We genealogists often have a sense that our ancestors want to be found. It sounds a little crazy or superstitious, but I think there might be something to it. Judy Russell wrote about this serendipity in genealogy recently, and her post got me thinking of instances when I’ve had similar experiences. My favorite example occurred when I awakened suddenly one night with one thought: “Take another look at that passenger manifest for the Lewandowski family.”
The Lewandowskis (or Levanduskis, or Levindoskis….) of Orleans County
Katherine Lewandowski (or Levanduski, as the family came to spell it in the U.S.) was my husband Bruce’s great-grandmother. She emigrated from Poland with her parents when she was about three years old, and the family settled in the village of Shelby in Orleans County, New York. Now the funny thing was, I wasn’t actively researching this family when I woke up with this sudden insight. I could almost understand it, if I’d been researching them before I went to bed, and my subconsious brain came up with this great idea while I slept. But in this case, my subconscious brain must have been working overtime, because I hadn’t given any thought to the Levanduskis in about a year. But this thought just wouldn’t fade away. After tossing and turning for another half hour, I finally gave up and went downstairs to rev up my laptop and pull up the image of the passenger manifest.
I should backtrack for a moment here to explain that finding this particular manifest was something of an accomplishment for me. I discovered Katherine’s parents’ names from the record of her marriage to Joseph Bartoszewicz in 1907 (Figure 1):
Figure 1: Marriage record for Joseph F. Bartoszewicz and Katherine Levinduski, 1907.
The marriage record stated that Katherine’s parents were Edward Levinduski and Mary Wozniak, and this information facilitated the identification of the family in census records for Orleans County. Mary was only seen in one census record, that for New York State in 1892 (Figure 2), as she passed away in 1896 (1).
Figure 2: Extract from the 1892 New York State Census for Shelby, Orleans County, New York, showing the family of Edward Levanduski.
The family’s names are a bit mangled here — Edward is recorded as “Adcker,” his son Peter has become Patrick, and the surname looks more like “Lewenoboski,” than “Lewandowski.” But the ages, birthplaces, and location match up very well with family recollections and other documentation.
By 1900, we see Edward “Lavindusky” married to his second wife, Anna (Figure 3). His son, Joe, and daughter Anna from his first marriage are still living at home, but the other children (Katherine, John and Peter) are apparently living independently. He also has three children with his second wife: Tony and “Wallace,” (probably known to his parents by the Polish name Władysław, he becomes Walter in later records), shown on this page, and Martha, who appears at the top of the next page.
Figure 3: Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census for Shelby, Orleans County, showing the family of Edward Levanduski.
This census tells us (among other things) that Edward was born in “Poland (Ger)” — in other words, he was an ethnic Pole from the Prussian Partition who immigrated in 1886 and was already naturalized by 1900.
Finding their *&%# Passenger Manifest
My next step was to look for his passenger manifest. Frustratingly, I wasn’t finding it, no matter how I tweaked the search parameters. I assumed I was looking for a family group, although I realized that it was also possible that Edward came first and sent for his wife and children later on. But I thought I had enough information to go on that this should have been straightforward: immigration year about 1886, father Edward Lewandowski, born about 1858; mother Mary (probably Marianna, in Polish), born about 1856; children Katherine (in Polish, Katarzyna), born about 1883, and John (Jan in Polish, Johann in German), born about 1885, all coming from Prussia. But I just couldn’t find them.
Sometimes, when faced with this problem, it helps to obtain a copy of the individual’s naturalization records. For naturalizations that took place after 1906, the Petition for Naturalization will often tell the name of the ship, the port of entry, and the specific date of arrival of an immigrant, as seen in this petition for Katherine Levanduski’s husband, Joseph Bartoszewicz (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Extract of Petition for Naturalization for Joseph Bartoszewicz, showing arrival at the port of Philadelphia, PA on the 12th day of October, 1890, on the vessel Pennsylvania.
