Szukajwarchiwach Version 2.0: Better Than the Original!

On 8 June 2019, the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe launched a new and improved version of Szukajwarchiwach, the popular search portal for the holdings of the Polish state archives. The new site is accessed at https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/, while the old site, https://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/, will remain active for the time being to allow users time to transition to the new site. Although the new site still seems to have a few bugs, it offers some wonderful improvements, and it’s well worth taking the time to become familiar with it.

What Does Szukajwarchiwach Do For Me?

SzwA is an incredibly powerful tool that allows one to search the holdings of 111 (at present) different archives whose collections are relevant to Polish research. While the vast majority of these are in Poland, this new version of SzwA includes materials from four archives in the U.S. (the Polish-American Liturgical Center in Orchard Lake, Michigan; the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America in New York; the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles), in addition to material from other archives outside of Poland. The complete list of contributing archives can be explored by browsing the map that’s found at the bottom of the new home page. Alternatively, the list of contributing archives from Poland can be viewed here. In addition to offering a searchable database for archival materials, SzwA presently offers over 37 million scans, free of charge. There’s absolutely no fee for accessing any of this information, or for downloading scans, although a new feature of the site is the ability to order high quality prints for a fee. Although most English-speakers tend to use SzwA for locating vital records, it can also be used to locate maps, business records, municipal records, census records, notarial records, and more. The new search interface allows one to simultaneously search not only the former SzwA site, but also the former Zbiory NAC On-line site, which houses historic photos and audiovisual files within the holdings of the state archives. What’s not to love?

What Szukajwarchiwach May Not Do For You

Szukajwarchiwach is not a database of vital records indexed by name. That is, you should not expect to type the name of your ancestor in the search box and obtain results, unless your ancestor happened to a person of prominence, such as a noble, historical figure, or notary. Instead, you need to determine where your ancestors lived, and based on that you can identify the parish or registry office which would have created the records that documented their births, deaths and marriages. Archival fonds are organized based on the institution, individual, or governmental entity which created them, so searches can be made using any key word which might be found in the title of a collection, or in a tag added to the item by the archives. One can therefore search for items pertaining to a place (Rzeszów), a document type (księgi ludności), a topic (sztuka ludowa), etc.

SzwA does not include the vital records holdings (akta metrykalne) of the various diocesan archives, nor does this site catalog the holdings of any local parish archives. That said, in some cases, search results will include results from diocesan archives, but this is the exception, not the rule. In such cases I suspect the state archive has microfilmed copies of the records for which the originals are at the diocesan archive, or perhaps they’re partnering with the diocesan archive in some way, and that’s why these results are included. However, I have yet to discover an example in which scans are available on SzwA for collections reported to be held by a diocesan archive. In such cases, researchers should always check the FamilySearch catalog because I often find that scans are available there for the same ranges of years reported at SzwA.

In any case, hope is not lost if there are no vital records available at SzwA for a particular parish or registry office, as those records may still exist, only in another location. Moreover, the catalog is apparently incomplete, as anecdotal evidence abounds of sought-after records that were not mentioned in SzwA, but were nonetheless obtainable through personal visit or letter to the archive. Ultimately it’s best to inquire directly with the regional archive for one’s village or parish of interest, if something particular is needed. Despite these caveats, SzwA is still a great starting point when determining what records are available that might be relevant to one’s research.

Using the New Site

Although the instructions at the site are very good, the English interface has a few quirks, so let’s begin at the beginning. Figure 1 shows the new SzwA homepage.

Figure 1: Home page of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.SzwA home page

English-speakers may want to begin by switching the language to English using the drop-down language menu located to the right of the “Zaloguj się” (login) button. The login button itself is another new feature. SzwA now offers the ability to create an account (free of charge), to personalize one’s SzwA experience. When logged in, it’s possible to save searches, create collections of favorite materials and add to those collections, order materials in better quality, and make appointments if one wishes to visit one of the archives in person. Once the language is changed to English and I’m logged in, the screen appears as in Figure 2.

Figure 2: English version of the new Szukajwarchiwach site.SzwA in English

A quick search tutorial is available in the lower right corner, boxed in red. That explains the site very nicely, so an additional lengthy tutorial here really isn’t necessary. Ultimately, we can hope that the site will perform pretty much as advertised in that tutorial. However, as I mentioned, there are presently a few bugs, which I discovered when I took the site for a test-drive. I wanted to see how the search results were different with the new site vs. the old site, for several of my ancestral parishes, so I started with Młodzieszyn.

As soon as the cursor is placed in the search box, a drop-down menu appears which offers options for refining the search (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Options for refining a search. Document types include “Acts,” “Posters, Leaflets, Placards,” “Technical projects,” “Maps,” “Photographs,” “Sound records,” “Civil,” “Volatile,” and “Museums.”SzwA search options

While most of these options are self-explanatory, a couple don’t translate well; namely, “volatile” and “civil.” “Volatile” is the funky English translation of “pergaminowe,” which really refers to old documents written on parchment. Selecting this option returns results from the 17th and 18th centuries (and possibly earlier). “Civil” is how the site translates Akta metrykalne (metrical acts, i.e. vital records), as opposed to unmodified Akta which refers to other files of local government records, court records, etc. I should also point out that, while the old SzwA search engine would return the same results with or without diacritics, this search engine is sensitive to diacritics. For example, a search for “Mlodzieszyn” returns only one result, a topographical map from 1942 which was originally written in German, since it was created during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Since the German language lacks Polish diacritics, the only search result returned is this one in which the village name was written without diacritics when the document was created. However, a search for “Młodzieszyn” with diacritics returns 45 files, 2 technical projects, 5 maps, and 9 “record files,” for a total of 61 collections. On this page of search results, the site translates Akta metrykalne as “Record files” rather than “civil” (go figure), so these are the vital records that should be the first stop in researching one’s family tree. Figure 4 shows the search results with the “Civil”/”Record files”/Aka metrykalne search filter applied. 

Figure 4: Search results for metrical acts from Młodzieszyn.Figure 3

When the same search is performed in the old version of SzwA, with the box checked for “Vital records and civil registers,” the result is the same—nine collections of vital records from three parishes (Młodzieszyn, Mistrzewice and Kamion) located within gmina Młodzieszyn, which is what we would expect. From past experience, I know that the first collection shown in Figure 3 should be birth records from Młodzieszyn from 1859–1898. Clicking on the title of the collection ought to direct one to a page with further information about these records, and it does do that, in a way.  Unfortunately, it leads to the page shown in Figure 5, which seems to be a list of all the 36,213 parishes and registry offices in the Pradziad vital records database.

Figure 5: Screen which results from clicking on “Młodzieszyn” (1859–1898) in Figure 4.Pradziad

The trouble seems to be that this is such a long list that it’s very slow to load and the site tends to hang up for long periods. After many minutes, I was finally able to search the page (Ctrl-F) for Młodzieszyn (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Result of using page-search function to identify search results for Młodzieszyn parish from list of available parishes and registry offices in Pradziad database. Mlodzieszyn search result

Clicking on “rozwiń” (“expand”) gives more information about each collection. However, at this point, there’s no indication of what type of vital records are contained in each collection. For example, I know from experience (and can verify by repeating the search in the old version of SzwA) that the records from 1889-1925 are death records. But this is not indicated in the display format at the new version of the site (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Expanded data on vital records collections from Młodzieszyn.More data on Młodzieszyn

Although the entry identifies these as Roman Catholic records, which is important, the lack of information about the type of vital event is a significant omission. Hopefully this issue will be addressed in the near future. After additional tinkering with this new version of SzwA and testing multiple parishes, I discovered that the screen with the long list of contents of the Pradziad database only results if there are no scans online for that particular parish. If scans are available, they will be accessible as shown in the example below. As always, if scans are not available at this site, then it’s advisable to check other digital archives like Metryki, FamilySearch, GenBaza, the Archiwum Głowne Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (AGAD), Genealogiawarchiwach, etc. to see if scans are available there, before concluding that the scans must be ordered from the archive.

In a second test of the site, I tried searching for records for another ancestral parish, Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, Wielkopolska. A search for “Kowalewo” returned results for Kowalewo Pomorskie and other unrelated places, suggesting that the search engine is very specific, as was noted earlier with its sensitivity to diacritics. Although the very first result (boxed in red) was a collection of vital records from this parish, the search result paradoxically indicates no record files/akta metrykalne (boxed in green, Figure 8). This is probably a bug that will be fixed eventually.

Figure 8: Search results for Kowalewo Opactwo. Kowalewo Opactwo

Clicking on the collection of vital records boxed in red in Figure 8 results in the screen shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9: Detail regarding available civil records for the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca county.Kowalewo Opactwo detailed entry

Clicking on “Scans,” boxed in red, allows direct access to the scans in chronological order, in contrast to the old version of SzwA, which required progressive navigation to the scans by first clicking through the series and units. Figure 9 also highlights the limitations of the English interface. While the notes on the history of the creator are often very interesting and helpful in understanding the historical context in which the records were created, they do not translate automatically even when using the English version of the site. However, a simple cut-and-paste into Google Translate will usually provide the gist of the text, if not the nuances.

Although direct access to the scans is now possible with this new interface, navigating through the scans in chronological order may not be desirable if, for example, scans start in 1808 and you’re looking for an event that took place in 1866. In that case, click “List of Units,” boxed in red in Figure 10, and then navigate through the pages to find the scans from 1866, underlined in green.

Figure 10: List of scanned units for Kowalewo Opactwo showing number of scans available in each.Scanned units

Since Kowalewo Opactwo was a parish in Russian Poland, our first step in locating a vital record from 1866 would be to find the internal index, typically created by the priest at the end of each year. This index will allow us to identify records pertaining to our ancestors. Index pages can be spotted from the thumbnails on the basis of their appearance, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: Index page, boxed in red, for birth records from 1866.1866 index page

It’s evident that this page contains a list of names, rather than the paragraph-style entries observed in the other images. Clicking that image brings us to the next screen, where we have the familiar array of options for zooming in and out, rotating the image, and changing brightness (Figure 12). Note also in Figure 11 that there is now an option to select all 40 scans from 1866 and download them, or add them to one’s personal collection. (This option only exists when one is logged into one’s account.) My colleague Roman Kałużniacki tested this feature and reported that the entire book will arrive in a zip file, containing all the selected pages. He added, “In the past, I had to download each page separately—I could do about 80-100 per hour but it was somewhat tedious. Here, I selected all, ‘Wszystkie,’ and got 240 pages, about 500 MB of data, in just a minute or so. Of course, many people don’t do full books but if you are in the indexing business or have a favorite home village then that feature is a great time saver.”

Figure 12: Screen with photo-enhancing tools and other options for saving and using scans.Index image

There are several nice new features offered here. One of these is the blue “Add Orders” button located at the bottom of the screen. Clicking this will put the scan into your “shopping cart.” When research is complete, the shopping cart appears next to your name in the login area of the screen. Clicking on the cart will initiate the checkout process, as shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13: Checkout screen for ordering prints from the archive.Cart for ordering scans

Several options are available for paper size, ranging from “13×18″ (units not indicated, perhaps centimeters?) up to A1 (23.4″ x 33.1”). There is also a choice of 300 dpi resolution, or 600 dpi. In this example, the lower-resolution print was 8 PLN (about $2.12) and the higher resolution print was 30 PLN (about $7.97) regardless of paper size, and results are presumably suitable for framing. The menu on the right in Figure 12 also offers options for cropping, downloading, bookmarking, and sharing the image on social media, in addition to providing the direct link to the image.

Going back to that index page, we can zoom in by clicking the plus magnification icon until the image becomes readable (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Detail of birth index from 1866 for Kowalewo Opactwo parish.Index image closeup

In this particular index, the Akt number (record number) is written to the left of the name, while the page number is written to the right. So the birth record for Józef Dogoda will be found on the scan containing the first page of the book, and it will be the second birth recorded on that page.

Whenever a new website like this debuts, there’s always a considerable amount of discussion in the genealogical community on Facebook. In a discussion about this new site in the Galicia Family History Group, Jeanne Kogut Wardrop asked if there is “an easier way to make the record pages larger and easier to read without having to press the plus magnification icon 20 times each time you want to see a record.” Images do tend to enlarge by very small increments with this version of the site, but you may be able to get around that by clicking on “link” in the menu to the right of the image and copying and pasting the resulting link into a new browser window. This brings up an image of the scan that is readable with only one additional click of the magnifying glass. In another discussion, Jody Tzucker pointed out the lack of a specific filter for locating vital records for a particular denomination. 

While it’s true that the layout of the old site was a bit more intuitive when it came to locating records for a specific religious denomination, it’s still possible to do this at the new site, using the Advanced Search feature. Figure 14 shows the Advanced Search screen, which can be accessed immediately below the search box on the main search screen.

Figure 14: Advanced Search screen.Advanced Search

Jewish records for the town of Zagórów in Wielkopolska can be located by searching for the term “Zagórów” in combination with the term “mójżeszowe” which is the term employed by the archives for records from the Jewish (Mosaic) faith. The result is four collections—births, marriages, deaths, and alegata (birth records and other documents typically provided to the registrar at the time of marriage)—identical to the collections of Jewish records produced by a search at the original SzwA site (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Results of Advanced search for Mosaic (Jewish, mójżeszowe) records for Zagórów. Zagorow Jewish records search results

Figure 15 also shows the option for saving search results. If this option is selected, the user is prompted to name the search, and results can be accessed through the user’s profile when logged into the system.

