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.


1 “Eastern Europe and Russia,” DNA Origins for Julie Szczepankiewicz, AncestryDNA ( : 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.


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, ( : 3 March 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz  2019

Still Searching For Antonina Naciążek: Some New Insights into Old Data

Sometimes I find that it pays to take a break from my research on a particular family line. When I come back to it, I notice clues in the data that I missed the first time around. This happened recently when I returned to the question of the parentage of one of my Brick Wall Ancestors, my great-great-grandmother Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, who was born circa 1828, married Ignacy Zarzycki circa 1849, and died after 1904. I’ve written about her in several posts previously, and she continues to haunt me. The crux of the problem is that all her children were baptized in Rybno parish, Sochaczew County, but she herself must have been from another parish, since there is no birth, marriage or death record for her in the records of Rybno.

The Search for Antonina, Revisited

My strategy thus far has been to search vital records in the popular database Geneteka in order to identify the families that were living in the vicinity of Rybno with the surname Naciążek, or with one of the known variant forms of this surname, Maciążek and Raciążek, to discover potential parents for Antonina. However, the effectiveness of this strategy is limited by major gaps in the indexed records in Giżyce and Sochaczew, which are the two local parishes where this surname is most prevalent. Records for Giżyce are especially limited, since there are no records for this parish in the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Moreover, the only vital records from Giżyce from the relevant time period that are in possession of the state archive in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are from 1810, and 1823-1825, all of which are indexed in Geneteka. This suggests that most of the records for Giżyce are at the parish itself, where they can only be accessed onsite, at the discretion of the parish pastor.  The situation for Sochaczew is somewhat better, since marriage records are available from the diocesan archive in Łowicz with no gaps from 1802-1842, although there is a large gap after that, from 1843-1861, which is when Antonina Naciążek would have been married (circa 1849).

Search results in Geneteka point to two couples who emerge as most likely candidates for Antonina’s parents. The first couple, Francizek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska, married in Sochaczew in 1826. The entry noted that the groom was from the nearby parish of Giżyce, so it’s quite possible that they moved back there after their marriage. Since Geneteka contains no birth records from Giżyce after 1825, it’s impossible to identify any children that Franciszek and Marianna might have had without onsite research. My great-great-grandmother Antonina may have been one of those children.

The second couple was Mateusz Naciążek and Petronella Trawińska, who were already married by 1824 when their daughter, Marianna, was born in Giżyce. The data suggest that they subsequently moved to Sochaczew parish, where they had sons Michał in 1826, Stanisław Andrzej in 1832, and Ignacy in 1834, and a daughter, Florentyna Marianna, in 1836. Notice the 6-year gap in the births to this couple after Michał’s birth in 1826?  Such a large spacing is unusual in a family, and as luck would have it, Antonina’s birth circa 1828 would fall right into that gap. This gap in births can’t be explained by any gaps in the available records for Sochaczew, since birth records from this parish are indexed during this entire time period. However, these data are consistent with the hypothesis that Mateusz and Petronella moved back to Giżyce after 1826. Since birth records from Giżyce are not available after 1825, it’s entirely possible that Mateusz and Petronella were the parents of Antonina, circa 1828, and possibly even an additional child born circa 1830 whose births would not show up in Geneteka.

So the focus is presently on Giżyce, whose records might hold a birth record for Antonina, as well as her marriage record. Her death record remains elusive, however. Antonina was still noted be living in 1904 when her son Leonard married, but her husband, Ignacy Zarzycki, died in 1901.1 As a 76-year-old widow, one might expect Antonina to continue living in her own home with assistance from her children, or to move in with one of her adult children. Unfortunately, the former hypothesis does not bear up, because there is no death record for Antonina Zarzycka in the parish records of Rybno or the civil records of the gmina (a gmina is an administrative district smaller than a county, similar to a township). Nor have I been able to find a death record for her in the civil records of gmina Iłów, to which the parish of Giżyce belongs, or in the civil records of Sochaczew. However, the search is frustrated by local registry offices claiming that some books were transferred to the regional archive in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, while that archive asserts that they don’t have the books, so therefore they must be in the local registry offices. Moreover, if Antonina fled her home during the confusion and chaos of World War I, it’s entirely possible that her death may not have been recorded.

Research on the families of each of Antonina’s children is still a work in progress which needs to be completed in order to identify every location where Antonina’s death may have been recorded if she was living with one of her children when she died. Of Antonina’s 11 children, six survived to adulthood and married, four died in childhood or as young unmarried adults, and one is thus far unaccounted for. The six who married included daughters Marianna Gruberska, who was living near Łowicz as of 1887, Paulina Klejn, who was living near Sochaczew as of 1880, and Aniela Gruberska, who was living near Młodzieszyn as of 1914, as well as sons John Zazycki, who was living in North Tonawanda, New York, until his death in 1924, Karol Zarzycki, who was living in Warsaw as of 1908, and Leonard Zarzycki, who was also living in Warsaw as of 1905. No promising match for Antonina’s death record is found in the indexed death records in Geneteka, and there’s no evidence to suggest that she emigrated. Since Łowicz and Warsaw both contain multiple Catholic parishes, finding Antonina’s death record without knowing her exact date of death will be challenging.

The Search for Marianna Kowalska, Revisited

That brings us back to the search for Antonina’s birth and marriage records, which might be easier to locate than her death record. Previously, while gathering clues about Antonina’s early life, I noted an interesting set of records pertaining to the family of Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska, whom I hypothesized might be Antonina’s sister. I discovered Marianna by reasoning that one might expect to find other Naciążek relatives of Antonina’s in the records of Rybno, since family members often settled near one another. In fact, this surname was generally not found in Rybno, with one exception: the 1903 marriage record of one Roch Kowalski mentioned that he was the son of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.2 The record indicated that Roch was born in Giżyce, and further research revealed four additional children of Aleksander Kowalski and Marianna Naciążek, all of whom married in Giżyce, Sochaczew, or Iłów, underscoring the importance of these parishes— especially Giżyce and Sochaczew—to my quest for the origins of my great-great-grandmother. In addition to these records pertaining to her children, a second marriage record was discovered for Marianna Naciążek herself following the death of Aleksander Kowalski. Marianna married Stanisław Marcinkowski in Giżyce in 1881, and the record indicated that she was born circa 1837 in Czerwonka, a village belonging to the parish in Sochaczew.3

As noted in that previous post, birth records from Sochaczew are available for the period from 1819-1841, but there is no baptismal record for a Marianna Naciążek during this time. The closest possibility is the birth of a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek in 1836, to parents Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska, and I believe that this Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk is the same person as Marianna Naciążek Kowalska Marcinkowska. It’s a bit unusual that she seems to have been called “Marianna” and not “Florentyna” in her adult life, but I believe this may have occurred because she had an older sister named Marianna who died young. There is a birth record in Giżyce in 1824 for Marianna Naciążek, daughter of Mateusz and Petronela, and if this theory is correct, we should expect to find her death record between 1824 and 1836. Although no death record is presently available, this doesn’t mean much, since indexed death records are only available from 1823-1825. Once again, it seems that the records of Giżyce may hold the key to unlocking these genealogical mysteries.

As I looked at this research with fresh eyes, it dawned on me that there was another small piece of evidence I had overlooked previously, which was the fact that Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka gave her daughter the name Florentyna, and that this child’s godmother was Marianna Kowalska (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Birth record from Rybno for Florentyna Zarzycka, born 5 June 1861. Text underlined in red translates,  “….was given the name Florentyna, and her godparents were the aforementioned Wincenty Zarzecki and Marianna Kowalska.” 4

Florentyna Zarzcyka birth 5 June 1861 marked

Yes, I’d analyzed the godparents of all the Zarzycki children previously, and I realized that despite the popularity of the Kowalski surname, this Marianna Kowalska was most likely Marianna Naciążek Kowalska of Giżyce. But somehow I’d failed to make the connection with Marianna Kowalska being named as godmother to this particular child, Florentyna, rather than any of the other children of Antonina and Ignacy Zarzycki.

Although it was not de rigueur in Polish culture to name a child after the godparent of the same sex, this practice was not unheard of. Indeed, Ignacy and Antonina Zarzycki named their second daughter Paulina, presumably in honor of her godmother, Paulina Jagielska.5 So it’s quite possible that little Florentyna Zarzycka was also named in honor of her godmother. This suggests that I’m definitely on the right track with my reasoning that Marianna Kowalska is, indeed, Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk Kowalska, who was pretty clearly some relative of her mother’s. However, at this point we still have too little evidence to conclude that Florentyna Marianna was necessarily Antonina Naciążek Zarzycka’s sister, rather than a cousin.

But wait, there’s more!

In reviewing the chart I made previously showing each of the Zarzycki children and their godparents (Figure 2) and rereading my notes, I noticed a careless supposition. That is, that the surname of Józef Zarzycki’s godmother, Jadwiga Bugajka, was necessarily rare. While this exact surname is rare, I realize now that I was thinking too narrowly, since the surname is merely a variant of the common surname, Bugaj. Given the lack of standardization of surname forms in the 19th century, it’s quite possible that this same Jadwiga Bugajka might be recorded as Jadwiga Bugaj in some records.

Figure 2: Summary of Godparents of Children of Ignacy Zarzycki and Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka. Source citation numbers correspond to sources cited in original blog post.figure-1

So what does that do for us? Why do we care if she’s Jadwiga Bugaj or Jadwiga Bugajka? Well, more recent digging suggested an interesting possibility regarding her relationship to the Zarzycki family.  Figure 3 shows Geneteka search results for Jadwiga Bugaj in Sochaczew.

Figure 3: Geneteka search results for birth records which mention Jadwiga Bugaj in Sochaczew.Bugaj results in Geneteka

In 1851 and 1854, there were two births to children of Maciej Bugaj and Jadwiga Krzemińska. Then there is a gap, and in 1861, there is the birth of Józefa Bednarska to Józef Bednarski and Jadwiga Bugaj. Now, the timing there is rather curious, and might almost suggest a scenario in which Jadwiga Krzemińska married Maciej Bugaj and had two children with him before his death between 1854 and 1861, after which she remarried Józef Bednarski and had 7 more children. (Note that double entries for children with the same name in the same year represent different records for the same event.) However, it was customary in these records for the priest to record the mother’s maiden name, not her first husband’s surname, in the case of a woman who remarried. I think it’s unlikely that the priest would have misrecorded the mother’s maiden name on 10 different birth records, and wrote her surname from her first husband instead. So in absence of evidence to the contrary, I believe that Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj is not the same person as Jadwiga (née Bugaj) Bednarska. But at this point, I’m not fussed about whether she remarried or not, I’m just excited to find evidence of the Krzemiński surname, because it just so happens that Ignacy Zarzycki’s mother was Joanna Krzemińska, who was born circa 1806 in Lubiejew, as evidenced by her death record (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Death record from Rybno parish for Joanna (née Krzemińska) Zarzycka, 30 April 1857. Text underlined in red translates as, “Joanna Zarzycka, wife, tenant colonist, daughter of Jan and Zofia, the spouses Krzemiński, already deceased; born in the village of Lubiejow [sic], having 52 years of age.” 6Joanna Zarzycka death 1857 crop

To answer the question of how Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj is related to the Zarzycki family, we need to find the record of her marriage to Maciej Bugaj and hope that it states her parents’ names. If her parents were Jan and Zofia, we know that she was Ignacy Zarzycki’s aunt. If they are something else, then further research is needed to determine the connection. Maddeningly, there is a gap in existing marriage records for Sochaczew from 1842-1861, according to information from the diocesan archive in Łowicz about their holdings for Sochaczew. Since Jadwiga’s oldest child was apparently born in 1851 based on information found in Geneteka, Jadwiga most likely married circa 1850, right in that gap in the records.

