One of the greatest challenges for genealogists who are attempting to make the leap from historical documents in the U.S., to historical documents in the Old Country (wherever that may be), is accurate identification of the immigrant’s place of origin. All too often, place names are badly butchered in source documents, which can be frustrating and perplexing for novice researchers. Recently, I found a passenger manifest that exemplified a classic place-name butchering, which I’d like to discuss today, along with some tips for identifying the correct, “unbutchered” place name.
Introducing Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik
I’ve been researching a family of immigrants to North Tonawanda, New York, on behalf of a distant cousin and DNA match who lives in Poland. This cousin had a great-grandfather, Jan Łukasik, who came to the U.S. and lived here for a few years, along with his brothers, Andrzej and Franciszek. Jan Łukasik eventually returned to Poland, while Andrzej and Franciszek remained here, and my cousin was hoping to obtain a more complete picture of the history of this family in the U.S.
In 1915, all three of the Lukasik brothers were found to be living at 124 Center Avenue in North Tonawanda, as shown in Figure 1.1
Per the 1915 New York State census, the household included 30-year-old Andrew Lukasik, his 28-year-old wife, Josephine, and a 12-year-old daughter, Sophia, as well as two brothers—28-year-old John and 26-year-old Frank—and a boarder, Anthony Orlinski, age 25. All were recorded as having been born in Russia, but all arrived at different times. The length of U.S. residency reported for John, Frank and Anthony, 5 years, suggests an arrival circa 1910, while Andrew was reported as having arrived just a year earlier, circa 1914. Josephine was reported to have been living in the U.S. for four years, suggesting an arrival in 1911. Sophia is a bit of a mystery, in light of other evidence found for this family, but we’ll ignore that for now and focus on the primary research subjects, Andrew, Frank, and John Lukasik.
My Polish cousin informed me that the Łukasiks were from the parish of Młodzieszyn in Sochaczew County—information which was unsurprising to me, since I’ve found that many of the Polish immigrants who settled in North Tonawanda were from Sochaczew County, including two of my great-grandfathers, John Zazycki and Joseph Zielinski. In fact, thanks to chain migration, census records from “the Avenues” (North Tonawanda’s Polish enclave) read very much like a roll call of the families found in church books from Sochaczew County: Zieliński, Pałka, Kalisiak, Kalota, Szymański, Duplicki, Zażycki, Sikora, Orliński, Wieczorek, Pisarek, Koszelak, Rokicki, Włodarczyk, Adamczyk, Dąbrowski, Wilczek, and more. To be clear, I have not traced the origins of every Polish family in North Tonawanda with one of those surnames, and some of those names (e.g. Zieliński, Dąbrowski, Sikora) are so popular that the bearers might have originated anywhere in Poland. Nonetheless, I’d be willing to bet that many of the folks with those surnames who settled in North Tonawanda were originally from Sochaczew County.
So, when I discovered a record of marriage for Andrzej Lukasik and Josephine “Winicka” [sic] on 3 November 1914 in Buffalo, New York, my first thought was that Andrew married a girl from his hometown.2 I, too, have Winnicki ancestors from the parish of Młodzieszyn, and Winnicki is a popular surname in Sochaczew County. A quick way to test that hypothesis would be to find evidence for Józefa Winnicka’s place of origin from an online document such as her passenger manifest.
Finding the Manifest
Józefa Winnicka’s passenger manifest proved to be a tad elusive. From census and cemetery records, I knew that she was born between 1882 and 1887, and that she was from the Russian partition of Poland, consistent with the location of Sochaczew County.3 The 1915 and 1925 New York State censuses reported lengths of U.S. residency consistent with an arrival in 1911, and 1911 was also recorded as her year of arrival in the 1920 and 1930 U.S. censuses. I assumed that she would be traveling under her maiden name, Winnicka, since she did not marry Andrew Lukasik until 1914, and that her destination was probably Buffalo, where she married, rather than North Tonawanda. Nonetheless, there were no promising search hits. Not to worry, though; persistence usually wins the day, and there are a number of strategies that can be tried when an initial search fails to turn up the right passenger manifest, so I kept searching.
In this case, the use of wildcards ultimately proved to be effective. Ancestry had her indexed as “Jozefa Minnicka,” although she was clearly the right person. The two-page manifest is shown in Figures 2a and b.4
Józefa Winnicka appears on line 16 of the manifest for the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, which departed from the port of Rotterdam on 22 October 1910, and arrived in New York on 31 October. She was identified as a single, female, farmhand, age 26, able to read and write. Her age suggests a birth circa 1884, and this date and her arrival date are both within the expected ballpark based on the accumulated body of evidence. She was an ethnic Pole and a Russian citizen, consistent with the fact that Poland was not an independent nation in 1910. (If that statement is confusing, here is a brief summary of Poland’s changing borders.) So far, so good.