From the perspective of English-speakers using the site, there’s an obvious disadvantage to the layout of the new site, which requires the user to type in the name of a religious denomination in order to filter results that way. The old SzwA site offered a drop-down menu from which one could select the appropriate denomination, which was easier if, for example, one did not know that Protestant church records are generally referred to as “ewangelickie” and not “luterański” or  “protestancki.” The original version of SzwA offered a total of 31 options for religious denomination and it was helpful to be able to choose from that list, rather than having to guess at the standard term used by the archive to describe one’s ancestors’ religion. Researchers whose ancestors belonged to a church other than the Roman Catholic Church might therefore want to visit the original SzwA site before it is discontinued, to make a note of the specific term used by the archives to describe that faith. Of course, we can hope that the new interface may continue to be tweaked so that it eventually includes a standardized religious denomination search filter, but it’s best to be prepared for the possibility that this change is not forthcoming.

Since this new SzwA site combines the databases from the old SzwA with the old Zbiory NAC On-line, I wondered if perhaps this was the dawn of a new era in Polish genealogy, when all of the digital archives of each state archive would be accessible through one search interface, instead of requiring users to search the sites for the individual archives like Przemyśl and AGAD separately. In the past, I’ve noticed that a portion of the scans from these archives could be accessed from either SzwA or their own site, but each archive also maintained a unique collection of scans which could only be accessed from their own site. So I checked a couple random parishes for which scans are available at these sites  (Rybotycze, Greek Catholic records, from the archive in Przemyśl; Baworów, Roman Catholic records, from AGAD) and unfortunately, scans continue to be unavailable from SzwA. I also checked records for the Roman Catholic parish in Rogowo (Rypin county) for which scans from the Archiwum Państwowe w Toruniu Oddział we Włocławku are available at Genealogiawarchiwach, and these continue to be unavailable from SzwA also. Well, one can’t have everything.

One final point that was made in the discussions on Facebook and in the comments below was that not all of the scans that were previously accessible at the original SzwA site are currently accessible at the new SzwA site. Researcher C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon commented on this fact in a discussion in the Galicia Family History Group, as he compared search results between the old and new sites for his ancestral parish of Pacanów: “If I limited myself to just searching on “Pacanów” [at the new SzwA site] I found 544 records across all Categories…. I searched long enough that the site started returning 594 records across all categories. Good thing I snapped a picture of 1st result or I might have thought my memory deficient. So they must still be loading card catalog meta data (probably hash tag indexes).” Michael’s experience suggests that patience is in order when missing scans are discovered. Fortunately the old site is still active and it’s likely it won’t be discontinued until the new site is fully functional.

Despite the existence of a few bugs, I think the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe has done a great job with this updated version of Szukajwarchiwach. Whether you’re a new user of the site or a veteran, I think you’ll agree that the site opens up some wonderful pathways into the past as we discover our Polish heritage through the documents, maps, and photographs which recorded our ancestors’ stories. Jump in, click around, and let me know what you think. If you discover any new tricks for improving the search experience, please add them to the comments. Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

Hot on the Trail of the Walshes: Determining Place of Origin in Ireland

In a previous post, I wrote about some progress I’ve made toward identifying potential parents for my 3x-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria Walsh McNamara may or may not have been his siblings, but it’s clear that they were some kind of close family members to Robert, and that they were also full siblings to each other, since marriage records indicate that both Thomas and Maria were children of James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh. Knowing the name, approximate date of birth, and parents’ names for an immigrant ancestor could potentially provide enough information to start looking for that ancestor in records from the Old Country, if the surname is relatively uncommon. However, the surname Walsh is the fourth most popular surname in Ireland today, and Cavanagh (or Kavanagh) is ranked at number 53 for popularity, with both surnames found throughout Ireland.1 For this reason, it makes sense to try to determine a precise place of origin for my immigrant Walsh siblings, rather than trying to leap into Irish records prematurely.

So far, this has been an uphill battle. Most of the strategies that have been successful when determining place of origin for my Polish ancestors have not worked here. Robert Walsh was already in Canada by the time of his marriage to Canadian-born Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1843. There are no surviving passenger manifests for immigration to Canadian ports prior to 1865, so we can’t hope to find a passenger manifest which states his birthplace or last residence within Ireland.2 Although a passenger manifest might be found if he arrived first in a U.S. port and then made his way to St. Catharines, I have no reason to believe that this was the case, and no identifying information that might help me to distinguish my Robert Walsh/Welch/Welsh from the scores of Irish immigrants by that name who immigrated via U.S. ports. Since Canada and Ireland were both part of the British Empire prior to Canadian confederation in 1867, naturalization was not necessary for Irish immigrants to Canada, which eliminates the possibility that a naturalization record will state place of origin.3 Neither have any of the church records provided any clues, since available baptismal records and marriage records for my known Walsh relatives do not specify immigrants’ place of origin, and burial records are not available. However, cluster research might help with this question, just as it did with identifying potential parents for Robert Walsh.

Chain migration is defined as “the process by which migrants from a particular town follow others from that town to a particular destination,”4 and it’s a phenomenon that many of us family historians have documented. In my own research, I’ve discovered that many of the Polish immigrants to North Tonawanda, New York in the period from 1900–1918 were from Sochaczew County, and many of the German immigrants to Detroit in the 1830s–1850s were from the area around Neustadt in the Marburg-Biedenkopf district. Could there be a similar, common place of origin for many of the Irish immigrants who chose St. Catharines as their destination? More importantly, can we identify that place of origin using existing data?

The cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria was established to serve the Irish laborers who built both the first Welland canal which opened in 1829, as well as the second Welland canal which was built in the 1840s.5 This work on the canal may have been a factor in Robert Walsh’s decision to immigrate. Although he was a merchant tailor rather than a laborer or canal worker, it may have been that Robert decided to leave Ireland for Canada to serve the clothing needs of this growing Irish community. Moreover, it is perhaps significant that Robert emigrated prior to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845–1849. In times of major crisis such as that famine, one might suppose that emigrants would be less particular about their destination. However, since Robert was a pre-Famine immigrant, his decision to go to St. Catharines may have been made in light of more ordinary considerations.

Of course, it’s too much to hope that all of the Irish immigrants to St. Catharines came from one location in Ireland, but it could potentially direct future research if I were to discover that, for example, most of the immigrants turned out to be from one or two counties within Ireland. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to examine church records from St. Catharines dated prior to the Great Famine. The earliest available records start in 1852, which suggests that any early chain migration patterns which may have existed will likely be obscured by the sheer volume of Irish immigration to Canada after the Great Famine. Nonetheless, desperate times call for desperate measures, and at this point I can’t think of any available genealogical data sets which might be more useful than church records in providing clues about migration patterns from Ireland to St. Catharines. To borrow an aviation cliché from my dad, I’m running out of altitude, air speed, and ideas.

So, here’s the plan:

  • Analyze the data from the earliest available collection of church records from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the parish in which my ancestors settled, to see if any trends emerge regarding specific place of origin of Irish immigrants.
  • Pay special attention to data from any records of individuals known to be associated with my Walsh ancestors.
  • Use this information to prioritize searches for my ancestors in records from Ireland.

I’m planning to use John Grenham’s Irish genealogy site, Irish Ancestors, to identify the various collections which might be useful in tracking down my Walshes, and I purchased a short-term subscription to RootsIreland, which offers a number of databases of indexed records. (Spoiler alert: I’ve searched both these sites for “low-hanging fruit”—easily-found indexed records relevant to my research—and come up empty.) John Grenham’s site has a helpful feature which allows one to search by a surname (e.g. Walsh), and then cross-reference with a second surname (e.g. Cavanagh) to identify civil parishes in which both surnames were found in Griffith’s Valuation (1847–1864). Unfortunately, the Irish Ancestors site identified close to 200 parishes in which both surnames, Walsh and Cavanagh, were found. Given my research background in Polish records, that number seemed ridiculously high to me. I thought there had to be a better way to narrow the focus before attempting research in Irish records. However, after chatting about this research with Irish genealogy expert, Donna Moughty, at the New England Regional Genealogical Consortium (NERGC) conference in Manchester this past April, I learned that refinement might not be possible here. In Donna’s opinion, finding specific place of origin for pre-Famine immigrants from Ireland is generally so difficult that she thought my best bet under these circumstances would be that “brute force” method, systematically going through all the parishes identified at John Grenham’s site in which both the Walsh and Cavanagh surnames were known to exist. So be it.

Did I mention that I’m also in a race against the clock? I have an opportunity to follow my husband to Dublin on a business trip in a few weeks and it would be wonderful if I could squeeze in a day trip to the birthplace of Robert Walsh while I’m there. Of course, real life has a nasty habit of getting in the way of genealogy, so it’s not possible for me to devote myself full-time to the pursuit of the Walsh Ancestral Village. The unfortunate reality is that there’s a good chance I will not be able to identify the birthplace of Robert, Thomas, and Bridget Maria Walsh prior to setting foot on the Emerald Isle. At least I want the satisfaction of knowing I gave it my best possible shot.

So, I made a careful study of the available marriage and baptismal records for St. Catherine of Alexandria parish. The earliest available records are found in the collection Baptisms, marriages 1852–1860, and I focused on these primarily since the marriage records from this book typically mention the specific place of origin of the bride and groom. This is in contrast to the later book of Marriages, 1858–1910 in which only the immigrant’s country of origin is typically specified, although there was a span of years (images 12–16, with a few additional entries on images 10, 20, 23 and 27) when some thoughtful priest recorded the county of origin for Irish immigrants as well. I did not observe any examples of baptismal records where the place of origin of immigrant parents was noted. In the interest of time, I did not include the data regarding county of origin when it was mentioned in the book Marriages, 1858–1910. Instead, I focused only on the earliest records.

As the title suggests, the book Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860 contains both baptismal records and marriage records, intermingled on the same pages through 1857, when the parish began recording marriages in a separate book. I began by making a spreadsheet indexing all the baptisms which mention surnames Walsh/Welsh or Cavanagh in any capacity (mother, father, godmother or godfather). I did the same with the marriage records, indexing all those records in which the bride or groom was a Walsh, one of the witnesses was a Walsh, or the maiden name of the mother of either the bride or groom was Walsh. I also included all the marriage and baptism records that mention the known godparents of the children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. By doing this, I gained some interesting insights into the Walsh family’s network within their parish community in St. Catharines. However, it’s impossible to say which of these relationships were forged after immigration and which, if any, might stem from a common community in Ireland.

Among the potentially relevant discoveries were the following:

  • Thomas Walsh’s wife, Maryann Cronin, had a full brother named Michael Cronin who married Jane Alcox in 1856. Their marriage record stated that Michael was from County Limerick, while Jane was a native of St. Catharines, like Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh.6
  • Michael and Maryann Cronin had another full sister, Margaret Cronin, who married Robert McNamara in 1861.7 One of the witnesses to the marriage was John Fitzgerald—probably the same John Fitzgerald who served as godfather to Elizabeth Walsh (daughter of Robert Walsh) in 1854.
  • In 1858, Margaret Cronin was named as godmother to Thomas Cronin, son of John Cronin and Winifred Walsh.8 It’s tempting to speculate that this is the same Margaret Cronin who was sister to Michael and Maryann, and that Winifred Walsh might be related to “my” Walshes. However, there’s not enough evidence at this point to support that conclusion, and in any case, no marriage record for John and Winifred was found which might indicate her specific place of origin within Ireland.
  • Patrick McNamara, the husband of Bridget Maria Walsh, had a brother named John McNamara, who married the widowed Margaret (née Battle) McBride in November 1854.9  Margaret was the godmother of Elizabeth Walsh (Robert’s daughter) in May 1854.10 John McNamara was noted to be a native of Killuran, County Clare, while Margaret Battle was born in County Sligo. It’s not clear if Patrick and John McNamara were related in some way to Robert McNamara, husband of Margaret Cronin. However, it’s clear that any relationship that might have existed was more distant than siblings, since Patrick and John were reported to be sons of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan, while Robert was the son of Michael McNamara and Mary Gleeson.
  • Thomas Coil (or Coyle) and Jane Parks, who served as godparents to Nellie Walsh in August 1857,11 were married to each other in February 1857,12 exemplifying the priest’s tendency to record women under their maiden names, or under both married and maiden. Thomas Coyle was noted to be a native of County Tyrone, while Jane Parks was native to St. Catharines.
  • Although there were a couple baptismal records for a child of a Cavanah/Cavanagh mother or father, as well as a couple of baptismal records in which a Cavanagh served as a godfather, there’s no evidence that the individuals mentioned in those records were connected with each other, or with my Walsh/Cavanagh relatives.
  • There seems to be a connection between the Walsh family and the O’Driscol family, but the significance of that connection is unclear. Robert Walsh (presumably “my” Robert Walsh, since he was the only adult by that name living in St. Catharines in the 1861 census) served as godfatber to Helena McGuire in 1854, daughter of Daniel McGuire and Mary O’Driscol.13 In 1858, he was named as godfather to Edward O’Driscol, son of Michael O’Driscol and Catherine O’Driscol.14

 

To recap, the individuals mentioned above were the closest FANs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) of Robert, Thomas, and Bridget Maria Walsh for whom I can identify some place of origin. The diversity of locations in Ireland associated with them underscores the difficulty in the task of locating my Walsh ancestors in Irish records. While it may be possible that one of these individuals happens to be from the same hometown as my Walshes, it may also be that all of them met in St. Catharines and were brought together by the common bond of being couples in which one spouse was a native of Upper Canada (in the case of Jane Parks, Jane Alcox, and Elizabeth Hodgkinson) while the other spouse was an immigrant from Ireland. In any case, my starting point in Irish records will be the locations mentioned in the records for these FANs of the Walshes: County Limerick, County Sligo, County Clare, and County Tyrone.

Sources:

1 “Top 100 Irish Surnames & Last Names (Family Names Ranked),” Ireland Before You Die (https://www.irelandbeforeyoudie.com : 7 June 2019).

2 “Passenger Lists, 1865-1922,” Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 7 June 2019).

3 “Canada Naturalization and Citizenship,” FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 June 2019).