The Krzemiński Family of Bielice, Lubiejew, and Szwarocin

What do we know about the family of Jan and Zofia Krzemiński, and how likely is it that Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj and Joanna (née Krzemińska) Zarzycka were sisters? My 4x-great-grandfather, Jan Krzemiński, was born circa 1782 in either Czerwonka or Czyste.He married 17-year-old Zofia Bielska on Valentine’s Day in 1802 in Sochaczew.8 (The birthplaces of Jan and Zofia are uncertain because their marriage was recorded on a page pertaining to vital events from residents of the villages of Czerwonka and Czyste, but no indication was made regarding which individuals on the page were from which village.)  On 19 July 1802, their oldest son, Jakub, was born in the nearby village of Bielice.9 A gap in birth records from Sochaczew exists from 1803-1809, so it’s not possible to find the birth record for my great-great-great-grandmother, Joanna Krzemińska circa 1806. However, Joanna’s death record (Figure 4) states that she was born in the village of Lubiejow [sic], about 7 miles northwest of Bielice. Since couples had children every 2-3 years, typically, we might expect additional births to Jan and Zofia circa 1804 and 1808, but there are no indexed marriage or death records in Geneteka that identify any children born to this couple in those years.

By 1810, the Krzemiński family had moved to the village of Szwarocin, some 3 miles west of Lubiejew, where their son Błażej was born on 2 February and baptized in Rybno parish (Figure 5).10  Jan Krzemiński was described as a gajowy, which was a forester or gamekeeper. On 21 July 1812, a daughter, Magdalena, was born.11 Two years later, another daughter, Zofia, was baptized on 9 May 1814, and was probably born a day or so before that.12 On 25 February 1816, little Magdalena Krzemińska died of smallpox (ospa, in Polish) at the age of 3 1/2.13 Just nine days after her daughter’s death, Zofia Krzemińska gave birth to another son, Józef.14 Although no death record has been found for this child, it is likely that he died some time before 1821, because Jan and Zofia conferred the name Józef on their next son, born 17 March 1821.15

Figure 5: Map showing locations of places mentioned in records pertaining to the Krzemiński family. The towns of Sochaczew and Rybno, where the parishes are located, are underlined in red and the villages of Czerwonka and Czyste where Jan and Zofia were stated to have been born are similarly noted.Map of Krzeminski villages

After this, the family disappears from the records of Rybno. Justyna Krogulska, who performed the onsite research at St. Bartholomew church in Rybno for me in 2016, noted, “In the years 1826-1860 [there was] no record [of the] deaths of Jan Krzemiński and Zofia Krzemińska. Probably the family moved to another parish. In the years 1826-1846 [there was] no record [of any] marriage on the name Krzemiński / Krzemińska.” 16 

Consistent with the observation that the Krezemiński family moved out of Rybno, a death record for a 75-year-old widow named Zofia Krzemińska was found in the records of Sochaczew in 1843. At the time of her death, Zofia was living in Lubiejów [sic], and her age suggests a birth year circa 1768. Although “our” Zofia was only born circa 1785, based on her age at the time of her marriage, it’s nonetheless possible—likely, even—that the Zofia mentioned in the death record is the same woman, since priests frequently approximated people’s ages when this information was not known precisely. As a smallpox survivor who had already buried a husband and at least two children, Zofia may have looked much older than she actually was when she died.

Zofia Krzemińska was only 36 when her son Józef was born in Szwarocin in 1821, so it’s entirely possible that she might have had a few children after his birth, including, perhaps, Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj. Geneteka contains a birth record for a Maciej Bugaj who might be the same as Jadwiga Krzemińska’s husband, and who was born in Sochaczew in 1823. If Jadwiga Bugaj was approximately the same age as her husband, she would have been born exactly two years after Józef Krzemiński was born in Rybno in 1821. However, birth records for Sochaczew are indexed with no gaps from 1819-1841, and there is no record of Jadwiga’s birth. However this lack of evidence for her birth in Sochaczew does little to disprove my theory about Jadwiga Bugaj’s parentage, given the extent of parish records in this area that are unindexed and can only be found in the parish archives. So at this point, we still don’t know precisely who Jadwiga Bugaj(ka) was, and what relationship she may have had to Antonina and Ignacy Zarzycki that would have inspired them to ask her to be godmother to their son, Józef. Present evidence suggests that she may have been Ignacy’s aunt or possibly a cousin through his mother’s Krzemiński family, but the frustrating difficulty with access to records makes it impossible to state anything definitively.

Despite the difficulties inherent in research in this area—or perhaps because of them—it’s fun to examine every minute detail of the precious data that have been found for my family. Knowing that Marianna Kowalska was actually Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk Kowalska Marcinkowska may not bring me closer to knowing whether she was sister or cousin to my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Zarzycka, but somehow, it’s satisfying to find yet another small consistency in the data. At this point, without knowing what’s contained in those records from Giżyce, I’m betting on Team Mateusz and Petronella as the parents of Antonina and Marianna, but there’s really no compelling reason for it. It may be that Antonina was the daughter of Franciszek and Marianna instead, and that Mateusz and Franciszek Naciążek were brothers. That would make Antonina Zarzycka first cousin to Florentyna Marianna, and it’s certainly plausible that a first cousin might be asked to serve as godmother. As evidenced by the new discovery that Jadwiga Bugajka was most likely Jadwiga Krzemińska Bugaj, a maternal relative of Ignacy Zarzycki, but definitely not his sister, anything is possible.

Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to gain access to those records from Giżyce, and the answers to all these mysteries will be revealed. Maybe I’ll even get to know who the heck Weronika Jaroszewska was, and why she was named as godmother to three Zarzycki children. Hey, I can dream, right?


“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga ślubów 1888-1908, 1904, no. 15, marriage record for Leonard Zarzycki and Maryanna Majewska, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, ( : 28 February 2019); and

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga zgonów 1886-1903, 1901, no. 44, death record for Ignacy Zarzycki, accessed as digital image, ( : 28 February 2019).

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Ksiega slubów 1888-1908, 1903, no. 1, marriage record for Roch Kowalski and Anastazja Blaszczak, 2 February 1903, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, ( : 28 February 2019).

3 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Giżycach” (Giżyce, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga ślubów 1856-1891, no. 9, marriage record for Stanisław Marcinkowski and Marianna Kowalska, 21 February 1881, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki, ( : 28 February 2019).

4  Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1855-1862, 1861, #36, baptismal record for Florentyna Zarzecka.

5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1853, no. 60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.

6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga zgonów, 1853-1868,” 1857, #21, death record for Joanna Zarzecka.

7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Lawrence parish (Sochaczew, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi małżeństw, 1802-1825, 1802, no. 2, marriage record for Joannes Krzemiński and Sophia Bielska, 14 February 1802, Archiwum Diecezji Łowickiej, 99-400 Łowicz, Stary Rynek 19 A. “[Towns] Czerwonka et Czyste, [Number] 2, [Month] February, [Day] 14, [Marriage Statement] I, Sebastian Richter, (expositus?) of Sochaczew, after three banns. and without discovering (? “adinvento”) any Canonical impediments, blessed the marriage between the honorable Joannes Krzemiński, young man, and Sophia Bielska, virgin, “inetum” (?) with additional witnesses Jacob Skokoski and Florian Stolarek, Under column heading “Young Man with Virgin,” indicating that it is a first marriage for both the bride and the groom, the age of the groom is given as 20 and the age of the bride is given as 17.

8 Ibid.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Lawrence parish (Sochaczew, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi urodzonych, 1781-1802, 1802, no. 69, birth record for Jacobus Krzemiński. 19 July 1802, Archiwum Diecezji Łowickiej, 99-400 Łowicz, Stary Rynek 19 A.

10 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1810, births, no. 5, record for Błażej Krzemiński, 2 February 1810.

11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1812, births, no. 46, record for Magdalena Krzemińska, 21 July 1812.

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1814, births, no. 26, record for Sophia Krzemińska, baptized 9 May 1814.

13 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1816, deaths, no. 9, record for Magdalena Krzemińska, 25 February 1816.

14 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1816, births, no. 13, record for Josephus Krzemiński, 5 March 1816.

15 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1821, births, no. 17, record for Josephus Krzemiński, 17 March 1821.

16 Justyna Krogulska, “Krzemiński Family,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA, 18 May 2016, original held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019.

Using your DNA Match List at Ancestry

In my last post, I tried to introduce some basic concepts in genetic genealogy in a shameless attempt to stimulate increased interest in DNA matches among scientifically-challenged genealogists. When I say “scientifically-challenged,” I’m not judging, here. Many family historians took high school biology classes a long time ago, and for those who attended high school back in the 1950s or ’60s, the topic of DNA may not have been covered at all.  So it’s not surprising that there are many testers who aren’t really sure how to make best use of their results. Today, I’d like to talk a little more about using your DNA match list at Ancestry, and the specific tools that are available there. 

I think most of us realize that the list of DNA matches we receive when we first get our test results is not static. Nope, DNA test results are the gift that keeps on giving, and as more people test, our list of matches will grow. For this reason it’s a good idea to check back periodically to view your DNA results reported by each company with which you’ve tested. Ancestry will report your closest matches first, and after that, more distant matches are ranked in terms of both shared DNA (expressed in centimorgans, cM) and general degree of confidence (expressed as “extremely high,” “very high,” “high,” or “moderate”). New test results from the holiday DNA test sales have already started to hit the match lists, so you may have noticed a more dramatic uptick in your number of matches recently. A few weeks ago, I had 209 pages of matches at Ancestry (at 50 matches per page); today, I have 234 pages of matches. Of course, not all of these are quality matches. As discussed previously, many of the distant matches, especially those with whom I share 7 cM of DNA or less, are false positives and should be evaluated very critically, or completely ignored. 

If you’re new to DNA testing, your list may include some close matches from your family tree, because you have family members (already known to you) who decided independently to test their DNA. That’s a good thing; those results confirm the established paper trail as discussed in the last post, and with any luck, you can persuade those cousins to upload their DNA to one of the other sites that offers a chromosome browser, such as Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch. Be sure to encourage them to read the terms of service for these sites before they upload. 

If your match list includes very few close matches (Immediate Family, Close Family, 1st Cousins, 2nd Cousins or Third Cousins), you may want to begin proactively target-testing your family members, as finances permit. I typically wait until there’s a good sale, and then stock up on several kits at once. The general rule of thumb is to test your oldest relatives first. This is because the amount of autosomal DNA that you could potentially inherit from any particular ancestor gets cut in half with each successive generation. So, my Grandma’s DNA contains information about ancestors about two generations further back than mine does. If you are among the oldest members of your family, don’t despair. You can still gain valuable information by testing your siblings and first cousins. Full siblings (except for identical twins) inherit different bits of DNA from their parents, which they then pass down to successive generations. Therefore testing your siblings gives you added information about your parents’ DNA, and testing your first cousins will give you additional insights into your grandparents’ DNA, that are not provided by looking only at your own DNA. However, DNA samples from the children or grandchildren of your siblings and first cousins will not be as informative, since your parents or grandparents’ DNA is further diluted in these individuals. If you think of your ancestors—the people you’re trying to learn about—as the targets of your DNA testing, then relatives from older generations are “upstream” from your position in the family tree, and therefore closer to the target, and relatives from younger generations are “downstream.” 