Suchatzew, Suchatzin, Sawacew and Sawasew
The smoking-gun evidence needed for Józefa’s place of origin was found in the next columns. Her last permanent residence was recorded as “Suchatzew, Russia.” Her nearest relative in the country from whence she came was her father, Ludwig Winnicka [sic] from “Suchatzew.” We’ll come back to that place name in a moment. Józefa was traveling to Buffalo, New York, and on the second page, the record further specified that Józefa’s contact in the U.S. was her brother-in-law, Roch Dolak, residing at 152 Rother Avenue in Buffalo. Following details regarding her physical and mental condition and her philosophical disposition, the final column identified her place of birth as “Suchatzin, Russia.”
I was willing to bet that both of these spellings, “Suchatzew” and “Suchatzin,” were intended to refer to either the town of Sochaczew, or the county of Sochaczew, so I believed this was good evidence that my assumption was correct about Andrew Lukasik marrying a girl from his hometown. However, this manifest offered further confirmation of her place of origin, because Józefa was not traveling alone. Although it was not immediately obvious from the first page of the manifest, the second page of the manifest shows Józefa on line 16, bracketed together with three other passengers who were recorded on lines 18, 19, and 20 (Figure 3).
The first page of that manifest identified these passengers as 25-year-old Bronisława Dolak and her children, 3-year-old Zofia, and 10-month-old Jan. Like Józefa, Bronisława named her father as her nearest relative in the Old Country, but this time his name was spelled “Ludwik Winitzky,” rather than “Ludwig Winnicka,” and his place of residence was spelled, “Sawasew, Warschau.” Similarly, Bronisława’s last place of residence was spelled, “Sawacew” (Figure 4).
Despite such wildly disparate spellings, it’s clear that “Sawacew” and Sawasew” must also refer to the town of Sochaczew or the county of Sochaczew, since Józefa and Bronisława had the same father, Ludwik Winnicki. At that time, Sochaczew was located in the Warsaw (Warschau, in German) gubernia, or province, which explains the reference to Warsaw in the entry on line 18. The use of such different spellings for both the place name and the father’s name, on the same manifest, nicely illustrates the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to evaluating spellings found in historical documents.
The final column on the second page of the manifest is also enlightening (Figure 5).
While Józefa Winnicka was reported to have been born in “Suchatzin,” (or Suchatzew?), her sister Bronisława’s birthplace looks like “Riwano,” while both children were born in “Modjesin.” Although “Modjesin” is a rough phonetic match to the actual village of Młodzieszyn, it took me a minute to realize that “Riwano” must be referring to the village of Rybno, another village in Sochaczew County, located 11 km/7 miles from Młodzieszyn.
Confirming Place Identification Using Geneteka
Of course, all of these place-name identifications can only be considered as speculative, until evidence for the target immigrant is found in historical records from that location. In this case, confirmation can be found in indexed Polish vital records from the Geneteka database. A search in all indexed parishes in Mazowieckie province for birth records containing surnames Dolek and Winnicki predictably turned up the births of Zofia and Jan Dolak, in or near Młodzieszyn parish (Figure 6).
Although it was stated on the manifest that both children were born in Młodzieszyn, Geneteka informs us that only Zofia was born in Młodzieszyn, while Jan was born in the nearby village of Ruszki, which belonged to the parish in Giżyce, where he was baptized. (Clicking the “skan” button reveals that Jan’s birth record was, in fact, number 39 for 1909, not number 38, so the middle entry in Figure 6 is an error in the database.)
A public member tree online at Ancestry suggested that Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik’s parents were “Ludwik Winicka” [sic] and “Agnieszka Bralun.”5 Although no source was cited for that information, I suspect it came from Josephine’s marriage record, or perhaps her death certificate, neither of which is available online. A search at Geneteka for records pertaining to Ludwik Winnicki and wife’s name Agnieszka (no maiden name specified) in indexed parishes within 15 km of Młodzieszyn, produced birth records for four children of Ludwiki Winnicki and Agnieszka Braun, all of whom were born in the village of Cyprianki and baptized in the parish of Rybno between 1870 and 1878 (Figure 7).
Although birth records for Józefa and Bronisława are not included in this search result, limiting the search to Rybno parish provides the explanation: there’s a gap in indexed birth records for Rybno from 1879 through 1887, which would encompass their births circa 1884 and 1885. All of these locations can be found on the map in Figure 8 except Cyprianki, which may be too small a place to be included in this Google Map, but which can be found on the map here, a little to the north of Cypriany, and about halfway between Cypriany and Rybno.
Tips for Deciphering Mangled Place Names
I had a bit of an unfair advantage when it came to deciphering Józefa Winnicka’s place of origin from the manifest, since I already had a hunch about where she was from. But what if that weren’t the case? How would a person know that Suchatzew and Sawasew were supposed to be Sochaczew? The following strategies might help:
- Obtain more than one piece of evidence for place of origin. Passenger manifests, naturalization records, church records, and draft registrations are all common sources for this information, but place of origin might be found on a variety of other documents. Don’t limit your search to the research target, but look at the big picture and consider all known relatives of that person who also immigrated.