4 “Chain Migration,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/ : 7 June 2019).

5 “History of Our Parish,” Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria—Diocese of St. Catharines (https://www.thecathedralinstcatharines.com/history : 7 June 2019).

6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1856, “Marriage Mich’l Cronin ac Jane Alex,” 19 August 1856, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 59 of 104.

7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Marriage Register, Jan. 19, 1858–May 11, 1911, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1861, Robert McNamara and Margaret Cronin, 10 January 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” Family Search (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.

8 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1856, “Baptism Thomas Cronin,” born 1 November 1858, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 86 of 104.

9 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, 1854, unnumbered pages, “42nd marriage, John McNamara and Margaret Battle,” 23 November 1854, accessed as browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 36 of 104.

10 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “88th Bapt. Elizabeth Walsh,” born 21 May 1854, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 28 of 104.

11 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” born 24 December 1856, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104.

12 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, 1854, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, “Marriage Thos. Coyle and Jane Park,” 19 February 1857, accessed as browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 7 June 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 66 of 104.

13 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1854, “9th Baptism Helena McGuire,” born 11 December 1853, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 22 of 104.

14 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Baptisms & Marriages 1852–1860, unnumbered entries, unnumbered pages in chronological order, 1858, “Baptism Edward O’Druscol [sic],” born 9 May 1858, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 7 June 2019) path Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 81 of 104.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Scan in Geneteka? No problem!

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the lack of a scan linked to a record found in Geneteka does not imply that no scan is available online.

I was reminded of this recently while researching my Wilczek family. A search of marriage records from Mazowieckie province for children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka produced the results shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for marriage records from any indexed parish in Mazowieckie province which mention Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka together.Wilczek marriages in Mazowieckie

While the first two marriage records are linked to scans, the last one, from Iłów parish, is not. Hovering over the “Z” reveals that the original record is in possession of the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (Grodzisk Mazowieckie branch of the state archive of Warsaw). Although this seems to suggest that the only way to obtain a scan is to write to that archive to request a copy of the marriage record, the reality is that this record can be accessed online from either of two repositories, GenBaza or Metryki.

GenBaza

GenBaza, whose home page is shown in Figure 2, is a digital archive of Polish vital records privately hosted through the generosity of Tomasz Nitsch. Although the main site is found here, it’s necessary to register first at GenPol (Figure 3). Creating an account is free.

Figure 2: GenBaza‘s home page.GenBaza screen shot

Figure 3: GenPol‘s home page.GenPol home page

GenPol’s site can be switched to English by clicking the British flag icon shown under the login area, boxed in red in the image. To create a new account, click “Zarejestruj się” and follow the instructions. Note that if you want to view the GenBaza site itself in English, clicking “English version” in the upper right corner won’t get you very far. What’s shown in Figure 2 is the “English version.” (It states “Wersja Polska” in the upper right corner in the image because that’s what you click to change it to Polish.) Using the English version helps a tiny bit when it comes to viewing the scans themselves, but if you want to read the material on the home page in actual English, you’re better off translating the page via Google Translate by copying the URL for the page into the input text window, as shown in Figure 4, and then clicking on the resulting link in the output box.

Figure 5: Using Google Translate to translate web pages from Polish to English.Google Translate window

Alternatively, those who use Chrome as their browser can right-click anywhere on a web page and select, “Translate to English” as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Using Google Chrome to translate web pages from Polish to English.English translation via Chrome

Getting back to GenBaza, the nice thing about it is that fluency in Polish is not necessary in order to navigate the site and locate vital records. C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon wrote an excellent tutorial for using GenBaza at his blog, Stanczyk — Internet Muse, which I highly recommend. However, I’ll quickly walk through the steps I used to obtain a scan of that 1909 marriage record from Iłów that was indexed in Geneteka.

Records on GenBaza are arranged according to the archive which houses them, so some familiarity with the archival structure in Poland is helpful if one wishes to locate scans for a particular parish. To quickly determine which archive holds the records for a parish or registry office, check the PRADZIAD database. Although this database is no longer being updated, the version that existed in July 2018 is still available, and I personally prefer PRADZIAD’s display format to that of Szukajwarchiwach when it comes to determining the range of available records, but either site will do. In this case, however, when the object is simply to find a scan that’s already been indexed in Geneteka, we can determine the archive simply by hovering over the “z” in the indexed entry.

Once I’m logged into the GenBaza site, I select the parent archive from the list on the left (Figure 7). In the case of Iłow, the records are at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim, so the parent archive is AP_Warszawa.

Figure 7: Root directory for archives with scans in GenBaza.GenBaza root directory

When we click on AP_Warszawa, we get a list of all the branch archives that operate under the umbrella of the state archive of Warsaw (Figure 8). From this list we choose AP_Grodzisk.

Figure 8: Directory of branch archives within the State Archive of Warsaw system.AP Grodzisk

This brings us to the list of available vital records collections from this archive (Figure 9). Remember that civil records from this part of “Poland” were maintained by each religious denomination separately starting in 1826, so denominations are indicated by abbreviations, such as “ew” for “ewangelickie” (Lutheran), “moj” for “mojżeszowe” (Jewish), etc.  Another important abbreviation which you will see in GenBaza is “gm,” which refers to “gmina.” As it’s used in GenBaza, this term designates collections of civil vital records created in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Russian partition between 1808-1825. During this period the local Catholic priest usually served as the civil registrar for everyone in the gmina (an administrative division comprised of multiple villages but smaller than a county), regardless of religion. Of course, the majority of collections in GenBaza are not designated with any of these abbreviations. and in these cases, the default seems to vary based on the collections themselves. For example, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Gdańsk—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Prussian partition—are civil vital registrations,  which were introduced in the Prussian Empire in 1874. On the other hand, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Warszawa—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Russian partition—are civil records for Roman Catholics, created at Roman Catholic parishes. These are generalizations, and your mileage may vary, so your best bet is to click around within a collection. The style of the records themselves will usually tell you about their origin.

Figure 9: List of vital records collections from AP Grodzisk Mazowieckie for which scans are available from GenBaza.AP Grodzisk parishes

From this list of parishes in AP Grodzisk, I can scroll down to find Iłów and then click on it, which brings us to the page shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10: List of scans available from Iłów parish.Ilow

The list on the left indicates eight collections of civil birth (U, urodzenia), marriage (M, małżeństwa) and death (Z, zgony) records created by the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów and dating from 1889–1927. There is also a collection of civil records created by the Lutheran parish in Iłów (“Iłów_ew”), and clicking on this link will open up to a similar list of vital records collections dating from 1834–1934.

The marriage record indexed in Geneteka for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska was number 22 in 1909, so it will be in the collection entitled “1890–1910 M_05.” Clicking on this link opens up the range of individual years shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: List of individual years within the collection of civil marriage records from the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów, 1890-1910.Ilow marriages 1890-1910

Clicking on “1909” brings up the page shown in Figure 12, where we can select an individual image file to view. These are named according to the numbered marriage records contained on each, so marriage record number 22 will be on the image “_22-23.jpg.”

Figure 12:  Individual image files for 1909 marriages. 1909 marriages

Clicking on that image file brings us at long last to the image of the marriage record of Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska which was indexed in Geneteka with no link to a scan (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Franciszek Wilczek marriage in GenBaza

Since Iłów was located within the Russian Empire in 1909, the record is in Russian rather than Polish. However, it was common practice to write the names of the key participants first in Russian and then again in Polish. So even without an ability to read Russian, it’s possible to ascertain that this is the correct record by scanning through the text to find the names of the target individuals. In the example above, Franciszek Wilczek’s name, written in Russian and Polish (in the instrumental grammatical case, so Franciszek becomes Franciszkiem and Wilczek becomes Wilczkiem) is underlined in red. To download a copy of this record in full resolution, click the “Pobierz zdjęcie” button boxed in green.

Metryki

The second digital archive in which a scan of this marriage record can be found is Metryki.genealodzy.pl (Figure 14). A common theme is evident in the names of these digital archives, since both contain the word “metryki.” “Metryki” is just the plural form of “metryka,” which can mean certificate, registers or metrics. In other words, these are birth, marriage and death registers. Many researchers refer to Metryki.genealodzy.pl as “Metryki” and Metryki.GenBaza.pl as “GenBaza” for simplicity’s sake.

Figure 14: Metryki.genealodzy.pl home page.Metryki screen shot

Metryki is the work of the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, or Polish Genealogical Society, and is supported financially by donations to the society. I’ve written previously about using this site, so again, a detailed tutorial is not necessary. However, typing  “Ilow” into the search box and selecting the records from Iłów, 1889-1910, results in that same book of marriages, 1890-1910, that is found at GenBaza. Further drilling down to marriages from 1909, and then to the image file which contains marriage number 22, results in exactly the same image of the marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Metryki marriage record.png

Since both Metryki and GenBaza offer the same image in this case, it makes sense to obtain the record from Metryki and avoid the hassle of having to log in to the GenBaza site (and then continue to log in periodically, since the site seems to require frequent re-logins). However, it’s important to recognize that, while there is some redundancy between these sites, the overlap is not complete, and each of the major sites from which one can obtain scans of Polish vital records (e.g. Szukajwarchiwach, FamilySearch, AGAD, AP Przemyślu, etc.) offers some unique collections that are not duplicated elsewhere.

Although Franciszek Wilczek’s marriage record was found in GenBaza and Metryki, the specific sites that might contain a particular scan will vary depending on the parish or registry office in question. Knowing which sites to check when no scan is linked to an indexed entry is sometimes a matter of experience. However, help is always available via Facebook groups, an assortment of which can be found in Katherine R. Willson’s indexed list. Of course, not every indexed entry without a linked scan has a secret scan lurking online somewhere. In some cases, indexes were created from parish or diocesan archival collections for which no online scans are available. In those cases, the best recourse may indeed be to write to the archive identified by the “z” infodot in the indexed entry. The good news is that an indexed entry in Geneteka means that the record exists somewhere, and with a little perseverance, it can be tracked down.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Solving the Puzzle: Establishing a Paper Trail to Match DNA Evidence

In my last post, I wrote about a new DNA match that I’ve been puzzling over, between my mother and our genetic cousin, Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name on my blog. However, in looking at this research again more closely, I’ve been able to solve the puzzle and figure out how Ron and I are related, thanks to a document gifted to me by a friend, which provided the crucial bit of evidence that was the key to solving the problem.

To quickly recap, Ron’s great-grandfather, Izydor Wilczek, was a Polish immigrant who arrived in the U.S. circa 1903 and settled in North Tonawanda, New York. In 1895, Izydor married Zofia Krawczyk in the parish of Żyrardów, presently located in Żyrardów County, Mazowieckie province, Poland.According to that marriage record, Izydor was born in Budy Stare, a village which happens to be less than 6 kilometers distant from the village of Młodzieszynek where my Wilczek ancestors lived. Both villages were served by the Catholic parish in Młodzieszyn, which was the same parish to which my great-grandfather, Joseph Zieliński, belonged prior to his immigration to North Tonawanda, New York in 1912. It was Joseph’s great-grandmother who was named Marianna Wilczek. So if Ron and I both have Wilczek ancestors from villages in the vicinity of Młodziesyzn, then obviously this must be how we’re related, right? It should just be a matter of documenting the common Wilczek ancestor from whom Ron and my mother inherited that bit of shared DNA?

Not so fast. That same marriage record for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk also revealed that Zofia was born in Kuznocin, a village which belongs to the parish in Sochaczew and which was home to my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors. So was it Izydor or Zofia who was the most recent common ancestor who contributed that single segment of DNA shared between Ron and my mom? We really need some documentary evidence in order to figure this out, and the first step is further research into Izydor Wilczek’s roots in Młodzieszyn and Zofia’s roots in Sochaczew.

In Search of Zofia Krawczyk’s Maternal Ancestry

Zofia Krawczyk was age 20 at the time of her marriage in 1895, suggesting a birth circa 1875. A matching birth record was quickly identified in the indexed records in Geneteka (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for birth records mentioning Zofia Krawczyk in Sochaczew.Geneteka search results for Zofia Krawczyk

The first result, showing Zofia Krawczyk born to Marianna Krawczyk and an unknown father, is clearly a match for the Zofia mentioned in the marriage record to Izydor Wilczek. Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “Remarks” column reveals that she was born on 14 May 1874, and hovering over the “z” column informs us that a copy of the record can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu, the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Although the unknown father presents a roadblock at this point, perhaps we can more easily identify Marianna Krawczyk’s parents?

If we assume that Marianna Krawczyk was between the ages of 13 and 45 when she gave birth to Zofia in 1874, then she herself would have been born between 1829 and 1861. A search for a birth record for Marianna Krawczyk in all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, between 1829 and 1861, produces the results shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Geneteka search results for birth records dated between 1829-1861 mentioning Marianna Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns. Geneteka search results for Marianna Krawczyk

There are three possible matches, all from Sochaczew parish, but none specifically from the village of Kuznocin where Zofia was born. However, Zofia’s marriage record provided one important clue buried at the end of the record, where it stated, “Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act.” Repeating the search with the date restrictions removed, and clicking over to the “marriages” tab, produces the results shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Geneteka search results for marriages after 1829 for given name Marianna and surname Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns.Marianna Krawczyk marriages in Geneteka

Bingo! The first item underlined in red is the 1876 marriage of Jan Skrzyński and Marianna Krawczyk, which took place in Sochaczew. According to this indexed entry, the bride was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Pietraszeska, and information revealed by the “i” infodot (not shown in this image) states that the bride was 25 years old and born in Gawłów. Although a scan is not available, this record, too, can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu.