Just how different can siblings’ DNA test results really be? Well, if you consider DNA matches at the level of 4th cousins or closer—a level at which matches are unlikely to be Identical by Population or Identical by Chance—my sister has 248 matches currently, and I have 169. Her matches provide 79 additional opportunities to understand our shared ancestry, based on the different bits of DNA we inherited from our parents. Since I now have DNA test data from both our parents, my sister’s test results are nice to have, but not critically important. However, before my parents tested, my sister’s DNA gave me opportunities to confirm my documentary research thanks those additional matches to distant cousins whom she matched, but I did not. These individuals are still documented cousins to both of us, but they are only genetic cousins to her, and not me. 

As you review your closest matches, you may notice that Ancestry “mislabels” some of the relationships. For example, my “Second Cousin” category includes two documented first cousins once removed (1C1R), and a documented grandaunt (or great-aunt, if you prefer). Conversely, I have some documented second cousins who are reported to be third cousins. What’s going on here? Does this mean the DNA test is inaccurate?

In a word, no. DNA inheritance is somewhat random thanks to a process known as genetic recombination. There are a variety of great articles out there to help you understand this process, but the take-home message is that the amount of DNA you inherit from any given ancestor—say, a grandparent—is random. On average, a person will inherit 25% of his or her DNA from each grandparent, but in practice, one may inherit 27% from the paternal grandmother, 23% from the paternal grandfather, 26% from the maternal grandmother, and 24% from the maternal grandfather, while a sibling’s inherited percentages will be different.

Because of this, it’s impossible to say that second cousins will always share exactly X number of centimorgans of DNA. Instead, it’s more appropriate to think in terms of averages and ranges, i.e. according to Ancestry, second cousins will share between 200 and 620 cM. Using another real-life example from my DNA match list, I have a documented second cousin, Ellie, with whom I share only 175 cM. Since this amount is less than the 200 cM defined by Ancestry as the low end of the acceptable range for the second-cousin category, Ancestry’s algorithms guess that she’s actually my third cousin. However, Ancestry’s definitions oversimplify the situation to some extent, as we’ll see in a moment. 

Figure 1 shows a few of my second cousin matches at Ancestry with their names blacked out to protect their privacy, to illustrate a few points about how Ancestry presents the data. 

Figure 1: Second cousin matches at Ancestry. Question mark

Although these are grouped under the heading, “2nd Cousin,” you can see that Ancestry qualifies that assignment with the notation, “Possible range: 1st-2nd cousins.” If you click on the question mark, circled in red, you will find the chart shown in Figure 2, which indicates the amount of shared DNA (in centimorgans) which Ancestry uses to define relationships. According to this chart, DNA matches must share between 200-620 cM of DNA, as stated previously, in order for Ancestry’s algorithm to classify them as second cousins. However, Ancestry offers a disclaimer at the bottom of the page which cautions that “The exact amount of shared DNA can vary beyond the ranges shown in the table.”

Figure 2: Ancestry’s Predicted Relationship Info page.Predicted Relationship Chart

Fair enough; so where can we obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the possible relationships suggested by a given amount of shared DNA? There are two good resources for this. The first is Blaine Bettinger’s Shared Centimorgan Project, an ongoing, collaborative effort to gather empirical evidence for the amount of DNA shared between DNA matches whose relationships are known or have been established through documentary evidence. The most recent update from the project includes data from more than 25,000 DNA matches, and can be found at the author’s website, and also at the website of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.1 A copy of this chart is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The Shared cM Project, Version 3.0, courtesy of Blaine Bettinger, licensed under CC By 4.0.Shared cM Project

In the example of a DNA match with whom I share 175 cM, examination of the chart reveals that this amount of shared DNA falls into the established range for the following relationships: Half GG-Aunt/Uncle, Half Great Aunt/Uncle, Half 3C, Half 2C, Half 2C1R, Half 2C2R, Half 1C, Half 1C1R, Half 1C2R, Half 1C3R, Half Great-Niece/Nephew, Half GG Niece/Nephew, 1C1R, 1C2R, 1C3R, 2C, 2C1R, 2C2R, or 3C. As you can see from these notations, some of these relationships are more complicated than simple first cousins, second cousins, etc., so if you’re not sure what “third cousin twice removed” (3C2R) really means, this chart by Nathan Yau may be useful.2

These results represent quite a lot of possibilities, and statistically, some of those relationships will be more probable than others. With this in mind, Jonny Perl, creator of the DNA Painter site, developed an interactive tool which combines data from the Shared cM Project with probability statistics provided by Leah Larkin. Figure 4 shows the result of plugging my 175 cM shared DNA into this calculator. 

Figure 4: Calculator for assessing the most probable relationships suggested by a given amount of shared DNA, courtesy of Jonny Perl at DNA Painter, licensed under CC By 4.0.Shared cM Project 3.0 tool v4 with relationship probabilities

According to this tool, it’s statistically most likely that two people who share a total of 175 cM DNA will be half second cousins, second cousins once removed, half first cousins twice removed, or first cousins three times removed, although other relationships are possible.

Leveraging Shared Matches

To examine an individual match from your list at Ancestry more closely, click on either the person’s name or on “View Match.” That will bring you to a screen that looks like the one in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Ancestry’s main match analysis screen.Ancestry match screen 1

There are a few points of interest to note in this display. The first thing to notice is that there are four options for looking at the match in more detail. The default is the screen we’re on, “Pedigree and Surnames” underlined in purple in Figure 5. Since this DNA match does not have a family tree, we don’t get much information here. Similarly, if we were to click over to “Map and Locations,” we wouldn’t learn much, either, since those are dependent on information included in the family tree. So in cases like this one, where the tester has not linked a family tree, what can we learn? 

Well, for starters, the ethnicity estimate, circled in yellow, might give us some clues about which side of the family the match is on, assuming one’s mother and father come from different ethnic backgrounds. In my case, my Mom’s ancestors were entirely Polish as far back as I’ve been able to research thus far, while my Dad is a mix of German, Alsatian, English, Irish, and Scottish. Since the ethnic blend reported for this DNA match is Eastern Europe and Russia, Baltic States, and European Jewish, she’s most likely a cousin on my mom’s side. This is an important bit of information, since a primary goal of DNA testing for most of us is to understand how we’re related to our DNA matches in the hope of extending and confirming our documentary research. 

Are we ready to contact this match to request more information on her family tree? Not yet. The text underlined in red in Figure 5 informs us that the last time this member logged into her Ancestry account was October 2018—about four months ago, as I write this. That suggests that she’s not actively researching her family tree, and may have been one of the many people who bought a DNA test in order to see the ethnicity estimate, with no real interest in the list of DNA matches. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t reach out to DNA matches who haven’t logged into their accounts in a while, but it means that we should temper our expectations of a reply.

So what else should we do before we write to her? Check out the shared matches! These are one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal at Ancestry, and they can be accessed by clicking the “Shared Matches” to the right of “Pedigree and Surnames.” When I do that, I can see all the matches I share in common with this person, which can provide some evidence of how we might be related. Note that caution must still be exercised when interpreting these results. If I see my 4C1R, Mark, among the shared matches for a particular DNA match (Dan), and I know that I’m related to Mark through my Ptaszkiewicz/Łącki line, it suggests that I am also related to Dan through that line. However, other interpretations are possible. For example, Dan might match Mark through Mark’s father’s side, while Mark matches me through his mother’s side. What we’re looking for is not just a shared match, but a shared segment of DNA, which suggests common ancestry. The only way to know if a segment of DNA triangulates between three people is to use a chromosome browser, which Ancestry lacks. 

We’ll look at the Shared Matches screen more closely in a minute, but on this screen, I’d also like to point out Ancestry’s option for making notes on each of your DNA matches, circled in blue in Figure 5. Once I have a good idea about how I’m related to a certain match, I like to make a note about the relationship (e.g. “paternal 4C3R”) and the path back to our most recent common ancestral couple. A very helpful tool when working with Ancestry matches is a Google Chrome extension called MedBetter DNA, which will enable all your notes on DNA matches to show on the main listing page simultaneously, , so you don’t have to click on each note individually in order to view it. It also allows you to filter your matches according to certain surnames (or other keywords), provided they are prefaced with a hashtag (#) in the notes. A more detailed explanation of how to use MedBetter DNA can be found in Kitty Cooper’s blog, here.3

As mentioned, Ancestry offers four options for looking at a match in more detail. The first three are the “Pedigree and Surnames,” “Shared Matches” and “Map and Locations” tools, and the fourth is the “Compare” utility, to the left of “Ethnicity” and “Send Message” in Figure 5. The Compare utility gathers all the information about predicted relationship, shared centimorgans, ethnicity estimates, shared migrations, and shared matches and displays it on one page. Note that their data on “shared migrations” incorporates data from Ancestry’s Genetic Communities.™ To identify these “Genetic Communities,” Ancestry uses data from the family tree of each DNA tester who has uploaded a tree. So when Ancestry tells me that I belong to the Pomerania “Genetic Community,” that assignment is not based on evidence from my DNA, but on the fact that I, and many of my DNA matches, have family trees which include ancestors born in the region that Ancestry defines as “Pomerania.”  Note that Ancestry’s definitions of historical regions such as Pomerania might not correspond to the traditional borders of such regions, so you might want to take those designations with a grain of salt.

Putting It All Together

As an initial goal, you may want to try to identify your connection to each of your unknown “close” matches, but it’s up to you to decide how to define “close,” based on your total number of matches. You can start off by going down the list, one at a time, or you can search your match list according to surname, to see which of your matches report that surname in their family tree. Be careful with common surnames—just because you and a match both have a common surname, like Smith, Jones, Nowak, or Wagner in your tree, you cannot assume that this is how you are related without documentary research to back that up. The best way to begin the process of identifying your relationship to your matches is by seeking those that share surnames and geographic locations in common with you. As long as you have one of those things in common to begin with, a surname or a place of origin, you can start documentary research to investigate the relationship.

As you identify your relationship to each person in your list, you may want to contact that person to introduce yourself. To increase the likelihood of a reply, I try to give my matches some specific information about our connection, without being overwhelming. I also try to explain the benefits of using a chromosome browser to better understand the location of our matching segment(s) of DNA, and encourage them to consider downloading their raw DNA from Ancestry and uploading to one of the sites that offers a chromosome browser, such as MyHeritage, GEDmatch, or Family Tree DNA, being sure to read the sites’ privacy policies first.

Even if a DNA match has a family tree online, it’s important to be skeptical regarding the information contained there, since not all family historians are equally experienced or rigorous. And even when a match’s tree indicates an intersection of surname and place with your own tree, additional research may still be necessary to trace back to the common ancestral couple. Clearly, DNA testing is not (usually!) a magic wand that will miraculously give you four more generations back in your tree, unless you happen to discover that you’re related to a very good genealogist. Nonetheless, it’s very satisfying when you are able to find solid documentary evidence identifying your relationship to a DNA match, and when that documented relationship is consistent with the amount of shared DNA. At that point, it’s usually safe to call the match “solved” and move on to the next one.

