s been online for some time now, and I use it frequently. In fact, it’s such a great resource that my Polish friend, Waldemar聽Chor膮偶ewicz, recently reformatted it and added it to the Polish vital records database Geneteka (under “Pozosta艂e,” at the bottom of the list of provinces on the main search page) to aid Poles seeking their family members who might have immigrated to Buffalo. However, I just hadn’t thought to search for the Klauses in that index until yesterday, for all the reasons mentioned here. It was only in the spirit of leaving no stone unturned that I decided to check the index, never really expecting them to be there. You could have knocked me over with a feather when they actually were.

Figure 10: Entry for the marriage of Andrzej Klaus and Marya 艁膮czka (sic) from Kasia Dane’s index of marriages from St. Stanislaus parish in Buffalo, New York, 1889-1894:

Klaus entry.png

I’m looking forward to getting a copy of the original record on my next trip to Buffalo. (St. Stan’s church records are available on microfilm at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.) I’ll also analyze the marriage record more fully in my next blog post, because this one record has prompted some interesting further discoveries. For now, I’ll just conclude by mentioning that I did, of course, check Kasia’s index to baptismal records at St. Stan’s for the baptisms of Joseph and John, and they were not there. In fact, the only Klaus children that were mentioned there were children of Andrew and Mary, all of whom I had documented previously — Genowefa/Genevieve, Edward, W艂adys艂aw/Walter, and a son,聽Boles艂aw, who was born in 1895 and died in infancy.26 This doesn’t necessarily imply that Joseph and John Klaus weren’t born in Buffalo, it only means that they weren’t baptized at St. Stanislaus. Other Polish parishes that were in existence in Buffalo circa 1890-1891 were St. Adalbert’s, founded in 1886, and Assumption in Black Rock, founded in 1888. Records from both these parishes are on microfilm from at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, so I’ll be excited to check them out on my next trip to the library.

All in all, I’m thrilled to have finally found Andrew and Mary’s marriage record, even if’s slightly humiliating that it was under my nose all this time. One more piece in the family history jigsaw puzzle has now fallen into place, and my understanding of my ancestors’ journey is a little bit clearer. Whether their migration path took them through Texas for a brief window of two years, or whether that was all a bizarre tall tale, remains to be seen. I’m looking forward to discovering the truth!


Featured Image: Wedding photo of Mary聽艁膮cka Klaus and her second husband,聽W艂adys艂aw/Walter Olszanowicz, 21 November 1916, North Tonawanda, New York.聽Back Row, left to right: Apolonia/Pauline Klaus Sobu艣聽(Mary’s daughter), holding her son, Edward Sobu艣; Stanis艂aw/Stanley Sobu艣(Pauline鈥檚 husband); Anna Klaus Gworek (Mary’s daughter); Jacob Gworek (Anna鈥檚 husband); Genowefa/Genevieve Klaus Zielinska (Mary’s daughter, my great-grandmother).
Front Row, left to right: Julia Sobu艣聽Ziomek (Cousin Jul, daughter of Pauline Klaus Sobu艣); Unknown (most probably the groom’s marriage witness, Mary Jedrychanka); Walter Olszanowicz ; Mary 艁膮cka聽Klaus; Joseph Zieli艅ski聽(Genevieve鈥檚 husband, my great-grandfather); Marie Gworek Glitta (crouching on floor, Anna鈥檚 daughter); Helen Klaus (Mary’s daughter)

1聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1866, #20, baptismal record for Marianna 艁膮cka.

2聽Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births”, Baptismal record for Joannes 艁膮cki, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Ma艂opolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1864, #36; report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

3聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1864, #55, record for Joannes 艁膮cki.

4聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1872, #25, Record for Joannes 艁膮cki.

5聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1863, #3, record for Josephus 艁膮cki.

6聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Ko艂aczyce, Jas艂o, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889”, Stare Kopie, 1879, #45, record for Anna 艁膮cka.

7聽Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Microfilm No.: K_1731, record for Jakob Lacki, accessed on 3 August 2017.

8聽New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1884; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 475; Line: 46; List Number: 506, record for Jacob Lacki, accessed on 3 August 2017.

9聽Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, record for Andrzey Klaus, accessed on 3 August 2017.

10聽Roman Catholic Church, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary (Borki, Szczucin, D膮browa, Ma艂opolska, Poland), “Ksi膮g Metrykalnych,” 1865, births, #37, record for Andreas Klaus.