If Marianna was 25 in 1876, it suggests that she was born in 1851. However, this information does not align perfectly with the information from the available birth records for women named Marianna Krawczyk from Sochaczew shown in Figure 2. The Marianna Krawcyzk born in 1851 was born in Żuków, not Gawłów, and her mother’s maiden name was Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. On the other hand, the Krawczyk girl born in Gawłów was named Marcjanna, not Marianna, and she was born in 1859, not 1851. Moreover, her mother’s name was still Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. So how do we reconcile this? We remember that no single document can be trusted to be 100% accurate and completely reliable. Each piece of evidence must be evaluated in light of the total. In this case, it seems more likely that the Marianna Krawczyk born in 1851 is the same as the Marianna Krawczyk who married in 1876, despite the discrepancies in the place of birth recorded in the marriage record and in the spelling of the mother’s maiden name. This assertion is bolstered by the fact that the Marcjanna Krawczyk born in 1859 appears to have died in 1861, which we discover when we click over to the “deaths” tab in Geneteka.

The second marriage record underlined in red in Figure 3 should also inspire confidence in the conclusion that Marianna’s mother’s name was most likely Piotrowska rather than Pietraszeska (although both names are patronymic surnames related to the given name Piotr). That record shows the marriage of Mateusz Krawczyk, son of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, to Marianna Winnicka in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1893. Mateusz is clearly a full brother to Marianna Krawczyk, and as additional documents emerge which mention Piotrowski, it becomes clear that the Pietraszeska variant was an anomaly. Having established that Zofia Krawczyk’s mother, Marianna Krawczyk, was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, we come to a dead end. Although further searching in Geneteka can fill out the family tree, producing additional birth, marriage, and death records for children of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska,  there is no marriage record for Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska which identifies their parents’ names. Similarly, no death records were found for either Andrzej or Tekla which might provide this information. All that can be done quickly and easily to trace Zofia Krawczyk’s ancestry in the hope of finding a connection between her and my family has been done, and no connection has been discovered.

In Search of Izydor Wilczek’s Paternal Ancestry

Moving on, then, to research into Izydor Wilczek’s ancestry, we recall that Izydor’s 1895 marriage record described him as age 30, born in Budy Stare to Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. This suggests a birth year circa 1865, and again we hit a snag because birth records for Młodzieszyn are only readily available after 1885. The situation with marriage records from Młodzieszyn is similarly frustrating, since these are only available from 1889–1898 and then again from 1911–1928. Although it is not possible to easily obtain Izydor’s birth record or his parents’ marriage record, a search for a death record for his father, Andrzej Wilczek, pays off (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Geneteka search results for death records for given name Andrzej and surname Wilczek in Młodzieszyn parish.Geneteka search results for Andrzej Wilczek

According to this indexed entry, Andrzej Wilczek died in 1900 in the village of Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish. The record is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Death record from Młodzieszyn parish for Andrzej Wilczek, 16 August 1900.2Andrzej Wilczek death 1900 marked

The record is written in Russian, which was the official language required for all church and civil vital records in this area at the time, and the full translation appears in the footnotes. It states that Andrzej Wilczek was a farmer, born and residing in Budy Stare, age 72, which suggests a birth year circa 1828. The most important part for solving our DNA puzzle is the section underlined in red, which translates, “…son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka…” The statement of his wife’s name confirms that this death record does indeed pertain to Andrzej Wilczek, father of Izydor Wilczek, rather than to some other Andrzej Wilczek who might have been living in Budy Stare at the same time. Having determined that this is definitely the right guy, the information about Andrzej’s parents becomes the link which allows me to connect Ron Wilczek’s family to my own, because I have preliminary evidence that Jan Wilczek was the full brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Marianna Wilczek.

Why Genealogy Friends Are the Best Kind of Friends

How do I know that Jan and Marianna Wilczek were siblings? As mentioned previously,  records from the parish of Młodzieszyn are not readily available, as the only existing copies of books prior to 1885 are onsite at the parish itself. The current pastor, Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński, is understandably busy with tending to the spiritual needs of his congregation, and has little time for research in old records. However, last November, my friend Justyna Cwynar visited the parish on my behalf to request some Masses for the deceased members of my family, and while she was there, Fr. Kuźmiński kindly permitted her to spend about ten minutes with the parish books. It was unfortunately all the time that Fr. Kuźmiński could give her since he had other commitments, so Justyna worked quickly. She first located the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek which was discussed in the last post, and she also discovered this marriage record for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828.3Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka 1828 copy 2 crop

The record is written in Polish, and states in translation,

“This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the twentieth day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Grzegorz Orliński, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszyńskie, age thirty, and Izydor Wilczek, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszynek, having sixty-two years of age—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Jan Wilczek, a bachelor born in Budy Młodzieszynek to Izydor and Katarzyna nee Chlupińska, the spouses Wilczek, residing in that same place as land-owning farmers; living with his parents, having nineteen years of age; and Miss Joanna Winnicka, daughter of Maciej, already deceased, and Jadwiga, the spouses Winnicka, residents of Budy Młodzieszyńskie; age sixteen, born in Budy Młodzieszyńskie and living with her mother. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the sixth, thirteenth, and twentieth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn, and likewise by the oral permission of those present at the marriage act—the mother of the bride and likewise both parents of the groom. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreement. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses, who are illiterate. [signed] Fr. Wawrzyniec Kruszewski, pastor of Młodzieszyn.”

And there you have it.

Unlike the marriage record for my ancestors, Marianna Wilczek and Antoni Kalota, which only stated that she was the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna without specifying Katarzyna’s maiden name, the present record states that Katarzyna’s maiden name was Chlupińska. Although Wilczek is a fairly common Polish surname, especially in this part of Poland, the name Izydor is sufficiently uncommon to permit a reasonable certainty that there were not two distinct couples named Izydor and Katarzyna Wilczek who were living concurrently in the same parish. However, the possibility still remains that Izydor Wilczek could have been married sequentially to two different women named Katarzyna. Lacking evidence from additional marriage and death records in the parish, the hypothesis that Marianna Wilczek and Jan Wilczek were full siblings and both children of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska remains tentative. Jan Wilczek’s age in this record suggests that he was born circa 1808, and an added bonus in this record is the fact that the first witness, 62-year-old Izydor Wilczek, was almost certainly Jan’s father. We can therefore infer that Izydor was born circa 1766.

That’s a Wrap (For Now)

Despite the limitations on available records for Młodzieszyn, further research can be done in the indexed records in Geneteka to identify additional children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. (Note that one such child, Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska, turned up during the search for Andrzej’s death record shown in Figure 4.) However, for the purpose of understanding the DNA match between Mom and Ron, we have already established a paper trail, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Relationship chart showing documented relationship between Ron Wilczek and my mother, showing their proposed common descent from most recent ancestral couple, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska.relationship-chart-for-ron-and-mom.png

The chart indicates that my mom and Ron are fifth cousins, a relationship which is consistent with the amount of DNA they share (26.3 centimorgans, cM). Of course, the established paper trail does not prove conclusively that the shared DNA must come from the ancestral couple of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. In order to do that, it would be necessary to identify additional living descendants of this same couple, who match Ron and Mom on this same DNA segment. Ideally, those tested would descend from Izydor and Katarzyna through other children besides Marianna and Jan Wilczek, such as the Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska mentioned in the death record in Figure 4. But present documentary evidence is sufficient to establish this relationship as a preliminary hypothesis for further testing, if one wished to determine beyond the shadow of a doubt that this particular DNA segment was inherited from either Izydor Wilczek or Katarzyna Chlupińska.

Personally, I’m satisfied with this progress. This DNA match spurred me to new discoveries about the interrelatedness of the Polish immigrant community in North Tonawanda; it pointed to a new migration pathway to ponder, which brought migrants from Sochaczew County to Żyrardów County; and it opened paths to further research into the descendants of my 5x-great-grandparents, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. This should keep me busy for quite a while. I’m deeply grateful for the kindness and generosity of two individuals: my friend Justyna Cwynar, who made time during her trip to Poland to stop by Młodzieszyn for me, and Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński. who permitted access to these priceless vital records. Without them, these discoveries would not have been possible.

And now, back to those Walshes!

Sources:

1 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019).

2 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie,” Ksiega zgonów 1889-1901, 1900, no. 55, death record for Andrzej Wilczek, died 16 August 1900, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019). Translation: “No. 55, Budy Stare. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the fourth/seventeenth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred at eleven o’clock in the morning. They appeared, Franciszek Orliński, farmer, [having] fifty-five years, and Mateusz Orliński, farmer, [having] sixty-three years from birth, residents of the village of Budy Stare, and stated that, on the third/sixteenth day of August of the current year, at eleven o’clock in the morning, in the village of Budy Stare, Andrzej Wilczek died; a farmer, having seventy-two years of age, born in the village of Budy Stare, son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka, residing in the village of Budy Stare. After eye witness confirmation of the death of Andrzej Wilczek, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed by Us only. [signed] Fr. J. Ojrzanowski.”

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1828, marriages, no. 1, Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828, Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Puzzling Through a DNA Match

Although I’m mostly working on my Walsh research these days, there’s some Polish research that’s in the back of my mind that I thought I’d write about today. This research relates to an exciting DNA match I found recently on my Mom’s side. Although I still don’t know exactly how we’re related, I’m sure we’re on the right track.

Like many of you, I regularly check my list of new “close” matches (4th cousins or better) at the sites where I have done DNA testing with various family members. Since I’m fortunate enough to have test data for both my parents, I prefer to check their match lists rather than my own since their matches yield better information about earlier generations of the family. During one of the checks on Mom’s matches, I noticed a 4th-cousin-level match to Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name in my blog. Ron had a tree linked to his DNA data, and I was immediately intrigued by the fact that his grandfather was reported to be a Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda, New York, named Stanisław Wilczek. Both the surname and the location were significant to me, because my mom’s grandfather was another Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda named Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s great-grandmother was Marianna Wilczek.

The Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn Parish

Marianna was born circa 1810, and she married Antoni Kalota in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1830. The record of their marriage was kindly obtained for me through onsite research at the parish by my friend Justyna Cwynar, and is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830.1Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek 1830 crop

The record is written in Polish, and in translation it states,

“No. 2. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the thirty-first day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred thirty at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Chaba, land-owning farmer of Młodzieszyn, having forty-eight years of age, and Antoni Wilczek, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, having twenty-seven years of age, brother of the aforementioned Marianna Wilczkówna—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Antoni Kalota, bachelor, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, age twenty years, son of Grzegorz and Helena, the spouses Kalota, former residents of Młodzieszyn; born in Młodzieszyn; and Miss Marianna Wilczkówna, age nineteen, daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, the spouses Wilczek, residing as land-owning farmers in Budy Młodzieszynek; born in that same place and living there with her parents. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the tenth, seventeenth, and twenty-fourth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn and likewise by the oral permission of the parents of the bride, present at the marriage act; on the part of the groom, permission was officially declared by the family council before the village mayor of gmina Trojanów on the ninth day of January of the current year. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreements. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses who are unable to write. [signed] Pastor Fr. Fabian Hirschberger.”

Marianna’s name was recorded as Wilczkówna, but this is merely an old-fashioned form indicating an unmarried woman of the Wilczek family. She was noted to be the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not provided in this document.

The second witness on the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek was Antoni Wilczek, who was also identified as her brother, and whose age suggests a birth circa 1803. The record states that Marianna was born and residing with her parents in “Budy Młodzieszynek,” a place which does not appear in the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands). It’s unclear from this record whether the village of Młodzieszynek was intended, or instead the village of Budy Młodzieszyńskie, both of which belonged to the parish in Młodzieszyn. According to the Słownik, Budy Młodzieszyńskie had 44 homes, while Młodzieszynek had 15 homes circa 1827, contemporaneous with the time frame for the marriage of Marianna and Antoni Kalota. 2

The DNA Match

Mom and Ron share a single segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. The matching segment consists of 26.3 cM and 11,008 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), according to the chromosome browser at MyHeritage, where Ron uploaded his raw DNA data from Ancestry. The Shared cM Tool at DNA Painter, which offers statistical probabilities for each relationship that is possible based on a given amount of shared DNA, reports a 55.88% chance that the relationship between Mom and Ron is pretty distant, along the lines of 4th-8th cousins, but encompassing a number of possible relationships within that range (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Most probable relationships predicted by 26.3 cM shared DNA, according to DNA Painter.Shared cM Screenshot for DNA shared between Ron and Mom

26.3 cM is likely to be identical by descent, indicative of shared ancestry, rather than by identical by chance, i.e. a false positive. However, the Wilczek surname is sufficiently common throughout Poland that we cannot assume that this is necessarily how Ron and Mom are related without documentary evidence to prove the relationship (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Approximate geographic distribution of the Wilczek surname throughout Poland, circa 2009, courtesy of Nazwiska Polskie. Numbers in colored circles indicate approximate number of bearers of the surname in that region.Wilczek surname distribution

So what do we know—or what can we discover—about the origins of Ron’s Wilczek ancestors that might help confirm the hypothesis that the connection lies with the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn parish?

The Wilczek Family of North Tonawanda, New York

According to Ron’s tree, his grandfather, Stanisław, was the son of Izydor and Sophia Wilczek, both of whom also immigrated from Russian Poland to North Tonawanda. Izydor is not an especially common Polish given name, and its appearance in both Ron’s family and my own offers further evidence that our connection lies somewhere within the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn. The 1910 census shows the Wilczek family living at 36 Eighth Avenue in North Tonawanda (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Extract from the 1910 census showing Izydor Wilczek and his family in North Tonawanda, New York.3Wilczek fam 1910 census

According to the information in the census, Izydor was born circa 1874 in Russian Poland and had been married for 15 years, suggesting a marriage date circa 1895. He was reported to have immigrated in 1903 but was not a naturalized citizen. His wife, Sophie, arrived three years later in 1906. Although there were only four children living with the family in 1910, the census revealed that Sophie was the mother of 8, so we know there were four additional children that we need to identify in order to get a complete picture of the family.