Solving such puzzles can often reveal quite a bit of new information about one’s family tree. DNA testing has enabled me to discover and connect with living cousins in Europe, which is fun. It’s also answered questions about the disappearance of my ancestors’ s cousins from Polish records, many of whom also immigrated to the U.S., but settled in places other than where my family settled. With time, effort, and a bit of luck, it’s also possible to use DNA testing to solve unknown parentage cases. 

DNA testing offers a unique opportunity for genealogists to confirm and extend their documentary research. Although there’s a bit of a learning curve involved with understanding the key concepts, the abundance of online educational resources makes it possible to gain confidence with interpreting DNA results. That long list of DNA matches might seem intimidating at first, but bit by bit, it’s possible to work through them. A willingness to collaborate with our DNA matches will make the genealogy community a better place for all of us. So what are you waiting for? Check out your matches and maybe we can connect.

Sources and Further Reading:

1 Blaine Bettinger, “August 2017 Update to the Shared cM Project,” The Genetic Genealogist: Adding DNA to the Genealogist’s Toolbox, posted 26 August 2017,  ( : 19 February 2019); and 

Autosomal DNA Statistics,”  International Society of Genetic Genealogy, International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 19 February 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

2 Nathan Yau, “Chart of Cousins,” FlowingData, posted 5 November 2014 ( : 19 February 2019). 

3 Kitty Cooper, “An Awesome Ancestry Add-On,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog: Musings on Genealogy, Genetics and Gardening, posted 10 January 2018 ( : 20 February 2019). 

Some relevant blog articles: 

Using GEDmatch:

Using Ancestry’s “Shared Matches” tool: 

Understanding Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™:

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2019


Categories DNA

DNA Testing for the Scientifically Challenged

Autosomal DNA testing has become an increasingly popular tool in everyone’s genealogy toolbox these days, but I’ve noticed that there are many everyday family historians who are still bewildered by their DNA test results and aren’t really sure what to make of them. For many genealogists, high school biology classes are a distant memory, so the language of genetic genealogy is foreign. Comments like, “What’s the point of DNA testing? I already know I’m 100% Polish-American,” remind me of how far we need to go in educating people about the value in looking beyond those ethnicity estimates so that they can really make use of their test results. With all that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to review some of these basic concepts in genetic genealogy and present some strategies for the absolute beginner to use when confronted with a list of autosomal DNA matches. If you’re already comfortable working with your DNA match lists, and you’re looking for a blog post with cutting-edge information written by an acknowledged expert in the field of genetic genealogy, then this post is not for you. But if you’re one of those people who’s scratching his head wondering how all these people could show up in the match list when they’re not in the family tree, then keep reading.

Going Beyond the Ethnicity Estimates

Biogeographical analyses, also known as admixture analyses or “ethnicity estimates” are a big draw these days, and are the primary motivation for DNA testing for many. Eager to learn whether they should trade in their lederhosen for a kilt, many people pore over their ethnicity breakdowns, and don’t pay much attention to their lists of DNA matches. That’s a shame, because the real value of DNA testing lies in those lists of matches, which offer evidence that will allow you to extend and support your documentary research. The underlying assumption of DNA testing is that the people on your match list are your genetic cousins, whether or not you know at this point how you are related to them. There’s a significant caveat, which we’ll get to in a moment. However, generally speaking, if you match a particular individual to whom you have a known relationship, and if the amount of DNA you share is consistent with the known relationship, it suggests several things:

  1. That the paper trail is correct from you to the most recent common ancestral couple that you share with this DNA match.
  2. That the paper trail is also correct from your DNA match to that same most recent common ancestral couple. 
  3. That the matching segments of DNA shared between you and this person were passed down to each of you from that most recent common ancestral couple.

To illustrate, let’s say that I have a maternal first cousin once removed named Fred. (I do, actually, and I have his permission to use his name in this post.) Fred is the son of my maternal grandmother’s brother, Leon. Fred and I share 544 centiMorgans of DNA across 28 segments, according to Ancestry. A centimorgan (cM) is a unit of genetic linkage that is commonly used to express genetic distance, so the more DNA you share with a match in centimorgans, the more closely you’re related. Since 544 cM of DNA is within the range that first cousins once removed can be expected to share, we can say that the DNA evidence supports the documentary evidence. That is, the proposed, documented parentage shown in Figure 1 is also borne out by DNA evidence, so there are no misattributed parentage events in my line back to my great-grandparents, Jan/John Zażycki and Weronika/Veronica Grzesiak, and there are no misattributed parentage events in Fred’s line back to that same couple.

Figure 1: Relationship chart showing documented relationship between me and cousin Fred.relationship chart to fred zazycki

Misattributed parentage events (also known as non-paternity events, or NPEs) can occur in a family for a number of reasons, such as informal adoption, illegitimacy, marital infidelity, surname change, etc., and they can sometimes come as quite a shock to people who test their DNA and suddenly discover that their lineage isn’t what they thought it was. Similar discoveries can also be made with documentary research, of course, so anyone who is considering DNA testing or genealogy research should be prepared for the possibility of such surprises. However, in the example above, no NPEs were found (whew!), so now we have both genetic and documentary evidence to prove that cousin Fred and I are first cousins once removed.

If we download the raw data from Ancestry and upload it to a site that offers a chromosome browser, such as GEDmatch, we can visualize where each matching segment is located on each chromosome, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Matching DNA segments (shown in blue) between me and Cousin Fred, courtesy of GEDmatch Genesis. Only data from Chromosomes 1, 2 and 3 are shown here. 

first three chromosomes showing matching segments

Each of those blue segments is presumed to be identical by descent (IBD). That is, Cousin Fred and I each carry those specific DNA sequences because we inherited them from a common ancestor. Based solely on these data, it’s not possible to know which of these segments was inherited from Jan Zażycki and which was from Weronika Grzesiak, but we know they had to come from that ancestral couple. Now let’s say we identify a hypothetical third cousin, Joe. Let’s suppose that we have documentary evidence to prove that Joe descends from Weronika Grzesiak’s brother Tadeusz. Moreover, let’s say that Joe matches Fred and me on Chromosome 2 along that segment shown in blue. If that were the case, we would call it a triangulated segment, and we could state confidently that the common ancestor from whom Fred and I inherited that bit of DNA was Weronika Grzesiak and not Jan Zażycki. 

Chromosome Mapping with DNA Painter

Analysis like this supplies the foundation for creating chromosome maps like the ones that can be generated quickly and easily at DNA Painter. Each time you use documentary evidence to verify your relationship to one of the genetic cousins from your match list—assuming you also have segment data for the match—you can paint the segment(s) onto your chromosome map. Currently, all of the major test companies except Ancestry offer chromosome browsers and segment data that can be used for chromosome mapping. So if you test with Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or 23 & Me, you’re good to go. However, if you determine your relationship to a cousin found in your match list at Ancestry, you cannot paint the match onto your chromosome map unless you can persuade that person to download his or her raw data from Ancestry and upload to Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch Genesis. (23 & Me does not currently accept uploads from other companies.) So although it’s intellectually satisfying to document your relationship to a DNA match found on Ancestry, the lack of segment data is a serious drawback, and these matches are useless for chromosome painting. My current map is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: My chromosome map, generated by DNA Painter.

dna painter screenshot

If you look closely at the map, you see that each chromosome is represented by two bars that appear next to the chromosome number on the left. The upper bar is lightly shaded in blue and represents the copy of that chromosome which I inherited from my father. The lower bar is lightly shaded in pink, and represents the copy of that chromosome which I inherited from my mother. Superimposed on those base colors are darker-colored segments which are defined in the key on the right. For example, there’s a dark pink color that indicates DNA I inherited from my great-grandparents, John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak. I know I inherited this DNA from them because all of those dark pink segments represent DNA shared between me and my late grandmother, their daughter. I tested Grandma before she passed (thank you, Grandma!), and these are the segments where she and I matched. This is important information, because it implies that the segments of my maternal (light pink) chromosomes that are not shaded in dark pink must have been inherited from my maternal grandfather. The entire light pink chromosome came from my Mom, and all of her DNA came from either her mother or her father. So if I know from empirical evidence which segments came from her mom, I know by deduction which segments came from her dad. 

Those dark-pink segments inherited from Grandma can be further refined, since all of her DNA was ultimately inherited from her mother’s ancestors and her father’s ancestors. You’ll notice that chromosomes 1, 4, and 13 show red bars superimposed on that dark pink. These red bars indicate DNA segments that I inherited from Grandma’s great-great-grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska. Maciej was born about 1775, and Barbara was born circa 1781, and I find it utterly amazing and fascinating that I can pinpoint at least some of the bits of my own DNA that were inherited from one or the other of them. Figure 4 shows a close-up of a portion of my chromosome map, where the red bar indicating DNA inherited from Maciej and Barbara is especially visible on Chromosome 4.

Figure 4: Closer view of my chromosome map showing red segment on maternal Chromosome 4, corresponding to DNA inherited from 4x-great-grandparents Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, indicated by black arrow.

dna painter crop

DNA Painter offers the additional option of a closer look at each individual chromosome. If we focus on Chromosome 4, we can see the breakdown of Grandma’s dark-pink segments as I’ve been able to map them to date (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Expanded view of Chromosome 4 showing underlying ancestral contributions to each dark-pink segment inherited from Grandma.chromosome 4

I’ve removed the names of my living DNA matches to protect their privacy. However, each of those red bars represents a match to a 5th cousin who is a documented descendant of Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska. The orange bar represents a match to a second cousin once removed (2C1R) who is a documented descendant of Maciej and Barbara’s great-granddaughter, Józefa Grzesiak (my Grandma’s aunt). This means that the segment of DNA which Grandma inherited (pink bar) which overlaps with the segment of DNA inherited by my 2C1R (orange bar) came from either Maciej Dąbrowski or his wife Barbara, and was passed down to at least two of their great-granddaughters—both my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, and well as her sister Józefa Grzesiak—who ultimately passed it down to me and my 2C1R. There may be other descendants who share this bit as well, who haven’t yet tested their DNA. 

Ultimately, this bit of DNA, or any of the other bits of Grzesiak DNA carried by documented Grzesiak descendants, might someday be the key to identifying unknown cousins from Poland. Weronika and Józefa had at least one sister, Konstancja, who remained in Poland, married, and had at least two children whom I’ve identified through documentary research. Thanks to a fortuitous marginal note on a baptismal record, I know that one of these children married in Lower Silesia in 1927. Unfortunately, it’s not currently possible for me to know if there were any children from that marriage, because Polish privacy laws protect birth records for a period of 100 years. However, if a descendant from that marriage were to test his or her DNA, it’s quite likely that he or she would show up as a match to me or one of those other Grzesiak descendants. With any luck, that hypothetical cousin might be interested in collaborating to confirm the match, through documentary research. As next-of-kin, Polish law would permit him to request the recent birth, marriage or death records to which I have no access. 

These segment data also illustrate how matches to more-distant cousins can refine our understanding of matches to closer relatives. My match to Grandma tells me that the DNA underlying that pink bar in the middle of maternal Chromosome 4 comes from one of her parents, John Zażycki or Veronica Grzesiak, but it doesn’t tell me which one. My match to my 2C1R tells me that the subset of that Zażycki/Grzesiak DNA, underlying the orange bar, comes from Veronica Grzesiak because I’m related to that cousin through the Grzesiaks and not through the Zażyckis. This suggests that the DNA on either side of that segment, represented by the pink tips that extend past the orange on the left and the right, might have been inherited from John Zażycki. However, it’s impossible to know that definitively at this point, because some future DNA match might prove me wrong.