11Roman Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist Parish (Ksi膮偶nice, Mielec, Podkparpackie, Poland), Ksi臋gi metrykalne, 1615-1919, 1830, #16, baptismal record for Jakub Klaus, FHL film #939982.

12聽Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008), http://www.ancestry.com, record for Andrzey Klaus, accessed on 3 August 2017.

13聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), Church records, 1880-1993, Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1892, #127, record for Anna Klaus, FHL film #1872178.

14聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), Church records, 1880-1993, Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1894, #2, record for Apolonia Klaus, FHL film #1872178.

15聽New York,聽Chautauqua, Dunkirk, Office of the City Clerk, Marriage Certificates, 1910, #431, marriage certificate for Joseph Klaus and Mary Brzuszkiewicz, 16 August 1910.

16聽U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005),聽www.ancestry.com, Chautauqua, New York, Roll:聽1712292; Draft Board:聽1, record for Joseph J. Claus, accessed 4 August 2017.

17聽New York, State Census, 1915聽(population schedule), Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, Election District 03, Assembly District 02,聽page 38, Joseph Cloos household,聽https://www.ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 4 August 2017.

18 1910 U.S. Federal census聽(population schedule), Dunkirk, Chautauqua, New York, E.D. 115, sheet 14B, Joseph Cloos in Elizabeth Couhig household,聽https://familysearch.org, accessed 4 August 2017.


19聽New York, State Census, 1905聽(population schedule), North Tonawanda, Niagara, New York, Election District 01, page 60, Anderes Kraus (sic) household,聽https://www.ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 4 August 2017.

20 New York,聽Chautauqua, Dunkirk, Office of the City Clerk, Death Certificates, 1918, #130, death certificate for Joseph Claus, 7 October 1918.

21聽鈥淐oal Thieves Were Fined,鈥 The Evening News聽(North Tonawanda, New York), 27 January 1905, p. 1, https://fultonhistory.com.com, accessed 4 August 2017.

22聽New York, Niagara, City of North Tonawanda, Office of the City Clerk, Death Certificates, 1905, #2016, death certificate for John Klaus, 18 June 1905.

23聽1900 U.S. Federal census聽(population schedule), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 84, sheet 28A, Andro Klano (sic) household, https://familysearch.org, accessed 4 August 2017.

24聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1897, #620, baptismal record for Genowefa Klaus.

25Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1899, #396, baptismal record for Edward Klaus.

26聽Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1895, #757, record for Boles艂aw Klaus.


漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Robert Spencer and the Theft of the “Katy”

Have you ever heard of the sloop Katy? I hadn’t,聽either. Unless you’re something of amilitary history fan, or particularly knowledgeable about the American Revolution, you might not have. So this is a cautionary tale, if you will, a reminder about the need for careful evaluation of historical evidence as we search for our ancestors.

As mentioned previously, one of my 6x-great-grandfathers was Robert Spencer, United Empire Loyalist. I’ve been having a grand old time lately, digging up documents for him from the website of the Library and Archives Canada, since they have so many great collections for those of us with Loyalist ancestors. Land petitions? Check. Haldimand Papers? Check. So I came to this database, Carlton Papers: Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784, and did a search for “Spencer” to see if they had anything for Robert Spencer. Sure enough, they did!

Figure 1: Search result for Robert Spencer in Carlton Papers database.Robert Spencer in index

I knew that Robert Spencer had served with Butler’s Rangers, a British military regiment best known for their participation in battles in central New York and Pennsylvania. Since the document referenced here was created in New York and was dated 1783, prior to the disbandment of the Rangers in 1784, it seemed likely to pertain to my ancestor. Intrigued, I requested a copy from the archive, which is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Letter from Wm. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, regarding the theft of the sloop Katty (sic) and of naval stores from Eagle.1


The transcription of the text is as follows:

鈥淲m. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, and agreeable to his request, sends him the names of those persons, who carried off on the night of the 3rd March, from along side the ship Eagle then laying ashore upon the Battery Rocks, the sloop Katty having on board 115 puncheons & 5 small casks Jamaican Rum, also the Sails, Guns, Water Casks, and other materials belonging to the Eagle, which were by them landed at Elizabeth Town in New Jersey.