In addition to the 1910 census, Ron’s tree contained one another piece of information that was especially interesting. His tree stated that his grandfather, Stanisław Wilczek, was born in Żyrardów, Poland, a town which is located some 40 km south of Młodzieszyn (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Locations of Żyrardów and Młodzieszyn within the Mazowieckie province of Poland, courtesy of Google Maps.Map of Zyrardow to Mlodzieszyn

If Ron’s Wilczek ancestors were originally from Żyrardów or nearby villages, that would fly in the face of my hypothesis that we descend from common Wilczek ancestors in Młodzieszyn. Could his information be incorrect? Or did his branch of the Wilczek family move south, and if so, how long ago?

Geneteka to the Rescue, Again!

Fortunately, this was an easy thing to check. Records for Żyrardów are indexed in the popular Polish vital records indexing database, Geneteka, for the time period when Stanisław Wilczek and his siblings were born. A quick search for records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia (the Polish version of the name Sophie) Wilczek demonstrated that Ron’s oral family history was accurate: Stanisław Wilczek was born in Żyrardów (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Geneteka search results for birth records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia Wilczek, searching all locations in Mazowieckie province. Geneteka Search Results for Izydor Wilczek

In addition to Stanisław’s birth record, this search also produced birth records for the two Polish-born siblings mentioned in the 1910 census, Feliksa and Antonina. Furthermore, it identified two of the children born to Zofia Wilczek who were reported to be deceased prior to 1910, Zofia Stanisława and Józef. Their death records can be found by clicking over to the “Deaths” tab in the search results. Best of all, the marriage record for Izydor and Zofia was also indexed and linked to a scan, which is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Marriage record from Żyrardów parish for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895.4Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk marriage 1895

The marriage record is written in Russian, and is translated as follows:

“No. 63. Teklinów and Budy Stare. This happened in the town of Żyrardów on the 12th/24th day of February 1895 at 7:00 in the evening. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Peńsko and Jan Wysocki, both adult laborers residing in Ruda Guzowska—on this day a religious marriage was contracted between Izydor Wilczek, bachelor, reserve solder, farmer, born in Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish, and residing in that place with his parents; son of Andrzej and Anna née Kornacka, the spouses Wilczek, age 30; and Zofia Krawczyk, single, seamstress, born in Kuznocin, Sochaczew parish, and residing in Teklinów, daughter of the unmarried Marianna Krawczyk; age 20. The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local parish church and in the parish of Młodzieszyn on the 10th, 17th, and 24th days of February of this year. No impediments to the marriage were found. The newlyweds stated that they had made no premarital agreements between them. Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Kazimierz Nowosielski, vicar of the local parish. This document was read aloud to the newlyweds, witnesses, and stepfather, who are illiterate, and was signed by Us. [signed] Acting Civil Registrar, Fr. Jan Ka??? [illegible]”

So Izydor was indeed born in a village belonging to Młodzieszyn parish, and he was still living there at the time he married Zofia. This confirms my hunch about Izydor’s origins and suggests that I’m on the right track. It may be that the common ancestor shared between me and Ron was a Wilczek from Młodzieszyn. The record goes on to identify Izydor’s parents as Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka, who were unknown to me, so further research in the records of Młodzieszyn is needed to elucidate the relationship between Izydor Wilczek and my great-great-great-grandmother Marianna (née Wilczek) Kalota. However, the record also presents a plot twist: the bride, Zofia Krawczyk, was a native of the village of Kuznocin in Sochaczew parish! This is potentially relevant because I’ve traced my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors back to villages belonging to Sochaczew parish, so it muddies the waters quite a bit when it comes to determining the common ancestor from whom Mom and Ron inherited that segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. Moreover, it’s problematic that Zofia’s father is unknown, as our connection might lie with him.

Although an answer to this problem is not immediately apparent, it may be that additional research can present the solution. In the meantime, it’s obvious that we’re on the right track. This is a story that will be continued…. stay tuned!

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1830, marriages, no. 2, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830,  Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

2 Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom VI, 536, “Młodzieszyn,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 17 May 2019).

3 “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M5HJ-T4L : 17 May 2019), Izidor Wilczek household, North Tonawanda Ward 3, Niagara, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 126, sheet 20A, family 309, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1049; FHL microfilm 1,375,062.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 17 May 2019). 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

As genealogy researchers, we often stumble upon interesting historical tidbits while researching other things. Since time for research and writing is limited, I do my best not to let my curiosity take me too far down the rabbit hole into further exploration of those individuals or events. Yet sometimes, those individuals stay with me, returning to my thoughts every now and then, so I decided to write about two of them today.

Lament for a Nameless Child

The first item I’d like to share is a death certificate I discovered recently while reviewing the entry for Thomas Coyle on the same page. Number 2827, bordered in red on the image below, is the death certificate for an unnamed child from Nepean township, Carleton County, Ontario.1 Records on this page were erroneously described in the FamilySearch catalog as being from the city of Toronto, some 400 km away.Nameless Child Death Certificate

The death record is for an unnamed baby girl who died on 7 June 1896 having lived for just a few minutes. As was typical for civil death records from Canada in this era, no parents’ names were required on the form, so her identity may be lost to the descendants of any siblings she may have had. Her cause of death was noted to be “difficult parturition,” meaning she died as a result of some trauma from her birth. The informant was her father, who was a resident of City View, which is a neighborhood formerly located in Nepean, which is now located in Ottawa.

As family historians, we often think in terms of preserving the stories of those who have gone before us. Stories like this one, of lives ended before they’d even begun, always make me sad. Perhaps there’s a genealogist out there somewhere who’s researching a family from Nepean, wondering about that gap in the births of the children, noting that there should have been another baby born circa 1896. Or maybe that genealogist has already discovered a Catholic burial record which identifies the parents for this little one, so this civil death record is just one more piece of evidence to document a life cut short. In an era when infant mortality was so much higher than it is today, it’s quite possible that her parents had already lost children prior to the death of this baby girl, yet losses like this aren’t something one ever forgets. I hope that her parents and any siblings found some measure of peace in this life after her death, and as a person of faith, I also hope that the souls of all the family are reunited in the joy of the next life.

A Cinderella Story

The second historical tidbit is this 1891 baptismal record for Cinderella Maria Howe, found in the records of St. Stephen’s parish in Middleport, Niagara County, New York.2 I stumbled across it one day last year when researching my husband’s Lewandowski/Levanduski ancestors (there’s a baptismal record for Joseph Levanduski on the preceding page). Cinderella Baptism

The record is in Latin, and it states that Cinderella Maria Howe was baptized on 15 August 1891, and that she was the daughter of Morgan L. Jones and Elizabeth White. Godparents were Maria Butler and Daniel Hurlihan. All of this is pretty standard, apart from the uncommon given name, but what really intrigued me was the fact that Cinderella was 62 years old at the time of her baptism, having been born on 13 February 1829.

Although people can get baptized into the Roman Catholic faith at any age, infant baptism is common practice. So if one is researching ancestors that one knows or suspects were Catholic, one might expect to find a baptismal record within a year or so after birth, not 62 years later. A researcher investigating the family of Cinderella (née Jones) Howe would have absolutely no reason to go looking for her baptism in these records, in this time period, unless there were an oral family tradition which stated that Cinderella was baptized as a Catholic late in life. Moreover, since these church records from St. Stephen’s are not presently indexed online, this record can only be found by browsing through the digital images, page by page, or by visiting the parish. (More information on finding such unindexed scans at FamilySearch can be found here.)

Quick searches on Ancestry and FamilySearch reveal quite a lot of “low-hanging fruit” in the form of easily-found documents that can further inform us about the life of Cinderella Howe, but this baptismal record was not cited in any of the family trees I reviewed that mention Cinderella. This is perhaps unsurprising in light of the factors already discussed. One wonders what the factors were that inspired her to convert to Catholicism at the age of 62. As a widow who had buried her husband a few years previously, was she merely pondering her own mortality, and felt drawn to the Catholic faith? Were there other family members who converted as well? Perhaps these questions will one day be answered by one of her descendants. In the meantime, I need to climb back out of the rabbit hole and get back to my own genealogy projects. Those dead ancestors aren’t going to research themselves.

Sources:

1 “Ontario Deaths, 1869–1937, and Overseas Deaths, 1939–1947,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 4 May 2019), no. 002827, register entry for Not named, died 7 June 1896 in Nepean, Carleton, Ontario, Canada, accessed as browsable images, path: Deaths > 1896 > no 1001-6523 > image 579 of 1466.

2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Stephen’s parish (Middleport, Niagara, New York, USA), “Church records, 1878-1917,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 4 May 2019), Baptisms, 1891, p. 35, unnumbered entries, Cinderella Maria Howe, baptized 15 August 1891, accessed as browsable images, image 23 of 154.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

The Walshes of St. Catharines: Digging Deeper with Cluster Research

Every spring year my thoughts turn to my Walsh ancestors, from whom I inherit my very tiny bit of Irish ancestry. Finding the place of origin of the family in Ireland so that I can attempt to research them in records there has been an elusive goal for me and I often think how much easier it is to research my Polish ancestors, despite the language barrier, rather than this brick-wall Irish-Canadian lot. However, I’ve been able to gain some insights through cluster research, focusing especially on two individuals, Thomas Walsh and B. Maria Walsh, who were reported to be living with the family of my great-great-great-grandparents in the 1861 census. Through insights gained from research into Thomas and B. Maria, I may be inching closer to answering my research questions, “Where in Ireland was (my) Robert Walsh born, and who were his parents?”

Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh, who have also been recorded with the variant surnames Welch and Welsh, were my 3x-great-grandparents. I’ve written about them a few times, including, most recently, here. To quickly recap, Robert was born in Ireland circa 1808-1816 and was an immigrant to St. Catharines, Ontario. He married Elizabeth Hodgkinson circa 1840, but due to the loss of early church records for the parish in which they probably married, as well as census records for St. Catharines for both the 1842 and 1851 censuses of Canada West, the first glimpse we get of the Walsh family comes from the 1861 census. The 1861 census of Canada is one of those censuses which does not specify the relationships of each individual in the household to the head of the household. The entry for the family of Robert Walsh in St. Catharines, Ontario is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Robert and Elizabeth Walsh family of St. Catharines, Ontario, in the 1861 Census of Canada.1Robert Walsh Family 1861 census

These data tell us that Robert Walsh was a married Roman Catholic tailor, born in Ireland circa 1816. His wife, recorded here only as Mrs. Robert Walsh, was also noted to have been born in Ireland and Roman Catholic. However, the bulk of the evidence pertaining to her indicates that Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh was actually an Anglican native of Upper Canada. Her age here, 40, suggests a birth circa 1821. So far, so good.

Thomas Walsh or Welsh, merchant tailor of St. Catharines

The following entries are where it starts to get interesting. The next two individuals who were mentioned in this family group are “Thos.” (Thomas) Walsh and “B. Maria” Walsh. Thomas was reported to be 30 years of age and B. Maria was reported to be 20 years of age, suggesting birth years circa 1831 and 1841, respectively. Both were single. It’s pretty clear that this Thomas cannot be the son of Robert and Elizabeth, since they would have been just 15 and 10 years of age when he was born. Moreover, their youngest son was also named Thomas, and it’s unusual (though perhaps not unheard of) to have two children in the family with the same name while both are living. The elder Thomas was noted to be a member of the family, rather than an unrelated resident in the household, but his exact relationship to Robert Walsh is unclear. Was he a younger brother? Nephew? Or perhaps cousin?

The fact that he was some close relative of the family is indisputable. Not only was Thomas living with the family in 1861, he was also living in the same house with them at 34 Lake Street in St. Catharines as of 1878 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Partial listings for Welch in Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879.2

Welch in St. Catharines City Directory 1879 crop

By 1878, Robert Walsh Sr. was probably retired from his previous occupation as a tailor, since no occupation was given. However, Thomas was noted to be a merchant tailor, so perhaps he inherited the family business from Robert. Robert’s son, James George Walsh, had apparently branched off into the sewing machine business, while Robert Jr. was noted to be a partner in Rogers and Welch, a local livery service.

Thomas’s close relationship to Robert Walsh’s family is underscored by the proximity of their graves in St. Catharines’ Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Figure 3 shows the location of the graves of Thomas Welsh (sic) and his wife and son, relative to the graves of Robert Walsh Jr. (buried under the spelling “Welch”), his wife Caroline, and their daughter, Frances Maria.

Figure 3: Location of Walsh family graves in Victoria Lawn Cemetery, section H. A = grave marker for Robert and Caroline Welch (sic). B = ground-level grave marker for Francis (sic) Marie Welch, daughter of Robert and Caroline.  C = grave marker for Thomas Welsh (sic), his wife Mary Ann Cronin, and their son, Robert Francis Welsh. Photo taken circa August 2006 by Carol Roberts Fischer, used with permission.Location of Welch and Welsh graves in Victoria Lawn

A closer view of Thomas Welsh’s grave marker is shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Grave marker for Thomas and Mary Ann Welsh, Victoria Lawn Cemetery, Section H, Division 19, Lot 2. The marker reads, “In/Memory Of/Thomas Welsh/died/July 17, 1900/Aged 68 Yrs/May his soul rest in peace/Mary A. Cronin/Beloved wife of/Thomas Welsh/October 28, 1907/Aged 65 Yrs/May she rest in peace.” Photo taken circa August 2006 by Carol Roberts Fischer, used with permission.Thomas and Mary Ann Welsh grave marker

The marriage of Thomas Walsh (or Welsh) and Mary Ann Cronin was found in the records of St. Catherine of Alexandria parish. (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Marriage record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 9 May 1861.3

Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin 1861 marked

The ages reported in the record for Thomas and Mary Ann suggest birth years circa 1834 and 1841, respectively. These are reasonably consistent with the years of birth suggested by the grave marker for Thomas (1832) and for Mary Ann (1842). Moreover, there is no evidence from census records to suggest that there was another Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch married to a woman named Mary Ann/Marianne/Mary and living in St. Catharines contemporaneously. The fact that “our” Thomas Walsh was reported to be single in the 1861 census doesn’t contradict the information found here because the census was taken 14 January 1861 and the marriage took place later, on 9 May 1861. Therefore we can be certain that this is the correct marriage record for the couple whose grave is shown in Figures 3 and 4, and that this is the same Thomas who was living with the Robert Walsh family in the 1861 census, despite the minor discrepancies in age and surname spelling.