If I only had data from Grandma and that 2C1R, I would know that the DNA segment represented by the overlap between the orange and the pink bars had to come from either Józef Grzesiak or his wife, Marianna Krawczyńska, but I would not know which one contributed it. However, thanks to those DNA matches to my fifth cousins (a set of siblings), I know that the DNA segment represented by the overlap in pink, orange and red bars must have been inherited from Józef Grzesiak and not Marianna Krawczyńska, because those fifth cousins are related to me through Józef Grzesiak’s grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, and not through the Krawczyński side. The more DNA matches you can identify, the deeper you can drill down into your DNA, because every bit of DNA in your body, no matter how small, had to come from one ancestor or another. Theoretically, you should be able to go through your list of DNA matches and identify the ancestors responsible for passing along even the tiniest fragments of DNA shared between you and a match, right?

IBD or…Not?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. It may not be possible to determine your relationship to every single one of your DNA matches. It’s not a perfect world and I don’t know anyone who has his family tree traced back to 6x- or 7x-great-grandparents on every single line. Moreover, there’s always the possibility of an NPE or two (or more!) in each person’s tree, which would throw a monkey wrench into the analysis. Furthermore, some of the DNA matches who show up in our match list may not be related to us at all through common descent in the genealogical time frame.  This is that caveat I mentioned earlier, and it’s true regardless of the company you test with. Although DNA testing is predicated on the assumption that your matches share common ancestry with you due to inherited DNA segments that are identical by descent (IBD), not every DNA segment that is identified as a match by the test company’s algorithm is IBD. What else could they be?

Any DNA match that is not IBD is sometimes described as IBS, “Identical by State.” However, IBS is something of a catch-all term, because it encompasses matches that are Identical by Population (IBP), as well as Identical by Chance (IBC). Let’s take a closer look at these two possibilities. There are some segments of DNA that you will share with people just because your ancestors and their ancestors came from the same endogamous population, meaning a community in which intermarriage between distant (or not-so-distant) cousins was common. These are typically small segments of DNA (<10 cM) that will not be possible to assign to a particular ancestor within the genealogical time frame—that is, within the time frame in which it’s possible to find documentary evidence to confirm the relationship. Such segments are often referred to as Identical by Population (IBP). The other possibility is that the DNA segment identified as a match by the test company is a false positive, also known as a pseudosegment. To understand how this can happen, we need to take a closer look at the methodology behind DNA testing.

The Nuts and Bolts of Autosomal DNA Testing

Autosomal DNA testing focuses on the tiny differences in our genetic makeup that make us unique. Most of our genetic code is identical, of course, but there are places in the human genome where slightly different forms of the same gene can exist. These different forms of the same gene are called alleles. DNA is made up of chemical units called  nucleotides, and each nucleotide in the DNA is referred to by a letter (A = adenine, T = thymine, G= guanine, C = cytosine), and each time one letter is substituted for another at a particular place in the DNA sequence, it’s called a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism, or SNP (pronounced “snip”). There are 4-5 million SNPs in the human genome, and each of the DNA test companies samples between roughly 630,000-700,000 of them.1 Figure 6 shows an extract of my raw DNA data file (called a genotype) as downloaded from Ancestry.

Figure 6: Extract from my genotype from Ancestry showing SNPs on Chromosome 2.

raw dna data

The raw data file includes some additional columns which I’ve omitted, and I’ve obscured the data in the column that identifies the precise position on Chromosome 2 where these SNPs are located. The letters to the right of the position column indicate the nucleotide found at that position on each copy of my Chromosome 2. Note also that only half the DNA is shown here. If you remember from high school biology class, DNA exists as paired strands, so every time there’s an A, it’s paired with a T, and every C is paired with a G. However, this report only provides information on one strand from each parent.

The sequence of the data looks nice and neat, and one might assume that the left column represents data from maternal alleles while the right column represents data from paternal alleles. However, the reality is that the test cannot distinguish between maternal and paternal alleles at any given position. The data in the genotype are intermixed, and therein lies the problem. Although all of the test companies use algorithms which can successfully sort out the data and identify matching segments of DNA between individuals, the accuracy of the matching algorithms decreases significantly when they attempt to identify smaller segments of DNA as matches. The result is that a large percentage of small “matching” segments (less than 7 cM) reported by the test companies are not IBD, they’re Identical by Chance (IBC), or false positives. Roberta Estes offers a more detailed discussion of these types of matching (IBD, IBS, IBC, and IBP),2 and if you really want to delve into the nitty gritty, you can read Ancestry DNA’s Matching White Paperwhich explains how their matching algorithm works in technical terms.

The Big Problem of Small Segments

So how big a problem is this? Genetic genealogist Tim Janzen estimates that there is only a 5% likelihood that a shared segment of 6-12 cM indicates a common ancestor within the last 6 generations for you and your DNA match.4 You can see his full table here. That same article states that, “False positive matching rates of between 12% and 23% have been reported for Family Finder data [Family Finder is the autosomal DNA test offered by Family Tree DNA], and up to 34% at Ancestry using their current algorithm.” 5 Yikes! So how can we know if a match is real or not? One possibility is to test not only yourself, but both your parents. Since all your DNA must come from either one parent or the other, any DNA match who matches you, but who does not also match one of your parents, cannot be your genetic relative. If both parents aren’t available for testing, the safest thing to do is to avoid basing genealogical conclusions on evidence from small segments. Consider restricting your analysis to segments larger than 10 cM.  This is good advice even if you do have phased data—that is, data which have been compared to both your mother’s data and your father’s data using a tool such as the Phased Data Generator, available as a Tier 1 utility at GEDmatch Genesis. 

To illustrate the problems with small segments, consider the following example. Figure 7 shows a 9 cM segment on Chromosome 22 which is shared by a DNA match, “Czesław C.” along with my mother (EZR), my grandmother (Helen Zielinski), my sister (AW), and me. 

Figure 7: Matching segment (shown in blue) shared by Czesław C., my mother, my grandmother, my sister, and me, courtesy of GEDmatch Genesis. chromosome 22

The segment is clearly IBD, identical by descent, because it was passed from Grandma to mom to my sister and me. However, thorough comparison of Czesław’s genealogy and Grandma’s offers no good clues regarding common surnames or places of origin. At best, this segment could be IBP, identical by population, since Grandma’s documented ancestry was entirely Polish and so was Czesław’s. However, I had the opportunity to discuss this example with genetic genealogist Blaine Bettinger over the summer, and he pointed out that the segment is still untrustworthy. Even though it’s IBD on my side, it’s possible that it’s still IBC, identical by chance, on Czesław’s side, and therefore a false positive. Of course, DNA evidence is always just one piece of the puzzle. If further documentary research turns up evidence of a shared surname or common place of origin between Grandma’s ancestors and Czesław’s, we might want to reevaluate this segment in that light. However, at present there’s no reason to believe there is any connection at all between my family and Czesław’s, so an exhaustive effort to seek documentary evidence is unwarranted.

Hopefully this discussion has helped at least a little bit with demystifying some of the concepts and terms used in genetic genealogy discussions, and explaining why autosomal DNA testing is such a powerful research tool. There are so many great resources out there to help educate budding genetic genealogists, including the list of some of my favorite blogs and Facebook groups included below, and with just a little effort, you, too, can grow comfortable with looking beyond your ethnicity estimates and incorporating DNA evidence into your research methodology. In my next post, I’ll offer some specific suggestions for working with your DNA match list at Ancestry so you can make the most of the information that’s provided there. Happy researching!


1 Tim Janzen, “Autosomal DNA Testing Comparison Chart,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Roberta Estes, “Concepts – Identical by…. Descent, State, Population, and Chance,” DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy, posted 10 March 2016 ( : 14 January 2019).

3 Catherine A. Ball, Matthew J. Barber, et. al, “Ancestry DNA Matching White Paper,” AncestryDNA, ( : 14 January 2019).

Tim Janzen, table relating “Length of Shared Segment” to “Likelihood You and Your Match Share a Common Ancestor Within 6 Generations,” “Identical by descent,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

5 Identical by descent,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, ( : 14 January 2019), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

For further reading:

The ISOGG Wiki (online encyclopedia of genetic genealogy, hosted by the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, or ISOGG) has articles on pretty much any topic of interest in the field of genetic genealogy and is highly recommended. 

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

Kitty Cooper’s blog, Musings on Genealogy, Genetics and Gardening.

Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained.

Leah Larkin’s blog, The DNA Geek.

CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist.

Of interest to Polish-speakers is Eryk Jan Grzeszkowiak’s blog, Genealogia Genetyczna

An even more comprehensive listing of popular genealogy blogs is found here

In addition to these blogs, some of my favorite genetic genealogy Facebook groups are Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques, DNA Detectives, User Group, and AncestryDNA Matching. Be sure to also check Katherine R. Willson’s index of genealogy-related Facebook groups. At present, the list includes several pages of Facebook groups, although not all are focused on autosomal DNA testing.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019




If Wishes Were Horses: the Premarital Agreements of Marianna and Barbara Kalota

We all have things we wish for, hope for, and dream about. As genealogists, sometimes our dreams might be considered a little unusual, like longing for an extant copy of the 1890 U.S. census for each enumeration district where one had relatives living at that time. But as the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” In some cases, all the wishing in the world will be in vain, because the thing we want may no longer exist—like the 1890 census. Sometimes it’s possible to obtain the same information in some other way—for example, using a state census or city directory to document an ancestor’s residence in a certain location circa 1890. At other times, we just have to resign ourselves to the reality that what we want is truly unavailable, and the information will be difficult or impossible to obtain by any other means.

When it comes to my Polish ancestors, I’ve always dreamed about prenuptial agreements. Continue reading “If Wishes Were Horses: the Premarital Agreements of Marianna and Barbara Kalota”

Using Cadastral Maps of Galicia

If you’re researching Christian ancestors from the Galicia region of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, chances are good that you’ve come across church records which mention a house number where your ancestor lived at the time he married, died, or had a new baby baptized. Moreover, if you’re interested in genealogy, chances are good that you’ve used Google Maps to obtain a street view of a home located at a particular address where your ancestors lived. So it’s inevitable that those researching Galician ancestors would want to use the house number from an old church record to find that ancestor’s home on a modern map, or at least see what exists in that place now. Unfortunately, this process is not quite as straightforward as it seems. In this post, I’ll provide a little background information about Galician cadastral maps, which can be used to assist in this process, and then walk through the steps needed to locate a Galician ancestor’s house on a cadastral map so you can then determine the corresponding location on a modern map.

What is a Cadastral Map, and What Cadastres Exist for Galicia?

A cadastre (kataster or kataster gruntowy in Polish) is a land or property register typically created for purposes of taxation, and it normally includes both detailed maps and corresponding property registers. In order to create those detailed maps, a survey of the land is required at an appropriate scale so that every separate plot of land can be distinguished on the map, e.g. 1:2,880 or 1:7,200 rather than the scale of 1:28,000 which was typical for a military survey. In Austrian Galicia, there were essentially three land surveys that are important for genealogy. The first of these, known as the Josephine Cadaster (Kataster Józefiński), was conducted between 1785 and 1789 during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. Detailed maps were not created from this survey, only field sketches (Brouillons or Feldskizzen).However, “surveyors were instructed to identify all houses, to record the number of livestock, to describe woods, rivers, and roads, and to indicate the nature of terrain on the maps. Joseph II said of it: ‘If one is to rule countries well, one must first know them exactly.'”2 Although no detailed maps were created to accompany this survey, the property registers (Metryka Józefińska) and some of the field sketches remain, and these have genealogical relevance.