- Don’t overlook the second page of a passenger manifest, in cases where one exists. It’s a common rookie mistake to think that a document is limited to only one page, since the search engines at Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc., link to only one image. However, some passenger manifests, WWII draft cards, passport applications, and most naturalization files, consist of multiple pages. Be sure to use the arrow keys to browse through the additional images that come before and after the linked image, to ensure that you’ve seen all there is to see. Had I not done this, I would not have found the references to Rybno and Młodzieszyn.
- Consider that immigrants may have approximated their place of origin to the county or province seat, rather than referring to the specific, small village. Although Józefa Winnicka claimed to have been born in Sochaczew, birth records for the parish of Sochaczew are indexed in Geneteka from 1849 through 1884 without gaps, yet her birth record is not there. It’s probable that she was, in fact, baptized in Rybno, like her siblings who appear in Figure 7, but that she mentioned the county seat instead, as a larger (and presumably more recognizable) place.
- Use a phonetic gazetteer to decode place names that were recorded phonetically by the clerk. There are two that I use regularly, the JewishGen Gazetteer and the Baza Miejscowości Kresowych (Eastern Borderlands Places). The scope of the former is quite broad, and it can be used to identify places located in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, while the latter is specific to places in the Kresy Wschodnie, or eastern borderlands region (places that were within the borders of Poland during the era of the Second Republic, but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania). The JewishGen Gazetteer offers quite a few search options for Soundex and fuzzy searches, and a search for “Suchatzew” using Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching quickly zeroed in on the town and county of Sochaczew (Figure 9).
Although Beider-Morse did the trick here, I tend to use the second search option, Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, more frequently, because it gives me more search hits. However, some trial-and-error will likely be involved in the process either way. The resulting list of search hits can be whittled down through consultation with the map; for example, the first candidate in the list shown in Figure 8, Sukhachëva, turns out to be located in Russia’s Oryol Oblast, a good 650 miles from the eastern border of Poland today, and well outside of Poland’s borders at any point in history. If all the evidence points to Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik’s birthplace being in Poland (albeit the Russian partition of Poland), Sukhachëva can be safely ruled out.
5. Use a period gazetteer to reconcile “conflicting evidence.” While Młodzieszyn and Sochaczew are unique place names in Poland, there are 26 places in Poland today called Rybno, according to Mapa.szukacz.pl. If one were researching Bronisława Dolak and came across a reference to Rybno on one document, but to Sochaczew on another, a quick check in a gazetteer can shed some light on the confusion and aid in identifying the correct Rybno (Figure 10).6 An annotated list of useful gazetteers for Polish genealogy can be found here.
6. Use Geneteka (or another indexed vital records database) to quickly test hypotheses about an immigrant’s place of origin. This may not work every time, but Geneteka is such a substantial database, that you stand a good chance of finding some trace of your family there, even if your target immigrant is not included. In this case, Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik was not found in Geneteka, but evidence for her parents and for her sister’s family was sufficient to confirm accurate identification of several parishes which can be searched for records pertaining to the Winnicki family.
Deciphering place names on historical records can be pretty challenging at times, and manifests like this one for Józefa Winnicka may leave you wondering whether to laugh or to cry at the awful misspellings. However, the right tools and strategies, combined with some patience and persistence, will usually win the day. Happy researching!
1 1915 New York State Census, Niagara County population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 03, Assembly District 01, Enumeration District 01, p 33, lines 6-11, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022).
2 “New York State, Marriage Index, 1881-1967,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), Andrzej Lukasik and Jozefa Winicka, 3 November 1914, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 35186.
3 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Niagara County population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 03, Enumeration District 38, Sheet 4B, house no. 72, family no. 63, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 21 March 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1240 of 2076 rolls; and
1925 census of New York State, Niagara County population schedule, 3rd Ward North Tonawanda, Election District 01, Assembly District 01, p 43, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 22 April 2022); and
1930 U.S Federal Census, Niagara County population schedule, 3rd Ward North Tonawanda, Enumeration District 32-87, Sheet 25B, house no. 26, family no. 539, Andy Lukassik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration publication T626, 2,667 rolls, Family History Library microfilm 2341353; and
1940 U.S. Federal census, Niagara County, New York, population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 3, Enumeration District 32-130, Sheet 8B, house no. 26, visitation no. 135, Andrew and Chester Lukasik households; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T627, roll 2,698 of 4,643 rolls; and
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/228947128/jozefa-lukasik : accessed 22 March 2022), memorial page for Jozefa “Josephine” Winnicka Lukasik (1884–13 Aug 1968), Find a Grave Memorial ID 228947128, citing Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kenmore, Erie County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Bonnie O’Brien (contributor 50514324).
4 Manifest, SS Nieuw Amsterdam, arriving 31 October 1910, p 167, lines 16, 18, 19 and 20, Jozefa Winnicka [indexed as Minnicka] and Dolak family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com : 21 April 2022); citing Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36, National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls, NAI: 300346, no specific roll cited.
6 I. Zinberg, Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego, Tom 2 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), pp 125-126, “Rybno,” digital images, Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/ : 24 April 2022).
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022