The marriage record revealed that Thomas was born in Ireland to “Jas.” (James) Walsh and Catherine Cavanah (sic), while Mary Ann was the daughter of Patrick Cronin and Catherine Shea. Witnesses to the marriage were Michael O’Laughlan and Maria Walsh, both of St. Catharines. Might “Maria Walsh” be the same as our “B. Maria” from the 1861 census? What evidence can we find for B. Maria Walsh, and what is her relationship to the family of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh?

B. Maria Walsh of St. Catharines, Upper Canada

If the relationship between Thomas Walsh and Robert Walsh is unclear, then the relationship between B. Maria Walsh and Robert Walsh is even more murky. Her age in the 1861 census (Figure 1) makes it reasonable to believe that she was the oldest child of Robert and Elizabeth, since they would have been about 25 and 20 years of age, respectively, when she was born circa 1841. Moreover, she’s only about 3 years older than the next person listed, who was Robert and Elizabeth’s son, James, which is a reasonable spacing between siblings. For many years, I and others researching this family have believed she probably was the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. The problem is the lack of evidence that she was their child. All the other members of the household—James George, Henry, Mary Ann, Robert, Elizabeth, Ellen, Thomas John, and Peter Joseph—are documented children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. For each of these children there is abundant direct and indirect evidence which establishes their relationship to Robert and Elizabeth, but this is not the case for B. Maria.

Additional evidence for B. Maria Walsh which might elucidate her relationship to Robert Walsh was initially scarce. No civil marriage record was found for her, but this is perhaps unsurprising since civil vital registration began in Ontario in 1869, and a woman born in 1841 may well have been married by that point. Although newspaper research can often provide evidence for a woman’s married name, there were no promising matches for “B. Maria,” “Maria,” or “B.” Walsh/Welsh/Welch in the local names index compiled by the St. Catharines Public Library, based on local newspaper notices of births, marriages, deaths, adoptions, anniversaries, etc. Similarly, she was not found in a search of Ontario death records. However, analysis of baptismal records for the children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh offered a glimmer of insight. I’ve written previously about my obsession with tracking godparents as a particular subset within our ancestors’ FAN clubs (Friends, Associates and Neighbors) since they were often family members, so I took a look at the godparents that Robert and Elizabeth Walsh selected for their children. Surviving baptismal records from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish begin in 1852, so the only records that exist for this family pertain to the youngest four children, and the data are summarized in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Known godparents for children of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh.Godparents of Children of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh

While all of these individuals are worthy of further exploration, a few names from the group stand out immediately. Michael O’Laughlin, godfather to Peter Joseph Walsh, is likely to be the same Michael O’Laughlan who was a witness to the marriage of Thomas Walsh and Mary Ann Cronin. Thomas Walsh, godfather to Thomas John Walsh, is almost certainly the same Thomas Walsh whose history we’ve been exploring thus far. Since he did not marry Mary Ann Cronin until May of 1861, the Maryann Walsh who was godmother to Peter Joseph Walsh cannot be Thomas’s wife. However, it’s possible that this godmother was actually Peter Joseph’s older sister, Maryann Walsh, who would have been about 12 years old at the time of his birth. Most significantly, Thomas John’s godmother was noted to be Bridget Walsh. Could Bridget Walsh be the B. Maria Walsh of the 1861 census?

Before we can answer this question, we must determine whether there was another Bridget Walsh who was living in or near St. Catharines at the time of Thomas John’s baptism in 1859, and who would have been old enough to be his godmother. The 1861 census may be informative here, since it was taken just two years after the baptism. Therefore, searches of the Lincoln district (which includes St. Catharines) of Upper Canada in the 1861 census for B* Wal* and B* Wel* were performed. These search parameters should produce results for anyone with a given name starting with B, with surnames starting with Wal- or Wel-, so that all the usual variants of Walsh (Welch, Welsh) as well as any less-common versions (Walch, etc.) would be returned in the results. The only relevant result was the B. Maria Walsh living with Robert Walsh’s family, which supports our hypothesis—albeit weakly—that B. Maria Walsh was Bridget Maria Walsh. However, we can’t rule out the possibility that the godmother was a different Bridget Walsh who was married, died, or moved away in the time between the baptism on 13 March 1859 and the census on 14 January 1861. At this point we lack sufficient evidence to claim that Bridget Walsh, godmother, was necessarily the same as B. Maria Walsh, member of the Robert Walsh household.

Although civil marriage records do not exist which might inform us about B. Maria’s parentage, church records from the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria may be helpful. Accordingly, marriage records from 1852-1910 were examined for any bride named Bridget, Maria, or Mary Walsh/Welch/Welsh. A total of five marriage records were discovered and results are summarized in Figure 7. A larger version of the table can be viewed here.

Figure 7:  Brides married in St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, St. Catharines, Ontario, between 1852-1910 with given name Bridget, Maria or Mary and surname Walsh/Welsh/Welch.Walsh Bride Data

Although her age was not provided in her marriage record, the Mary Walsh who married in 1856 is not likely to be our B. Maria, because B. Maria (born circa 1841) was only 15 years old in 1856.  Similarly, all three of the Bridgets were too young to fit the description of our B. Maria. However, the Maria Walsh, born 1839, is a good fit in terms of age—and guess who her parents were? None other than James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh, which means she was a full sister to Thomas Walsh!

Maria’s marriage record, shown in Figure 8, confirms that she was born in Ireland. Her husband, Patrick McNamara, was a resident of Thorold, born in Ireland circa 1838 to Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan. The only witness to the marriage was C. Hanigan (?), but there is a notation, “Dispensat from 2 calls” which suggests that the marriage may have taken place under somewhat hurried circumstances, since three calls (announcements of the banns) were customary prior to the marriage.

Figure 8: Marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Catharines, Ontario, 8 August 1867.13Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh 1867 cropped marked

Now a clearer picture begins to emerge, and it appears that the given name used by Bridget Maria Walsh was dependent on the timeline. In 1859, siblings Bridget Walsh and Thomas Walsh served as godparents to Thomas John Walsh, son of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh. In January 1861, Thomas and B. Maria were living with Robert and Elizabeth, and in May of that year, Maria Walsh witnessed the marriage of her brother, Thomas.  In 1867, it was still Maria Walsh who married Patrick McNamara. The timeline suggests that while she may have used her first name, Bridget, early on—soon after her arrival in Canada, perhaps?—she eventually abandoned it in favor of her middle name, Maria. This propensity for reversing first and middle names seems to have been a Walsh family trait, since a similar phenomenon was noted with Robert and Elizabeth’s son, James George Walsh, who was noted as “James G.” in sources such as the 1869 baptismal record for his sons, Henry Thomas and Robert James, but was known as George James by the time of his death in 1924.15

So now we understand the relationship between Thomas Walsh and Bridget Maria (née Walsh) McNamara, but their precise relationship to Robert Walsh, husband of Elizabeth Hodgkinson, remains unclear. My original thought was that Robert, Thomas, and Maria  might be full siblings. However, the disparity in ages between Robert and Maria is problematic. Existing data for Robert suggest that he was born circa 1808-1816, while data for Maria suggest that she was born circa 1834-1841. Assuming Robert was the oldest child in the family and that he was born in 1808, and assuming that Maria was the youngest child, born in 1841, then their mother must have borne children over a period of 33 years, which is beyond the biological limits for childbearing. However, if Robert and Maria were born in 1816 and 1834, respectively, then it becomes more conceivable that the three of them might be full siblings. Moreover, onomastic evidence supports the hypothesis that Robert is Thomas and Maria’s brother. Irish naming traditions dictate that the eldest son in a family should be named after his paternal grandfather, and since Robert and Elizabeth Walsh’s oldest son was named James George, we would expect that Robert’s father was named James, assuming the family followed this tradition. It’s also entirely possible that Robert was a half-brother to Thomas and Maria, if Robert’s mother died and his father James then remarried Catherine Cavanagh.

Even if we assume that there is a more distant relationship between Robert Walsh and siblings Thomas and Maria Walsh—for example, they were Robert’s nephew and niece, or his first cousins—knowing their parents’ names could potentially give us enough information to seek records in Ireland, if only we knew where in Ireland to find them. That’s another topic for another day, but for now, we’ve made some good progress. By examining the crucial evidence in church records from St. Catherine of Alexandria parish, we’ve been able to determine that B. Maria Walsh, who was living with the family of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh in 1861, was not their daughter, as is generally assumed. Rather, she is most likely Bridget Maria Walsh, the same individual as the Maria Walsh who married Patrick McNamara in 1867, and the Bridget Walsh who was godmother to Robert and Elizabeth’s son, Thomas John Walsh. Moreover, she was evidently a full sister to the elder Thomas Walsh, a merchant tailor who was also living with Robert Walsh’s family in 1861. Finally, we’ve been able to develop a new hypothesis for further testing, that Robert Walsh was the son of James Walsh, husband of Catherine Cavanagh, possibly by a first wife, if not by Catherine herself. All in all, that feels like a good day’s work.

Sources:

1 “Census of 1861,” St. Catharines, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), household of Robert Walsh, born 1816, accessed as digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 22 April 2019), image no. 4391560_00231.

2 William W. Evans, Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 (Brantford, Ontario, Canada: William W. Evans, 1878), entries for Welch, Henry; Welch, J.G.; Welch, Robert; Welch, Robert Jr.; and Welch, Thos. J, pages 150-151, accessed as browsable images, “Canadian Directories Collection,” Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 22 April 2019), path: Southwestern Ontario Counties > Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 > e010780629_p3.pdf, page 23 of 28.

3 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1861, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin, 9 May 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1854, #88, baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 28 of 104.

Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1857, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” 2 August 1857, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria, > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104.

6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1859, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, baptismal record for John Walsh, 13 March 1859, , accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 88 of 104.

7 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” Baptisms 1860-1906, 1861, p. 2, baptismal record for Peter Joseph Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906, image 4 of 177.

8 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1856, record for Francis DeYoung and Mary Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 63 of 104.

9 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1867, record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh, 6 August 1867, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 18 of 48.

10 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1876, record for Thomas Wilkins and Bridget Walsh, 7 February 1876, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 23 of 48.

11 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1876, record for Felix Roony and Bridget Walsh, 9 October 1876, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 23 of 48.

12 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, 1877, record for William Smith and Bridget Walsh, 19 September 1877, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 25 of 48.

13 Ibid, marriage record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh.

14 Fiona Fitzsimons, “Traditional Irish naming patterns,” Find My Past blog, post on 29 November 2018 (https://blog.findmypast.com : 23 April 2019).

15 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1869, unnumbered entries in chronological order, sequential baptismal records for Henry Thos. Walsh and Robert James Walsh, baptized 30 December 1869, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906, image 59 of 177. Baptismal records note that Henry Thomas and Robert James were the sons of James G. Walsh and Jane Lawder. Also,

Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), marker for George James Welch and Jane Lauder Welch. “George James/WELCH/Born/ Nov. 9 1844/Died/June 18, 1924/His Wife/Jane Lauder/Born/May 15, 1844/Died/April 16, 1927”.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

 

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

As a former Air National Guard fighter pilot, my Dad has always viewed life from a distinctly military perspective, which extended to our family life long after he separated from the military. As a family, we formulated our “POA” (Plan of Attack), and when it was Dad’s turn to cook supper we’d often have “S.O.S” (“s**t on a shingle,” otherwise known as creamed chipped beef on toast).  We learned not to have our “heads up and locked”—that is, to be disengaged or inattentive, a reference to a potentially catastrophic situation in which an aircraft’s landing gear fails to descend when needed. Most importantly, we were taught to remember the 5 P’s: Prior planning prevents poor performance. Life may be full of surprises, but fortune favors those who anticipate and plan for disaster.

I was reminded of this recently while interviewing Dad as part of my ongoing project to record some of his stories for the family history. I asked him to recount the scariest incident that he experienced while flying. Surprisingly, it was not the time when he had to eject from his burning aircraft over the South China Sea. No, it happened during the summer of 1969 after his return home from Vietnam, while on a routine training mission at Niagara Falls Air National Guard base. By that point in his career, Dad was an experienced pilot, having logged close to 1,000 flight hours in the F-100C Super Sabre jet fighter aircraft. However, continued training was essential for maintaining proficiency. On the day of this incident, Dad was supposed to fly as wingman to Norm Culbertson. The flight protocol involved a 15-second spacing between the take-offs of their aircraft. Norm’s takeoff proceeded normally, but the same was not true for Dad. Almost immediately after take-off and just as soon as the wheels were up, Dad’s aircraft suffered a complete electrical failure. At first, Dad thought it was just the radio, but he quickly realized that the problem extended to all of his electrical systems. By that point, he was about 500 feet off the ground, and trying to power up to 400 knots to rejoin Norm and get in position on his wing. Dad knew he needed to land immediately, and he needed help from Norm to do that.