The second important Galician cadastre, the Franciscan Cadastre (Kataster Franciszkański), began with a patent issued by Emperor Franz I on 23 December 1817. Also known as the Stabile cadastre, this cadastre was planned as an ambitious, long-term project for which a land survey was conducted at a scale of 1:2,880. It included such information as detailed descriptions of each parcel of land and its use (agriculture, pasture, forest, pond, etc.) in addition to noting landowners and homeowners — all of which was intended for the purpose of determining appropriate taxes. In recognition of the fact that this cadastre would take a long time to complete, orders were issued in 1819 for a provisional survey largely based on the Josephine Cadastre. This provisional survey was to be used for tax purposes in the interim, while surveying for the longer-term project was being carried out.3 The resulting property registers from this provisional survey of 1819 are known in Poland as the Metryka Franciszkańska. Since they were largely based on the Josephine surveys, the parcel numbers are almost always the same between these two sets of documents.

Meanwhile, the long-term cadastral survey, based on the patent issued by Francis I in  1817, was an ongoing project until it was finally completed in the Austrian part of the Empire by 1861. “A total of 30,556 cadastral parishes with a ground area of 300,082 square kilometers divided into nearly 50 million land parcels were surveyed. This was an astonishing rate of progress, achieved because the surveyors worked from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, and because much routine work was done by assistants.” It was finally implemented in the province of Galicia some 30-35 years after the original patent date, and the resulting cadastre includes a series of maps of Galician villages along with the corresponding descriptive documents, collectively known in Polish as operaty (or operat, singular), all of which were produced between about 1848-1854. To distinguish it from the provisional land survey registers created circa 1819, the documents from this comprehensive land survey are known as the Kataster Galicyjski (Galician Cadastre). Note that the parcel numbers resulting from this survey are almost completely different from the parcel numbers recorded in the Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska, so it’s important not to try to extrapolate too much from those earlier surveys.

There are many types of documents, tables, and statistical data included in the operat for a village and they constitute a treasure trove of information for serious scholars. However, the two that are perhaps most useful and accessible for armchair genealogists are the Alphabetisches Verzeichniss, which is the alphabetical list of parcel owners, and the Hauser Verzeichniss, which lists all the houses in the village. These are the all-important documents that are needed in order to use a cadastral map in combination with the house numbers found in Galician vital records. This will be discussed further shortly, but first, we need to find copies of both the cadastral maps and the corresponding operat documents for our village of interest.

Where Can I Find A Cadastral Map for my Ancestral Village?

Fortunately, a large number of Galician cadastral maps and descriptive property documents have survived, but due to the upheavals of war (and perhaps bureaucracy), the ones you need may be housed in different archives. For example, the cadastral maps for my ancestral village of Kołaczyce belong to the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, but the operat for Kołacyzce that are necessary for interpreting these maps are housed in the Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu. You may need to hire a professional researcher to access them for you as only a small fraction of these maps and indexes are online, but the maps themselves are inexpensive–16 zloty (about $4.39 U.S.) each, based on current prices from the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie. Some cadastral maps may be found online as well, mainly those in possession of the state archives in Przemyśl and in Kraków. Those maps and operaty owned by the archive in Przemyśl are found in Zespół 126, Archiwum Geodezyjne. Those maps and operaty owned by the archive in Kraków are found in fond 29/280/0, Kataster galicyjski. Although none of the cadastral holdings of the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie are online, a list of maps which can be ordered from this archive can be viewed hereGesher Galicia also maintains a searchable inventory of cadastral maps and cadastral records for Galicia which includes voter records, tax records, school records, and Polish magnate documents, in addition to Galician cadastral records. Last, but not least, you can always search Szukajwarchiwach for maps and related documents for your village of interest, whether that village was in Galicia, or was located elsewhere in Poland.

Although the earlier Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska documents should not be used with the cadastral maps from the 1850s, they may be of interest nevertheless. The Central State Historical Archives in Lviv, Ukraine is the repository for the Metryka Józefińska and Metryka Franciszkańska documents for a large number of Galician towns and villages, and a complete list of these holdings can be found here (note that this document is in Ukrainian).

Locating an Ancestral Home on a Cadastral Map

Now that we know where to find a cadastral map and the accompanying property registers for our ancestral village(s), we can turn our attention to locating our ancestors’ homes on those maps. The Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for my ancestral village of Kołaczyce was dated 1850, and I found it helpful to keep this time frame in mind when perusing the list for my Kołaczyce ancestors (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Cover page of Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce 1850 cover page

Let’s use this index to locate my Łącki ancestors in Kołaczyce. Here is the relevant entry for Franciszek Łacki, boxed in red (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Franz Łącki in the Alphabetisches Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.6Franz Lacki 191 b

Before we jump in, let’s take a moment to orient ourselves to the layout of the page. On the far left side, we see that Franz Łącki is entry number 133 in the alphabetized list of homeowners. The Roman numerals in the next column indicate the map sections on which we’ll find his parcels of land (more on that below). Circled in green, we see the all-important house number–“191b.” Leaving aside the “b” designation for a moment, this is the same as the number that is mentioned for Franciszek Łącki in vital records from Kołaczyce, such as his 1847 death record  (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Death record for Franciszek Łącki from Kołaczyce, 12 December 1847, with house number (191) underlined in yellow.7Franciszek Lacki death 1847 image 2

The fact that Franciszek Łącki died in 1847, and the homeowners list is dated 1850, explains the word that comes after his name in that alphabetical homeowners list: “erben,” meaning “heirs.” What this entry tells us is that Franciszek Łącki’s heirs continued to live in house number 191 after his death in 1847 — at least through 1850 when the index was created. We can gain a bit more insight into this situation thanks to another document in the operat, the Hauser Verzeichniss, which I’ll come to in a moment.

Going back to the page from the alphabetical homeowners list (Figure 2), we see 16 different numbers in the middle of the entry, and these correspond to the numbers of land parcels which were owned by Franciszek Łącki. At the bottom of the entry, we see in red ink, “Bauparzelle 347.” The word “Bauparzelle” means “building parcel,” and the number that follows this term (347) is the number we need to use in order to locate Franz Łącki’s home on the map. This is the key point — if we assume that Franciszek Łącki’s house number, 191, corresponds to parcel 191 on the map, we’ll be looking in the wrong place. 

Now let’s take a look at the map itself. The map of Kołaczyce was provided by the archive as a series of five high-resolution TIFF files which were scanned from the five individual cadastral maps contained in this set, showing Kołaczyce and the adjacent hamlet of Kluczowa. Each segment of the map has one or more Roman numerals on it. For example, the “downtown” area of Kołaczyce is found on map section IV (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Section from cadastral map of Kołacyzce, showing map section number (IV) boxed in red.8Kolaczyce map 4 marked

However, this is not the section of map that we want, since the alphabetical homeowners list stated that Franciszek Łącki’s land was located on map sections I and II. Zooming in on map section I, we see that Franciszek Łącki actually lived on the outskirts of Kołaczyce, in the Kluczowa neighborhood (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Extract from map section I showing Kluczowa district, with map section number (I) boxed in red.9Kolaczyce map section 1 marked

Zooming in still further, we can now see where Franciszek Łącki’s land and home were located (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Detail from Kołaczyce map section I, showing Bauparzelle 347 and some of the other lots owned by Franciszek Łącki, noted in green.Franz Lacki's land, marked

As evidenced by this map, Franciszek Łącki’s home, which was called house number 191 in the vital records, is the yellow rectangle marked with the black number 347. The red, black and yellow colors are original to the map, along with the charming little “trees,” complete with tree shadows, that dot some of these parcels of land. I’ve underlined in green some of the additional parcels of land owned by Franciszek Łącki that appear on this section of the map.

To find this location on a satellite map, we need to zoom out again and identify some points of reference that can be seen on both the cadastral map and the satellite map. Here’s the cadastral map again, with Franciszek Łącki’s home circled in green and some prominent roads similarly marked in green, near the northern edge of Kołaczyce (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Cadastral map showing Franciszek Łącki’s home in relation to main roads and waterways. Franz Lacki's land, marked, zoomed out

To some extent, we can also use waterways such as the Wisłoka River to orient ourselves, although some waterways which appear on the cadastral map (e.g. the Bukowska River, which forms part of Kołaczyce’s northern border) no longer appear on the modern map. Now here’s the satellite view of the same location, with the same features marked (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Satellite map of the northern Kołaczyce area, showing approximate location of Franciszek Łącki’s home (circled in green) in relation to main roads and waterways, courtesy of Google Maps.satellite map, marked

When I zoom down to the street level on the satellite map, none of the houses appear to be old enough to date back to 1850, so I’m not certain that I’ll find any trace of Franciszek Łącki’s home if I visit that area on my next trip to Poland. Nonetheless, this technique gives a pretty good idea — at least to within a hundred meters or so, based on my mediocre map skills — of where in the world my great-great-great-great grandfather lived and worked, raised his family, and took his last breaths. I think that’s very cool.

Now let’s go back to Figure 2, the entry for Franciszek Łącki in the alphabetized list of homeowners. Remember how the house number was described as “191/b”? That suggests that there was another landowner who owned house number 191 jointly with the heirs of Franciszek Łacki, who would be found under the designation “191/a.” Who might that be? To answer this question, we can check the Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Cover page of the Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce.10

Hauser Verzeichniss cover page

This brief index is a list of the house numbers for each home in the village, along with the name of the homeowner. The answer to our question about the other owner of house number 191 is found at the bottom of page 13 (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Extract from Hauser Verzeichniss for Kołaczyce showing owners of house number 191.11Homeowners of House 191

This indicates that the home was jointly owned by (a) Jakob Dąbrowski and (b) the heirs of Franz Łącki. From a genealogical perspective, this is interesting information, although unsurprising. Vital records tell us that Franciszek Łącki was married first to Tekla Stadnik or Stachnik, with whom he had five children, only two of whom lived to adulthood—daughters Marianna and Klara.12 Klara married Jakub Dąbrowski, who is undoubtedly the same as the Jakob Dąbrowski mentioned here.13 After Tekla died, Franciszek married Magdalena Gębczyńska and had five more children with her.14 By 1850, at the time of the Galician cadastre, both Franciszek and Magdalena had passed away along with their three youngest children, leaving 15-year-old twins Jakub and Anna as the remaining residents in the house, in addition to their older step-sister Klara, her husband Jakub, and their children, Jan, Stanisław, and Andrzej.15 

Genealogy and a love of old maps seem to go hand-in-hand for most of us. Our ancestors’ stories are rooted in the time and place where they lived, and cadastral maps help us to understand the element of place in a uniquely specific way. Fortunately, Galician cadastral maps and registers are widely available, relatively inexpensive to obtain, and not difficult to use, once you understand the need for the appropriate homeowner lists. So if you have ancestors from this region, why not poke around a bit in the archival collections mentioned here, to see what’s available for your villages of interest? You might gain a whole new perspective on your Galician heritage as a result.


Featured image: Detail from Stadt Kolaczyce mit der Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Provinz Galizien [Miasto Kołaczyce z miejscowością Kluczowa, pow. Jasło – Galicja], scan 59_1313_2848_04; file 2848, collection  59/1313/0 Kataster gruntowy; Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, Rzeszów, Podkarpackie, Poland.