However, prior to 1906, naturalization records were less standardized, and these tend to state only the country from which the immigrant renounced citizenship, rather than providing any specifics about how or when he arrived in the U.S. The fact that Edward Levanduski was already a naturalized citizen by 1900 meant that his naturalization records might be nice to have, for the sake of completeness, but they weren’t likely to give me any significant hints.
A Critical Clue
My breakthrough came one day when a distant cousin of my husband’s found me through a Rootsweb message board, and sent me the following message: “I came across an old web site where you were researching Edward. An uncle recently gave me some of our history and we are maybe looking for the same Great-grandfather. If this email is still active get back to me.” (This is Reason #503 why it pays to post online about the ancestors and geographic areas you’re researching.) When I contacted him, he wrote that his Uncle Walter Lewandowski told him that Edward Levanduski’s name was originally Stanisław! You could have knocked me over with a feather. Stanisław?! It’s not uncommon for Polish immigrants with traditional Slavic names like Stanisław to choose to Anglicize them in their attempts to assimilate into American culture. But most men named Stanisław choose a name that’s got some phonetic similarity, like Stanley, rather than something completely different, like Edward.
Armed with this information, it was easy. I found their Hamburg Emigration manifest, shown below (Figure 5). The departure date was 10 April 1886, the father was Stanislaus Lewandowsky, age 27, from “Wolla,” Prussia, with his wife, Maria, age 23, and children Kateryna, 3, and Jan, 1. Bingo! A perfect match! I was so excited to try to figure out where “Wolla” might be that I paid no attention to the names below theirs on the manifest.
Figure 5: Extract from Hamburg Emigration manifest for Stanislaus Lewandowsky and family.
Or at least, not consciously.
“I see dead people….”
But my subconscious brain had my back, or maybe the spirit of Weronika Wozniak was talking to me in my sleep, just like in the movie, The Sixth Sense. But whatever it was, something woke me up on the night of November 17, 2o13, and I just had to check that manifest again. And when I did, I noticed the two passengers mentioned after my Lewandowski family: Weronika Wozniak and Michał Lewandowski. If you remember from that marriage record in Figure 1, Stanisław “Edward” Lewandowski’s wife, Maria, had the maiden name of Woźniak.
By this point I was wide awake, so I spent the next few hours running through records online to see where this discovery might lead me. I had to wade through a bit of a mess with the various surname and given name changes that were typical in the Polish community in Orleans County, but by 5:30 am, when Bruce came downstairs, shaking his head, I had new information on his family to report. My preliminary evidence, which I shored up later with additional documentation, indicated that Weronika Woźniak settled near Edward and Mary Levanduski in Shelby, New York, became Veronica “Lena” Wisnock, and married Stanisław “Edward” Lepkoske/Lepkowski. My guess — and I still don’t know the answer to this definitively — is that Veronica will end up being a younger sibling to Maria Woźniak Levanduska. I’m sure the answers lie in the vital records in Poland, as the U.S. records seem to be inconclusive on this question, but suggesting a common father, at least. Interestingly, this Stanisław also adopted Edward as his name in the U.S. Two Stanisław-to-Edward transitions in the same tiny town makes me wonder if someone (parish priest, maybe?) was really pushing the idea that men named Stanisław should prefer Edward over the more-common Stanley when choosing a name to go by.
A Lightbulb Moment
Edward and Lena Lepkoske had eight children, including a son, Joseph, who married Margaret Wisnock (probably a distant cousin on his mother’s side). Suddenly, the 1920 Census for my husband’s grandfather’s family made so much more sense (Figure 6). In 1920, Bruce’s grandfather, Henry, was a baby living at what his family considers to be the Bartoszewicz family home at 929 Smith Street in Buffalo. But in 1920, the Bartoszewicz family weren’t the only ones living there — it was also the home of Anthony and Frances Lewandowski and Joseph and Margaret Lipkowski.