As Dad pulled up on Norm’s wing, he had to communicate the problem with his aircraft to Norm, without a radio. The Air Force employed “HEFOE” hand signals for just such emergencies as this, to indicate that a pilot was having trouble with his hydraulics, engine, fuel, oxygen, or electrical systems in addition to his radio. Dad caught Norm’s attention visually and gave the signal for electrical failure, and both pilots proceeded to implement the protocol to achieve a safe landing under these circumstances. Since the problem occurred immediately after take-off, with full fuel tanks, Dad’s plane was too heavy to land. The added weight of the fuel increases the stall speed of the aircraft, which in turn increases the minimum landing speed and stopping distance for the aircraft, necessitating a longer runway than what was available. The practical solution to this was to lighten the aircraft by jettisoning both 335-gallon fuel tanks, so Norm led Dad out into a wide, 5-mile circle over Lake Ontario before heading back to the base. Lacking an electrical system, Dad had to jettison the tanks using a manual release, but he was able to accomplish this successfully.

Dad remarked that prior to this incident, he never appreciated just how much a pilot depends on his electrical systems when flying. With the electrical gone, Dad lacked a number of key flight instruments, leaving him with only the throttle for altering power to the engine, the control stick for changing the direction of the plane, and the pitot-static indicators (airspeed indicator, vertical velocity indicator, altimeter, and machmeter). Just prior to the electrical failure, Dad had the airplane trimmed for a speed of 400 knots – that is, optimized in such a way that the center control stick was very sensitive to a light touch, and fine adjustments in attitude could be made with just the fingertips. With the electrical systems gone, Dad needed to use all his strength to steer the aircraft, holding the stick with both hands. Moreover, the summer day was hazy, with visibility restricted to about a mile. Flying in the haze means that a pilot lacks any visual reference to his position in the sky, so it’s impossible for him to know if he is inverted or not.

Inversion—flying upside down—can be a serious problem for pilots. Dad recalled an incident with the pilot who was ranked first in his class at Combat Crew Training School at Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, and who was later stationed in Tuy Hoa with Dad. One day, this pilot tried to make a TACAN GCA (Tactical Air Navigation Ground-Controlled Approach) in bad weather. He had his gear down and was getting ready to land, but instead he crashed into the ocean and perished. Crash investigators later surmised that he must have gotten vertigo in the clouds and was inverted as he attempted to land.

The memory of this incident was on Dad’s mind as he flew in the haze with no instruments. Dad reasoned that if he just stayed on Norm’s wing in fingertip formation, matching Norm’s plane’s attitude and rate of turn visually and copying everything he did, he’d be all right. They completed their circle over the lake, and Norm led him back to the airfield. Once they were within a couple miles of the runway, Norm broke off, leaving Dad to land on his own. However, Dad knew that a successful landing under these circumstances would be very difficult.

The lack of an attitude indicator was a problem for landing in addition to flying, since pilots depend on these even for normal landings in good weather. Moreover, fighter jets typically require faster landing speeds than other aircraft. A typical landing speed in the F-100C (which lacked the trailing-edge wing flaps featured on later models to help reduce the required landing speed) is 185 knots, with additional speed required as the weight of the plane increased. If a pilot had to land immediately after takeoff, the lowest possible approach speed was 205 knots. To accommodate these high-speed landings, the F-100C had some special systems built in, which included a speed brake, anti-skid system, and tailhook. Unfortunately, all of these features were dependent on the plane’s electrical system. Not only was Dad going to land “hot,” but if he tried to brake prematurely, he’d blow out the tires. He still had his drag chute which could be deployed manually to slow the plane, but it could not be deployed until the plane’s speed was less than 185 knots since it was designed to tear away at higher speeds.

As Dad came in for the landing, he needed to use an alternate release mechanism for the landing gear, since normally that, too, was controlled electrically. The gear doors were designed so that the aerodynamic loads on them pull the gear down in the absence of hydraulics. However, Dad had to hope that this system was operating normally, because the confirmation lights indicating the gear was down were electrical, so he had no way of knowing if the landing gear were actually in place. To his relief, Dad’s aircraft touched down on the tarmac, but stopping it was still another matter. More than half the runway had disappeared behind him by the time he was able to deploy the drag chute at 185 knots. He ran out of runway and had gone onto the overrun before his aircraft finally came to a halt. Dad was drenched with sweat by that point, but he was alive.

Exiting the aircraft offered a welcome bit of comic relief after such a stressful landing. Normally after landing, the pilot taxis the airplane back to the parking space near the hanger and then the flight crew hangs a ladder on the aircraft’s canopy rail so that the pilot can exit the plane. Since Dad’s plane was in the overrun, there was no ladder available for him to get out of the plane. Some members of the flight crew had arrived to assist him, however, and they offered Dad the option of exiting the aircraft by climbing onto the shoulders of a particularly tall crew member nicknamed “Stretch” Johnson, rather than waiting for the ladder to arrive. Unfortunately, as Dad climbed out of the cockpit onto Stretch’s shoulders, the D-ring on the parachute on Dad’s back snagged the rail of the canopy and deployed the parachute, covering both men in a mass of silk as Dad stumbled to the ground.

When I was growing up, my Dad always seemed invincible. Unflappable under pressure, he could be counted on to be stay calm and keep his sense of humor in any crisis. I often think that experiences like this one are what shaped that quality in him. At so many points in the story, things might have ended differently had he made one false move, but his training, preparation and carefully memorized protocols carried him through. That, and maybe his guardian angel. After all, Dad also used to tell us, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

Comparison of Ancestry’s Ethnicity Estimates for Three Generations of My Family

This past Christmas, my four young adult children gave me a really great gift in the form of DNA test kits and spit samples. Although it violates the “oldest first” rule about the order in which we should test family members, I was nonetheless pretty excited to have the kids test. Since a group of three siblings is necessary in order to attempt visual phasing, their data will give me an opportunity to practice that, and since I’ve already tested all four of their grandparents, I’ll also have the “answer key” available.

Additionally, since I have this unique data set at my disposal—all four grandparents, both parents, and four children—I thought it might be fun to create a table comparing all our ethnicity estimates from AncestryDNA to see what insights such analysis might offer about DNA inheritance and also about the limitations inherent to these estimates. This chart is shown in Figure 1, and a larger version can be viewed here.

Figure 1: Comparison of AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates among four siblings, their parents, and grandparents.

Family Ethnicity Estimates Chart for blog post

Before we dive into the data, let’s discuss the ethnicities in my family based on pedigree. The ancestors of my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa” in the chart) were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Prussian partitions as far back as I’ve been able to discover. (A brief discussion of the partitions of Poland and related border changes is found here.) My mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) ancestors were also ethnic Poles, from the Prussian partition. My mother’s (“Maternal Grandma’s”) family were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Austrian partitions. My father’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) ancestry is more mixed. His mother’s family was entirely German, and his father’s family was half German/Alsatian, half English/Irish/Scottish. Since three of the four tested grandparents have all-Polish pedigrees, let’s look at their data first, before moving onto my Dad’s data.

It may be helpful to start by noting that there’s no such thing as “Polish DNA.” Poles are part of the broader ethno-linguistic group known as Slavs, although Ancestry chooses to use the term “Eastern Europe and Russia” which they define as being “primarily located in Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia.” 1 However, examination of the territories that were originally inhabited by the Slavs, shown in Figure 2, suggests that this area corresponds pretty well to the geographic region referenced in Ancestry’s definition of “Eastern Europe and Russia.”

Figure 2: Spread of Slavic tribes from the 7th to 9th centuries AD in Europe by Jirkha.h23, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.2Slavic_tribes_in_the_7th_to_9th_century

The ethnicity estimates from my mother (“Maternal Grandma”), my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law are pretty typical for individuals with all-Polish pedigrees. All three of them were reported to be as much as 95-100% Slavic, with significant contributions from ancestors whose ancient origins were in the Baltic tribes.  Although part of the region inhabited by the Balts is located in Poland today, they were a separate group from the Slavs, as indicated by the map in Figure 2. Each of these testers also shows traces of other ethnic groups (Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Germanic, and European Jewish) that make sense in light of Poland’s history and geography.

Notice that when AncestryDNA presents these ethnicity estimates, they indicate their best guess for the percentage of each ethnic group identified, and also the predicted range for this estimate. For example, about 3% of my husband’s (“Dad’s”) DNA was reported to originate in Germanic Europe, but the range was reported to be anywhere from 0-18%, which means he could have no Germanic DNA, or he could have up to almost 1/5 of his genetic ancestry from this region, but their best guess is about 3%. You’ll notice that some of these ranges are tighter than others, so that same 3%, when it refers to the Norwegian component of my oldest son’s  (“Child 1’s”) ancestry, falls in a narrower range from 0-7%. The ranges help us to understand how confident we can be in the contribution of a particular ethnic group to our genetic makeup. Moreover, we should remember that there may be more than one explanation for  the amount of ethnicity we inherit from one particular ethnic group. My husband’s 3% Germanic component may indicate that he had a single German great-great-great-grandparent, since on average, we inherit about 3.125% of our DNA from each of our 32, 3x-great-grandparents. Alternatively, that 3% could be the combined contribution from multiple, more distant ancestors, and I believe that the broader range suggests that this possibility is more likely.

In some cases, AncestryDNA predicts one or more additional, specific regions from which a tester’s family was likely to have originated.  These regions are based on Ancestry’s identification of Genetic Communities,™ a process which incorporates data from the family trees posted by testers and their DNA matches, in addition to the data gained from analyzing the DNA itself. The science behind the Genetic Communities™ is explained in detail here. In the case of my family, all of us with documented Polish roots (i.e. everyone but my Dad) were accurately assigned to the Genetic Community for those with roots in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Lithuania. Moreover, all of us with these Polish roots were assigned to the “Pomerania” region, while my father-in-law and oldest son were additionally assigned to the “Mazovia and Łódź” region.

I found it interesting that my father-in-law and oldest son were the only ones identified as having ancestry in Mazovia and Łódź, for two reasons. First, my mother (and therefore all my children and I) also have documented ancestry from this region, so our pedigrees would predict that all of these tested family members would be noted to have “Mazovia and Łódź” ancestry except for my mother-in-law, whose ancestors were from Prussian Poland, and my non-Polish Dad. The fact that so many of us were not assigned to this category suggests that Ancestry’s algorithm may depend more on on the presence of a particular marker or markers in one’s DNA, rather than on family tree data. However, if that’s the case, then it’s a bit of a red flag that only my father-in-law and oldest son would be assigned to the “Mazovia and Łódź” category, and not my husband. This is the second reason why I found this result interesting:  DNA cannot “skip generations.” If my son carries a particular set of markers for Mazovian ancestry, shared by his paternal grandfather, then my husband must carry those markers as well, despite the fact that the test did not identify them.

One should also pay close attention to Ancestry’s definitions of these geographic areas, as they might differ from the usual historical definitions. For example, Ancestry identifies everyone in my family group except for my dad as having roots in Pomerania. Historically, “Pomerania” refers to a region presently divided between Germany and Poland, along the shore of the Baltic Sea, shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Approximate border of historic Pomerania region, shown in yellow, by Kelisi, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.3Pomeraniamap

Although the borders of historical regions like this can sometimes be somewhat subjective, the map suggests that at its southernmost point, the Pomerania region extends to about the 53rd parallel, approximately the same latitude as the city of Bydgoszcz. After the final partition of Poland in 1795 and throughout the 19th century, this area was under Prussian control, and my mother has no known Polish ancestry from the Prussian partition. So although it made sense to me that Ancestry identified my mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband, and children as having Pomeranian roots, I was at first puzzled about how my mother and I managed to achieve this designation. While this may reflect an ancient migration of our ancestors from Pomerania to Mazovia that predates the oldest vital records I’ve been able to find, it’s perhaps more likely that the issue lies in Ancestry’s definition of “Pomerania,” shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Pomerania geographic region as defined by AncestryDNA.Ancestry DNA Pomerania

At first glance, the highlighted region seems to extend much further south and east than the historic Pomerania region shown in Figure 3. We can confirm this suspicion if we zoom in closer on Ancestry’s map (Figure 5).

Figure 5:  Detail of Ancestry’s Pomerania geographic region, showing location of Bydgoszcz underlined in red and Konin underlined in blue.Ancestry DNA Pomerania zoom.png

Ancestry’s version of “Pomerania” encompasses Słupca County, which lies between Poznań and Konin. Słupca County was the ancestral homeland of my mother’s Grzesiak and Krawczyński ancestors. So by that definition, it makes sense that my mother and I would have “Pomeranian” roots despite the fact that we have no known ancestors from the historical Pomerania region going back to the early 1700s.

So what other insights can we gain by looking at the data for the four grandparents? In addition to the Slavic (“Eastern European”) and Baltic components that are typical features of DNA from ethnic Poles and which were discussed previously, my mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) DNA includes possible small contributions from Germanic Europe, Norway, and Sweden. Given the fact that her ancestors were all Poles from the Prussian partition, these ethnicities make sense. We might expect to see some intermingling of German DNA in a region that was under Prussian control. Moreover, the Scandinavian contributions are perhaps more evident in Poles from the Prussian partition than they would be in Poles from the Russian or Austrian partitions because a tiny bit of Pomerania (“Swedish Pomerania“) was under more or less stable control of Sweden from 1630 until 1815.3 In contrast, the Swedish genetic influence in other parts of Poland, which might have resulted from the Swedish Deluge in the mid-1600s, may have been more transient and diluted over time.

Moving on now to my dad’s data, Dad was reported to be 55% Germanic, within a surprisingly tight range of 55-56%, which was a tad less than I might have expected, based on his pedigree. However, Dad’s other major ancestry component, 38-40%, was from “England, Wales and Northwestern Europe,” a region which includes almost all of modern-day Germany by Ancestry’s broadest definition, the outermost circle shown in Figure 6. The balance of Dad’s ethnicity was from Ireland & Scotland (0-5%), and since the whole “United Kingdom” component of his ethnicity based on pedigree should be about 25%, I’d think Ancestry’s estimate is pretty accurate overall.