1 Kain, Roger J.P., and Elizabeth Baigent. The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State: A History of Property Mapping. (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 194; digital images, Google Books, ( : accessed 25 September 2018).

2 Ibid., p. 195.

3 Nowak, Daniel. “Metryki Józefińskie 1785-1788 r. i Franciszkańskie 1819-1820 r. nie tylko dla genealogów.” Pamięć Bliskich,, accessed 25 September 2018.

Kain and Baigent, The Cadastral Map in the Service of the State, 198.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce sammt Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Steuer Brzostek, Provinz Galizien, 1850, page 27; file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Alphabetisches Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce sammt Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Steuer Brzostek, Provinz Galizien, 1850, entry for Łącki, Franz, page 74; file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1847, record #152, death record for Franciscus Łącki, 12 December 1847, Archiwum Archidiecezjalne w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

Stadt Kolaczyce mit der Ortschaft Kluczowa, Kreis Jaslo, Provinz Galizien [Miasto Kołaczyce z miejscowością Kluczowa, pow. Jasło – Galicja], scan 59_1313_2848_04; file 2848, collection  59/1313/0 Kataster gruntowy; Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie, Rzeszów, Podkarpackie, Poland.

9 Ibid., scan 59_1313_2848_01+03.

10 Provinz Galizien Kreis Jasło Steuer Bezirk Kołaczyce Hauser Verzeichniss der Gemeinde Kolaczyce im Jahr 1850, file 4, “Zbiór dokumentów dworskich;” series 543, Kołaczyce; collection 56/126/0 Archiwum Geodezyjne; Archiwum Państwowe w Przemyślu, Przemyśl, Podkarpackie, Poland.

11 Ibid., p. 13, house no. 191.

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anne’s parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1784-2015,” 1818, baptismal record for Simon Łącki, born 26 October 1818; and

Ibid., 1821, baptismal record for Marianna Łącki, born 1 February 1821; and

Ibid., 1823, baptismal record for Clara Marianna Łącka, born 9 August 1823; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Valentinus Casimirus Łącki, born 8 February 1826, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889″, Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015; Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Stanislaus Łącki, born 22 March 1829.

13 Maciej Orzechowski, “Kołaczyce Marriages,” marriage record for Jacobus Dąbrowski and Clara Łącka, 28 September 1843, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Śluby, 1826-1889,’ Stare Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on 9 January 2015; Excel Spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

14 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stare Kopie, 1835, baptismal record for Jacobus Łącki and Anna Łącka, born 24 July 1835; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Josephus Łącki, born 7 February 1838, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015, Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Catharina Łącka, born 16 April 1841; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Adalbertus Łącki, born 22 April 1843.

15 Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Zgony, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie, 1839, death record for Josephus Łącki, died 2 October 1839; and

Ibid., 1842, #20, death record for Catharina Łącka, died 9 March 1842; and

Ibid., 1843, #28, death record for Adalbertus Łącki, died 1 June 1843; and

Ibid., 1848, #11, death record for Magdalena Łącka, died 17 January 1848; and

Maciej Orzechowski, “Kolaczyce Births,” baptismal record for Joannes Dąbrowski, born 9 December 1844, transcribed from the collection, “Roman Catholic Church records, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Małopolskie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889,” Stary Kopie,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts on 9 January 2015, Excel spreadsheet held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Stanislaus Dąbrowski, born 1 May 1847; and

Ibid., baptismal record for Andreas Dąbrowski, born 21 October 1849.


For further reading:

Zbigniew Stettner’s article for Polish Origins, “Cadastral Records for Galicia Online.

Matthew Bielawa’s article, “The Central State Historical Archive in Lviv, Ukraine and Polish Genealogical Research. (Provides a little information on cadastres in both the Austrian and Prussian partitions of Poland.)

References and more Information about the Gesher Galicia Map Room (in particular, the links mentioned in the references are very informative): 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2018.

The “John Hancock” of John Hodgkinson

In my last post, I shared my excitement over finding a birth record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, which was signed by her father, Peter, in 1828. Since ancestors’ signatures are so fascinating (to me, at least!) I decided to create a new category for this blog where I can tag posts that contain such images. In keeping with this theme, one of my favorite documents containing an ancestral signature is the land petition for my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist. Before I present the document, though, let me offer a bit of an introduction to John Hodgkinson himself and provide some historical context.

John Hodgkinson of Clinton and Grantham, Upper Canada

John Hodgkinson was known as a United Empire Loyalist (UEL). This honorific was created by Lord Dorchester, the Governor of Quebec and Governor General of British North America, to recognize those who remained loyal to the principle of “Unity of the Empire” during the American Revolutionary War. John’s name appears with the surname variant “Hodgekins” on the roster of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist military unit that fought in the Revolutionary War.1 However, much of his early history is shrouded in uncertainty. There are plenty of family trees out there posted by people who claim to know his date and place of birth, date of death, and parents’ names, and maybe those people know something I don’t. I’m by no means the ultimate authority on the Hodgkinson family, and my research on this family is still a work in progress. However, I, personally, have yet to see convincing evidence for any of that information, so I prefer to focus on what I can state definitively at this point.

The earliest reference to John Hodgkinson’s family that I’ve found occurs in documents contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. This collection consists of  correspondence and other documents of Sir Frederick Haldimand, who served as Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1778-1786. These papers include evidence of families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown, after having fled from their homes in the American colonies when those colonies declared their independence. John Hodgkinson’s family was enumerated in one such refugee list, dated 24 March 1783. The list begins on page 111, and the Hodgkinsons appear several pages later, on page 125 (Figures 1a-b).2

Figure 1a: Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783, page 111.2John Hodgkinson column headings for Haldimand Papers p 125

Figure 1b: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” page 125.

John Hodgkinson in Haldimand Papers p 125

This indicates that as of 24 March 1783, the family of Jno [sic] Hodgkinson included one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age 6 and one female child under age 6, for a total of 3 persons who were to receive one and one quarter rations per day. The Hodgkinson family was not noted to be attached to any particular corps, so from this document alone, it is not clear that John Hodgkinson was a member of Butler’s Rangers. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family. However, this may be explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784 and this document was dated March 1783, several months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War. So at the time this document was created, John Hodgkinson was presumably still engaged in military service while his wife and two children resided in the refugee camp at Chambly, Quebec.

The reference to two female children in John Hodgkinson’s household is curious. Although his wife’s name was purported to be Mary Moore, nothing is known about her, so it’s possible that the couple did have two daughters who died young, although no daughters are commonly ascribed to them. However, John is known to have had two sons, Samuel and Francis, who are believed to be from this first marriage to Mary Moore. Therefore another possibility — perhaps more likely — is that the two children counted in the tally were boys who were misrecorded as girls. However, this same tally was reported in a similar document dated 24 July 1783 (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” page 142.3John Hodgkinson in the Halimand Papers p 142

Perhaps the individual responsible for the tally cut corners and recopied the data from the list created in March, rather than re-counting everyone? The question of which “girls” were meant by the tally marks in the provision lists will have to remain a mystery. In any case, John Hodgkinson’s only children who have been identified by name are sons Samuel and Francis, who are presumed to come from his first marriage to Mary Moore, and son Robert, whose mother was John’s second wife, Sarah Spencer. Early vital records from Upper Canada are rather sparse, and no marriage or death records have been discovered for Samuel, Francis or Robert which name their parents. Nonetheless, we can be certain of their names and of the fact that John was their father because each of them received a land grant on the basis of this relationship.4

Free Land, You Say?

The prospect of cheap land was a significant attraction for immigrants to the New World, and a seigneurial system for distributing land had been in place in the Province of Quebec (which originally included what is now southern Ontario) since 1627. When the British Loyalists from the new United States arrived in Quebec as refugees, they were unhappy with these French laws and cultural institutions, and the result was the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (presently southern Ontario) and Lower Canada (presently southern Quebec). Lower Canada retained the French institutions, while Upper Canada practiced English Common Law. To encourage settlement of Upper Canada, and also to reward Loyalists and compensate them for lands lost in the U.S., each Loyalist and each daughter or son of a Loyalist was entitled to a free grant of land. The size of these grants varied from 100 acres to a head-of-household, to as much as 5,000 acres for a field officer.5 A grant of 200 acres was typical for a private like John Hodgkinson.

Library and Archives Canada offers several databases pertaining to Canadian land records. For researching Loyalist ancestors, the first place to search is in “Land Petitions of Upper Canada (1763-1865).”  However, “Land Boards of Upper Canada (1765-1804)” should also be checked, along with  “Land Petitions of Lower Canada (1764-1841)” since some early Loyalist petitions might be found in these collections instead. “Land Boards” refers to the system of granting land that was in place in Upper Canada between 1789-1794, when each individual district (Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg) had its own administrative board to oversee land matters. A map of these four original districts is here. In 1794, an Executive Council was created as a centralized authority for granting land, and the Land Boards were abolished. It is these petitions to the Land Committee of the Executive Council that comprise the first collection.

Although there’s some variation in the information provided in any given land petition, all of them intended to verify the petitioner’s identity and justify his claim to free land. Samuel Hodgkinson’s petition illustrates this process of identifying the petitioner and justifying his entitlement. He was the oldest of John’s sons, and he petitioned for land in 1806 (Figure 3a).6

Figure 3a: Extract from Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, 16 August 1806 6Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 1

The writing is a little difficult to read in this image, so the transcription of the document is as follows:

“To the Honorable Alex. Grant Esqr. President
Administering the Government of the Province of
Upper Canada &c. &c.,
In Council
The Petition of Saml. Hodgkinson of the Township
of Grantham, shoemaker, Humbly Sheweth —
That Your Petitioner is the Son
of John Hodgkinson of Grantham
is on the U.E. List and has never received any
Land or order for land from the Crown
Wherefore your Petitioner prays
Your Honor may be pleased to grant him two
hundred acres of the west land [sic] of the Crown, and
your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever
pray — Samuel Hodgkinson
Township of Grantham
16th August 1806”

Samuel’s petition includes several pages of affidavits confirming both his identity, and that of his father. My favorite of these is shown here (Figure 3b), written by Rev. Robert Addison, a prominent Anglican missionary who built the first church in Upper Canada, St. Mark’s in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Figure 3b: Affidavit of Rev. Robert Addison from the Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson.7Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 3


“Niagara, 29th Sept. 1803

This is to certify that John Hodgkinson, the father of Saml. Hodgkinson the Bearer, has the name of an industrious and honest Man, and I believe that he deserves it — I have always understood that he belonged to Sir John Johnson’s Corps of Royal Yorkers and I think he is on the U.E. List. He lives about 6 miles from me, and I have known something of the Man this 8 or 10 years. — Robt Addison”

We can perhaps forgive Rev. Addison’s confusion over the particular provincial regiment with which John Hodgkinson served since Sir John Johnson’s Royal Regiment of New York fought alongside Butler’s Rangers in many of the same battles.

Samuel Hodgkinson’s land petition was ultimately successful, as indicated by the final page of his petition (Figure 3c).8

Figure 3c: Saml. Hodkinson, Petition & Certificate, Read in Council 16 June 1808.Samuel Hodgkinon Land Petition page 5

In addition to a number of signatures of approval of the petition, it was noted, “The Name of John Hodgkinson of the Home District is on the U.E. List. It does not appear by the Council Books that the Petitioner has received any order for land. SUE [Son of a United Empire Loyalist].”