New York 22 September 1783

William Crain

Thomas Quigby

William Williamson

Meline Miller

Moses Hetfield

Robert Spencer

Samuel Heryman

John Hanyon”1

Since this document was indexed in a database of Loyalists and British soldiers, my initial interpretation was that the these must have been British soldiers who captured an American ship. I began to search the internet, as any good historian does in the 21st century, to see what I could find that might help me understand this. The first reference to the sloop Katy that I found seemed to confirm this suspicion: 聽she was a sloop in the Continental Navy, originally chartered by the Rhode Island general assembly. 聽But wait, what’s this about being “destroyed by her own crew in 1779”? That doesn’t fit with a capture by Robert Spencer et al. in 1783.

Further internet searching produced more interesting results. In the book, Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, by Jean-Rae Turner and Richard T. Koles, the incident with the Katy is mentioned:

“On March 3, 1783, Major William Crane, later a general, captured the armed ship Eagle and the sloop Katy within pistol shot of the Battery in New York City. The Eagle had to be left because she was grounded. The Katy was brought to Elizabethtown where the cargo and vessel were sold at auction. Crane was elevated to brigadier general for this action.”聽2

The book聽Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical further clarifies the parties on each side in this conflict.聽General Crane is described as a “Patriot Soldier, Useful Citizen”3 and the events of 3 March 1783 are also described:

“General William Crane was born in 1748 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey….He had been advanced to the rank of major, and in 1783, led an enterprise of which he left the following report:

‘I have the pleasure to inform you of the capture of the sloop, Katy, of twelve double-fortified twelve-pounders, containing one hundred and seventeen puncheons of Jamaica spirits, lying at the time of capture within pistol shot of the grand battery of New York and alongside of the ship Eagle of twenty-four guns, which we also took but were obliged to leave, as she lay aground. The captains and crews of both the vessels were brought up to us in the sloop to this place, where we have them secure. This was performed on the night of the third of March by six townsmen under the command of Captain Quigley and myself, without the firing of a musket by any of our party.'”聽4

This makes it clear that the sloop Katy and the Eagle were both British ships, having been captured by a party of Americans, including one Robert Spencer, who was clearly not my ancestor. A little more digging finished the job: both the Katy and the Eagle are named in a list of Loyalist ships, and and there is evidence for the New Jersey聽Robert Spencer聽in Ancestry’s database,聽New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890, living in Trenton township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey in 1741.5

So why was this Robert Spencer named in a Canadian database of Loyalists and Britsh soldiers? In defense of the Library and Archives of Canada site, they did specify in their description of the records,

“The series includes a variety of documents about loyalist soldiers and civilian refugees (both white and black people) but also about people who were on Manhattan Island or the adjacent mainland dominated by the British during the American Revolution, as well as many British and German soldiers who settled in Canada later and also some rebels (emphasis mine).”

What amazes me about this particular story is not that there were two Robert Spencers — I’ve come to expect that — but that there were also two sloops called Katy, one American and one British. It nicely illustrates the importance of digging deeper to understand documents in their proper historical context, and not be lured into the trap of seeing only what we expect to find.


1聽鈥淐arlton Papers — Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784鈥, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx), New York, 1783, citing Robert Spencer, document page number 9183, MG 23 B1, Microfilm M-365, item number 206.

2聽Turner, Jean-Rae, and Richard T. Koles.聽Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 47. Google Books, https://books.google.com, accessed 29 June 2017.

3聽Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical: With the Assistance of the Following Advisory Committee : Joseph Fulford Folsom, Chairman ; Hiram Edmund Deats ; Charles Tiebout Cowenhoven ; Alfred M. Heston ; David Demarest Zabriskie ; John Stillwell Applegate ; Frank John Urquhart ; John Albert Blair ; George Mason La Monte ; Carlton P. Hoagland, Volume 1. New York: American Historical Society, Inc., 1921, p. 116. Google Books,聽https://books.google.com, 聽accessed 29 June 2017.

4 Ibid.

5聽Ancestry.com. New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999, citing Robert Spencer in New Jersey Early Census Index, Trenton, Hunterdon, New Jersey, 1741, p. 50, accessed 29 June 2017.

Featured Image: 聽Continental Sloop Providence (1775-1779), (originally the sloop Katy before she was renamed), U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Painting in oils by W. Nowland Van Powell, licensed under CC0 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

漏 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017