Figure 6: England, Wales and Northwestern Europe region as defined by AncestryDNA.England Wales and Northwestern Europe

Given that Dad’s DNA reflects such a high percentage of ancestry from the “England, Wales and Northwestern Europe” region, I found it somewhat surprising that I did not inherit any of it, and therefore I could not pass it down to my kids. Those genes are entirely lost in my branch of the family. I seem to have inherited virtually all of his Irish & Scottish genes, however, and I managed to pass down about half of these to three of my children. (My oldest son lost out there.) Similarly, I inherited whatever traces of Jewish ancestry may exist in Mom’s DNA, but I did not pass them down to any of my children.

Finally, it’s interesting—if a bit suspicious—that Ancestry did not detect any trace of Norwegian or Swedish DNA in my husband, passed down from his mother, yet two of our children exhibited traces of Swedish DNA (up to 4%) and three exhibited traces of Norwegian DNA (up to 9%). As mentioned earlier, DNA can’t “skip a generation;” it’s not possible for our children to exhibit traits or carry genetic markers which they did not inherit from one parent or the other. To me, this speaks to the imprecision of the test—these are ethnicity estimates, after all. So perhaps my husband does, in fact, carry whatever markers they’re using to assess “Swedish” and “Norwegian” DNA, but for some reason they were missed when Ancestry’s algorithm calculated his ethnicity estimate. Since all four children were independently found to have some trace of Scandinavian DNA, this seems more likely than the alternative hypothesis, which is that the entire Scandinavian contribution is a false positive, although that is certainly possible.

Ancestry DNA continues to refine their ethnicity estimates as the number of testers in their reference panels grows, and as more geographic regions are included, so perhaps in the future these estimates will become more precise and some of these issues with consistency between individuals in the same family will disappear. However, even despite those issues, these ethnicity estimates match reasonably well with expectations based on documented pedigrees for the tested members of my family, especially when one interprets the estimates in light of both the specified ranges for each ethnic contribution, as well as Ancestry’s unique definition of each of the geographic areas.

Sources:

1 “Eastern Europe and Russia,” DNA Origins for Julie Szczepankiewicz, AncestryDNA (https://www.ancestry.com/dna/ : 10 March 2019).

2 Spread of Slavic tribes from the 7th to 9th centuries AD in Europe” by Jirkha.h23, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, accessed 10 March 2019.

3 Pomerania map” by Kelisi, is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, accessed 10 March 2019.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Categories DNA

Ancestry’s New ThruLines Utility Needs More Work

Last week, AncestryDNA® unveiled a new utility called ThruLines.™ You can read more about getting and using ThruLines™ from Ancestry’s article, here. Like many of you, I was anxious to play with it and see what, if anything, it did for me. I must say, I’m underwhelmed. Granted, the tool is still in Beta testing, so hopefully improvements will be made to the accuracy of the matching algorithm as time goes by. But as it is now, my concern is that ThruLines™ will only add to the existing confusion and misunderstanding of fledgling genealogists. Let’s walk through this utility to see what it offers and where the problems lie.

This shows my new Ancestry DNA home screen. I can access ThruLines™ on the right, and there’s a link at the bottom to click if I choose to continue using DNA Circles.

ThruLines first screen

The second screen gives me a portal to each of my ancestors to explore.

ThruLines second screen

When I first scrolled down on this screen, before I began to write this article, Ancestry highlighted a Potential Ancestor named Marianna Kozłowska, and informed me that she was my great-great-grandmother. Intrigued, I clicked on this person to examine the evidence for this assertion. On the next screen, Ancestry informed me that Marianna Kozłowska was the mother of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, and that she was mentioned in the family tree of a particular Ancestry member. If we take the information in the family tree at face value, Marianna Kozłowska was the daughter of Antoni Kozłowski and Tekla Stępkowska, born 1863 in Nowy Garwarz, Mazowieckie, Poland, near Glinojeck. (Antoni and Tekla were also reported to be my potential ancestors.) Marianna was married to Stanisław Zieliński, who was born 1863 in Wkra (also near Glinojeck). That fact is apparently the basis on which Ancestry’s algorithm determined that Marianna Kozłowska was my ancestor. I, too, have a great-great-grandfather named Stanisław Zieliński, who was born in 1863 and was married to a woman named Marianna.

The problem is, I have good documentary and DNA evidence that proves that my great-great-grandfather Stanisław Zieliński was born in Mistrzewice, Mazowieckie, Poland, not Wkra, and was married to Marianna Kalota, not Marianna Kozłowska.1 Moreover, my Marianna Kalota was the daughter of Roch Kalota and Agata Kurowska of Budy Stare, Mazowieckie, she was not the daughter of Antoni Kozłowski and Tekla Stępkowska. Marianna Kalota’s parents’ names and grandparents’ names are stated in my online tree, so it’s not as if there’s anything to suggest to Ancestry’s algorithms that I’m uncertain about the identifies of those ancestors. Closer examination of the tree which mentioned “my” ancestor, Marianna Kozłowska Zielińska revealed that the tree owner really has no good evidence for her claims about Marianna Kozłowska’s place of birth. For example, the passenger manifest that was supposed to document Marianna Kozłowska’s emigration to the U.S. was for a woman whose husband’s and children’s names did not match the data in the tree. Furthermore, the Marianna in the manifest was from Eckardtsfelde, Prussia, which is some 230 km west of Glinojeck.

There’s no shame in being confused about the origins of one’s ancestor, and everyone makes mistakes when they’re starting out in genealogy, so I’m not using this example merely to criticize the research of the woman who posted this tree. But I thought that surely there must have been some other basis for Ancestry’s conclusion that Marianna Kozłowska was my ancestor. Since this tree owner was clearly confused about where her Marianna Kozłowska was born, was it possible that she’s nonetheless a distant cousin of mine who simply made a few wrong turns while tracing her tree?

I checked out the profile of the woman who posted the family tree in question. If you’ve never done this before, you can access the profile of any Ancestry member with an online tree by clicking on the username found at the top left corner of the screen showing their tree. That will bring you to the screen shown below.

Ancestry Member Profile page

If that person is a match to you, or if any of the kits that (s)he manages are a match to you, it will be noted here. Additionally, if you manage other DNA results besides your own, you can use the drop-down menu, “Select DNA Test,” circled here in red, to compare this particular Ancestry user with any of the kits you manage.

To my surprise, she was not a DNA match at all. Not only did she not match me, she did not match my mother, the great-granddaughter of Stanisław and Marianna Zieliński. At this point it was pretty clear that the only basis for the assignment of Marianna Kozłowska Zielińska as my ancestor was her marriage to a man with the same name and year of birth as my great-great-grandfather. Never mind that Zieliński is the 8th-most popular surname in Poland, so there were undoubtedly quite a few Polish men named Stanisław Zieliński who were born in 1863. Sigh.

There is a bright side to this story, however. Ancestry requested feedback on my experience with ThruLines,™ via a little popup window, so I gratefully obliged them and expressed my concerns about their algorithm. Ancestry responded with lightning speed, such that when I returned to the site a few hours later to grab some screen shots for this blog post, there was no longer any mention of Marianna Kozłowska or her parents among my Potential Ancestors. Whew! Kudos to Ancestry for taking such prompt action in response to critical feedback. If nothing else, it underscores their desire to do the right thing by their customers.

Let’s examine another Potential Ancestor and see how that one shapes up. To quickly find these, I sorted my results according to this “Potential Ancestors” option using the drop-down “Filter by” menu at the top left. Once filtered, the results are shown below.

Potential Ancestors

Mary Cebulska intrigued me because there is a Maria Cebulska in my family tree, although she’s on my husband’s side. I also have Cybulskis in my tree since they married into the Zieliński family in Poland. However, examination of the family tree from whence this data came reveals that this is a reference to a fictitious Mary Cebulska who was purportedly married to my great-great-grandfather, Józef Grzesiak. This case was a bit trickier, since there was actual documentary evidence from a U.S. marriage record which stated that Józef’s wife’s name was Mary Cebulski. It turns out to be incorrect, and I wrote about this evidence previously. However, it was at least an honest mistake that any researcher might make if they were to base their case only on U.S. records instead of examining the evidence from Polish records. I won’t fault Ancestry for that one.

Next up, we have Walburga Meinzinger. I was a little surprised to find her in the list of “potential” ancestors because she’s an actual ancestor identified in my family tree on Ancestry. When I click on her name in this list, I arrive at a screen that tells me a little more about the connection.

Thrulines Walburga Meinzinge3r

Ancestry’s proposal of Walburga Meinzinger as my 4x-great-grandmother is based on her appearance in a tree posted by my paternal aunt, with whom I collaborate. Clicking on the “10 DNA Matches” brings me to a screen which may be the best part of the ThruLines™ utility, thanks to the clear graphic depiction of the relationships between me and my DNA matches who are also descendants of my great-great-grandparents, Wenzeslaus Meier and Anna Goetz.

Meinzinger tree

Is this new information for me? No, I had already discovered my connection to these folks by clicking on “shared matches” and either examining their online trees (where available) or writing to them. And the information about number of shared DNA segments and centimorgans of shared DNA is no more useful now than it was previously, in the absence of a chromosome browser which would allow me to paint these shared segments onto my chromosome map. Moreover, it’s misleading for Ancestry to highlight Walburga Meinzinger as the common link between me and all of these matches, since the most recent common ancestral couple isn’t Walburga and her husband, Christoph Meier, but rather Walburga’s grandson, Wenzeslaus Meier and his wife, Anna Goetz. At this point we have no evidence that Walburga is necessarily the ancestor “thru” whom I’m related to these 10 DNA matches, since it’s entirely possible that none of the DNA that we share came from her, but instead came from (for example) the Goetz side.

Finally, let’s take a look at Ancestry’s suggestion of Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross as another one of my potential ancestors. This time, Ancestry informs me that Elisabeth was the mother of my 3x-great-grandfather, Carl Goetz. According to the tree which was supposed to be the source of the information, Elisabeth was born 2 February 1833 in Heilbronn, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany. She married Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Goetz, and they were the parents of one Carl Wilhelm Christian Goetz who was born 5 October 1853 in Bavaria (Bayern), Germany and died 19 March 1933 in Buffalo, New York. 

My Carl (or Charles, in English) “coincidentally” also died on 19 March 1933 in Buffalo, New York,2 and equally “coincidentally,” was born on 5 October 1853 in Leuchtenberg, Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bayern, Germany.3 However, he was the son of Ulrich Goetz and Josephine Zenger, as evidenced by his death certificate (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Death certificate of Charles Goetz (Carl Götz), 19 March 1933, with parents’ names underlined in red.2Charles Goetz death 1933 marked

Moreover, there’s no evidence that my Carl ever used the middle names Wilhelm and Christian. While the birth dates quoted by this tree owner for her Carl Wilhelm Christian Goetz are a match for the documented birth and death dates of my Carl Goetz, the parents’ names and place of birth are clearly not a match. So this tree owner is erroneously conflating my Carl Goetz with her Carl, who may or may not have been the son of parents named Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross and Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Goetz. It’s not clear to me precisely how she came to the conclusion that my Carl belonged in her family tree, beyond indiscriminate borrowing from online trees, but it’s very clear that he does not. Once again, I thought perhaps there was DNA evidence linking me to this tree owner through some other line, that might have been the basis for Ancestry’s identification of Elisabeth “Lizette” Christina Gross as my Potential Ancestor. Once again, I was disappointed. This tree owner isn’t a match to me, or to my father (Carl Goetz’s great-great-grandson).

The point here isn’t that there are inaccurate family trees online; we all know that already. But I think Ancestry’s ThruLines™ tool exacerbates the problem. Since ThruLines™ are accessed through the “DNA” tab and not the “Search” tab, it suggests that the highlighted “Potential Ancestors” are proposed on the basis of DNA matching rather than being based solely on the existence of trees containing individuals with the same names as one’s own ancestors. Unfortunately, in all the cases I examined, the DNA matches were too far “downstream” for them to be useful in drawing any conclusions about my potential relationship to more distant ancestors. The fact that I share DNA segments with my mother, my sister, and my four children cannot be used as evidence of our common descent from someone purported to be my great-great-grandmother. So if these “Potential Ancestors” are being identified solely on the basis of online family trees, then it would be more honest to have them suggested under the “Search” tab rather than the “DNA” tab.

If beginning genealogists are going to use these ThruLines,™ they need to understand that the the “Potential Ancestor” designations are no more reliable than the record hints or “shaky leaf” hints which Ancestry provides. While I love Ancestry for the convenience it offers in allowing me to locate and download documents pertaining to my family online, in the comfort of my home, at 2 am, I do wish they would leave well enough alone. I think it would be much better to put the records online, put the family trees online, and put the DNA data online, and then leave it to genealogists to connect the dots between those data sets themselves.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to hope that, in time, the usefulness of tools like ThruLines™ will increase. There seem to be plenty of people who are raving about this tool in the various Facebook genealogy forums, but so far, my personal experience with it has not been positive. As Blaine Bettinger wrote in the “Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques” Facebook group, “As a community, we need to decide whether we want automated tools that will unavoidably perpetuate mistakes, or whether we want NO automation. Those are the only two options.” Call me a Luddite, but I don’t think automation like this is doing us any favors. I look forward to the day when Ancestry proves me wrong.

Sources:

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1885, marriages, #21, record for Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota, 15 November 1885.

2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1933, no. 1688, certificate for Charles Goetz, died 19 March 1933.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Margaret’s parish (Leuchtenberg, Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bayern, Germany), Band 6, Taufen 1848 – 1869, p. 26, no. 38, birth record for Karl Götz, Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg, St.Petersweg 11-13, D-93047 Regensburg, Germany.

4 Blaine Bettinger, “Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques” Facebook group, post on 27 February 2019, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/geneticgenealogytipsandtechniques/permalink/594183891045315/ : 3 March 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz  2019