Figure 6: Extract of 1920 U.S. Federal Census for the families of Anthony Lewandowski, Joseph Lipkowski and Joseph Bartoszewicz.
When I first located this census record, Anthony Lewandowski’s presence there seemed natural. He was the oldest son of Edward Levanduski and his second wife, Anna Budzynska, and so half-brother to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz. The house at 929 Smith Street was a multi-family home, so at that time, I didn’t think about the presence of the Lipkowskis too much, figuring they were just friends of the family, distant cousins, or maybe just unrelated boarders. But if I’m correct with my hypothesis that Marianna and Weronika Wozniak were sisters, then this would make Joseph Lepkoske first cousin to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz.
It’s interesting to note that the census taker in Buffalo automatically wrote these names with their correct Polish spellings (Lewandowski, Lipkowski) rather than with the phonetic versions (Levanduski, Lepkoske) the family used in rural Orleans County. Census records for Orleans County also show some Lewandowski families who persisted with the correct, original spelling, and of course, there are many Lewandowski families in Buffalo, as well, so it remains to be determined exactly which families are related, and how. There seemed to be a lot of back-and-forth movement between Buffalo and Orleans County for members of these families, and tracking the movement of the family members geographically, given the diverse spellings of the surname, can be challenging. “Lewandowski” is among the most popular Polish surnames, so caution must be taken in researching, because there are probably quite a few Lewandowskis who were living in Buffalo in the early 1900s who were unrelated to these Lewandowski/Levanduskis.
All in the Family
One final point of interest here: This census shows Anthony’s wife, Frances, under her married name of Levanduski. But it’s interesting to note that her maiden name was Lepkoske — and she was none other than the daughter of Edward and Lena Lepkoske and sister of Joseph Lepkoske! To sum up, Joseph and Frances Lepkoske were full siblings. Joseph married Margaret Wisnock/Wozniak, who is probably his distant cousin. Frances married Anthony Levanduski, who is the half-brother to Katherine Levanduska, whose mother was a Wisnock/Wozniak. And Joseph and Frances Lepkoske are probably first cousins to Katherine Levanduska Bartoszewicz, assuming that Weronika Wozniak and Mary Wozniak are sisters. Whew!
For now, this research is on the back burner for me, due to time constraints. But my work is certainly cut out for me when I’m ready to return, as there are a lot of unanswered questions. Here are the final take-home messages with which I’d like to conclude:
1. Be sure to utilize ALL the information available from a given source.
Don’t do what I did and focus on one piece of information (the Lewandowskis’ place of origin, “Wolla,” — which, by the way, I was eventually able to locate) to such an extent that you ignore other valuable clues contained in the source.
2. Pay attention to your ancestors’ FANS (Friends, Associates and Neighbors).
The FAN principle was elucidated by Elizabeth Shown Mills as a strategy for learning more about our ancestors through careful analysis of indirect evidence. In hindsight, I might have suspected a connection between the Lepkoske and Levanduski families even without that passenger manifest, because census records often show their families living in close proximity or listed sequentially. This approach can be especially helpful when researching ancestors with common surnames.
3. Follow your hunches.
Whether you believe it to be serendipity, wild coincidence, luck, the promptings of your subconscious mind, or nudges from Great-Grandma up in heaven, every genealogist seems to have these stories. Go with it, and see what turns up.
- Shelby, Orleans, New York, “Death Records”, 1896, April 10, record for Mary Levenduski.
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016
5 thoughts on “Productive Insomnia”
I can totally identify with your story! Those of us who are called to find and preserve the memory of those who came before us are truly blessed, and just a little bit “gifted”. We get this “gift” from our ancestors who, as you say, are asking to be found and remembered, because when they are, they live again. We then recognize their joys and their sacrifices and theirs then blend with ours. And then we are truly one!
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Thanks for the kind words, Linda! Best of luck to you with your own search for your ancestors and their stories.