Since John Hodgkinson was recognized as a United Empire Loyalist, I found it a bit curious that he apparently made no petition for land in his own name. Broad wildcard searches in all three of the databases mentioned previously (both Land Board records and Land Petitions) for first name “J*” (to turn up any matches for John, Jon, or first initial J) and surname “Ho*” or “Hu*” (to turn up matches for any variants such as Hotchkinson, Hodgekins, Hutchinson, etc.) produced only one petition for land which he made in the name of his wife, Sarah Spencer.9 Sarah was the daughter of another United Empire Loyalist, Robert Spencer, and his wife, Catherine Sternberg, and as such she was entitled to her own land grant of 200 acres. John’s petition appears below (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, 27 April 1797.9John Hodgkinson Petition 1797 p 1

A transcription of the text is as follows:

“To His Honor Peter Russell, Esquire, Administering the Government of Upper Canada
&c. &c. &c. In Council
The Petition of John Hodgkinson of Clinton
Humbly shews
That your petitioner is married
to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer
a Loyalist U.E. who having never recei-
ved the King’s bounty, to persons of her
description; your Petitioner humbly
prays your Honor would be pleased
to grant him 200 acres of land in
his wife’s behalf and your Petitioner
as in duty bound will ever pray
27 April 1797 John Hogkisson [sic]”

Certainly, John would have been entitled to 200 acres of land in his own name in addition to the 200 entitlement for his wife, and it’s probable that he settled on some land in Grantham as early as 1784 when Butler’s Rangers disbanded. In his site, Niagara Settlers Land Records, Robert Mutrie describes Grantham Township with a quote from the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. Toronto: H.R. Page & Co., 1876:

“The Township was first settled during the year 1784, when members of Butler’s Rangers who were discharged during that year, commenced to clear up land to make homes in the township. Many of those who received land from the Government considered it worth little, or nothing and bartered away their sites for mere trifles, and those who look over the map of Grantham which was made about 1784, or the year after, will notice the large tracts of land which some persons owned, and which, in many instances, were bought for sums almost too low to be called a price.”10

It’s likely, then, that John Hodgkinson’s land petition in 1797 represents a request for additional land to supplement the lands already granted. In a future post, I’d like to share some of the maps I’ve found which indicate where the Hodgkinsons’ land was located. For now, let’s take another look at that signature.

The Real Deal?

Although this document contains the signature of John Hodgkinson, was it actually signed by the man himself? Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL noted, “If the petitioner was educated, he may indeed have written the whole document himself. If an agent wrote the petition on his behalf, this fact is not necessarily stated. Therefore you cannot conclude a signature is truly that of the petitioner unless the body of the petition indicates so, or unless it is compared with other evidence.”11 I’m no handwriting expert, but it appears to me that the handwriting in the body of the text differs from the handwriting in the signature, especially when comparing the letter formation in the signature with John’s name as it appears at the top of the document. The name is even spelled differently in the signature — “Hogkisson,” rather than “Hodgkinson,” although I’ve also seen documents written in the same handwriting throughout which nonetheless include variant spellings of the same surname. The different handwritings may suggest that an agent wrote the body of the petition, but John himself signed it. However, as Merriman noted, it’s impossible to state this definitively on the basis of one document. Perhaps further research will turn up additional examples of John’s signature and we can know for certain whether this was really his. In the meantime, I’ll optimistically hope this is the case, and that this really is the signature of my 5x-great-grandfather, written in his own hand on a document from the 18th century.


Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, : 8 September 2018), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

1 Van Deusen, A.H. “Butler’s Rangers.” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 31(1900). Online archives. FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2018), images 374-377 of 690. Image 375.

2 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage ( : 3 September 2018), images 730-748 out of 1240. Images 730 and 745.

3 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” p. 142, LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage ( : 3 September 2018), images 749-764 out of 1240. Image 762.

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1806, no. 18, Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, Vol. 226, Bundle H-9, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images  ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 329-334 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 77, Land Petition of Francis Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images, ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 1109-1111 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 78, Land Petition of Robert Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 112-114 out of 1042.

5 “Ontario Land Records (National Institute),” FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2018), section 6, “Loyalist Land Grants.”

6 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 330.

7 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 332.

8 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 334.

9 “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada ( : 6 September 2018), accessed as browsable images, Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990.

10 Mutrie, Robert. “Grantham Township, Lincoln County,” Niagara Settlers Land Records, ( : 6 September 2018).

11 Merriman, Brenda Dougall, CGRS, CGL. “Loyalist Petitions for Land Grants: Part Two.” Global Genealogy ( : 8 September 2018).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends

One of the things I love about the genealogical community is its generosity. Whether it’s time spent in indexing records, volunteering assistance in Facebook groups, or helping novice researchers at a Family History Center, many family historians are eager to share what they’ve learned and contribute their expertise in ways that benefit the community as a whole. It’s probably safe to say that anyone currently engaged in family history research has benefited from the assistance of others at some point, and I’m no exception. I was reminded of this recently, when I obtained the birth record of my great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner. The acquisition of this document was relatively simple and straightforward, but this is only thanks to the years of research and generosity of a few individuals.

I became interested in genealogy in my mid-20s, around the time that my husband and I married. By that point, my aunt, Carol Fischer, had already been actively researching my Dad’s side of the family for at least 10 years. Since Aunt Carol was working on Dad’s side, I figured I’d start my research with my Mom’s Polish side. Polish research techniques also served me well in documenting my husband’s family, since all of his grandparents were of Polish ancestry. All this research kept me pretty busy, so it wasn’t until about 2006 that I started poking around in records on my Dad’s side, and serendipitously discovered the ancestral village of our Ruppert ancestors through indexed records at FamilySearch. Aunt Carol’s original intention was only to document our family back to the immigrant generation in each surname line, so from that point on, we arranged a loose collaboration in which I would try to determine our immigrant ancestors’ places of origin and trace the lines back to the Old Country, while she would continue her thorough documentation of more recent generations, locating living relatives throughout the U.S.

My great-great-great-grandmother, Catherine Wagner, was one of those immigrant ancestors whom I hoped to trace back into the Old Country, but there were some research obstacles that we needed to surmount. By October of 2012, according to my research notes, we still had not determined Catherine’s maiden name. What we knew from census records and from her death record was that Catherine was born circa 1830 in Germany or France, she married Henry Wagner circa 1855, they were the parents of two children, John and Mary Elizabeth, and that Catherine died 25 November 1875.1 The fact that her place of birth was recorded as “France” in the 1860 and 1870 censuses, and “Germany” in her death record from 1875, suggested that she was born somewhere in Alsace-Lorraine, a territory which belonged to France in the first part of the 19th century but was ceded to Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. No marriage record had been discovered at that point for Catherine and Henry — I didn’t find that until just last year (see here for the story). Neither did we know specifically where Catherine was born.

Aunt Carol and I both realized that church records from the parish the Wagners attended in Detroit would be required for further research into this family. In particular, we hoped that the baptismal records for Catherine’s children, John and Mary Elizabeth, might indicate where their parents, Catherine and Henry, were born. Those baptismal records were also likely to mention Catherine’s maiden name. Although we could have written to the church in Detroit to request copies of those baptismal records, we had a substantial amount of research to do in Detroit church, cemetery, and newspaper records for both our Wagner and Roberts families. It seemed to make more sense to gather all the records at once during several days of onsite research in Detroit, or else hire a local professional researcher to obtain the records for us. Since both of us had other research we could do in records that were more readily available, we put the Detroit research on the back burner.

Fast forward to January 2015. At some point around this time, I chatted about my Detroit research interests with my friend and colleague, Valerie Koselka. Since Valerie lives in the Detroit metropolitan area, she kindly offered to do a little searching for me. Among the documents she was able to locate were the long-coveted baptismal records for Mary Elizabeth Wagner and her brother, John Wagner, who was baptized as Augustinus (see this post for more information). Thanks to Valerie’s generosity, we finally had evidence for Catherine Wagner’s maiden name and place of birth (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Extract from baptismal record for Augustinus Wagner, born 3 May 1856 in Detroit.2Augustinus Wagner 1856 p 1marked

Figure 2: Extract from baptismal record for Maria Wagner, born 10 July 1860 in Detroit.3

Maria Wagner 1860 page 1 marked

Catherine’s place of birth was recorded on one document as “Oberelsau,” (i.e. Oberelsaß, the German term for Upper Alsace, or Haut-Rhin) and on the other it appeared to be “Heinsalz, Alsatiae.” I couldn’t find any village called “Heinsalz” that was in Haut-Rhin,  but I didn’t search too hard at that point, choosing instead to focus on the other key bit of information revealed by this record: Catherine’s maiden name. The birth records revealed that her maiden name was Granzinger, which immediately reminded me of the 1870 census, in which Henry and Catherine Wagner’s household included a laborer named Peter Grenzinger (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Extract of 1870 census showing Henry Wagner household.4


Although I’d wondered previously if Peter might be some relation to Catherine since he was also reported as born in France, there was no real evidence for that prior to the discovery of this baptismal record. Now, suddenly, he was almost certainly a relative, and quite possibly a brother. Immediately, I was hot on the trail of a Peter Grenzinger, born circa 1832 in France, who immigrated to Detroit. As expected, I found various spellings of the Grenzinger/Grentzinger/Granzinger/Grantzinger surname, and as I sifted through the possible matches in online records, I discovered the Find-A-Grave memorial for Elizabeth Eckert Granzinger, “wife of Peter.”5 According to her grave marker, Elizabeth was born in 1800, which would make her the right age to be the mother of Catherine and Peter (both born circa 1830). Moreover, her husband, Peter, shared a given name with Catherine Wagner’s putative brother, which was highly suggestive as well. Could this, then, be the grave of my 4x-great-grandmother?

As I dug deeper into the records at Ancestry, I discovered a family tree posted by a woman named Constance (Connie) Keavney, which brought all the pieces of the puzzle together.6 It included the family group of Peter Grentzinger, born 6 April 1802 in Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, and Elizabeth (née Eckerd) Grentzinger, born 21 July 1801 in Steinsoultz. They were the parents of three children: Marie Anne Grentzinger, born 6 December 1824; Catherine Grentzinger, born 8 January 1828; and Peter Grentzinger, born 15 March 1830. The dates of birth were very consistent with the dates of birth for my newly-discovered Detroit Grentzingers, and the names matched perfectly with existing evidence, confirming my hypotheses about the relationships. On closer inspection, the village of “Heinsalz” mentioned on the baptismal record was clearly “Steinsoultz,” too.  In Connie’s tree, Peter Grentzinger’s family disappeared from the records in Alsace. She did not know that they immigrated to Detroit, Michigan, until I contacted her and shared my research with her. Her own branch of the Grentzinger family was descended from Francis Joseph Grentzinger, the older brother of Peter (Sr.) Grentzinger. Francis Joseph married Madelaine Hänlin in Steinsoultz and they immigrated with their children to Irondequoit, New York.

Connecting with a new cousin is usually a thrill for us genealogists, and Connie has been a delightful person to get to know. In a bizarre twist of fate, I realized as we chatted that I was already acquainted with her son Chris and his family, having met them several years earlier on a camping retreat attended by both Chris’s family and mine. (Little did we know we were 5th cousins once removed!) Connie did her research into the Grentzinger family decades ago, in microfilmed records for Steinsoultz available from the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library and through onsite research at Saint-Nicolas church in Steinsoultz, so she was unable to share images of her documents with me. However, in recent years these records have been made available online through the Departmental Archive of Haut-Rhin.

This brings us full circle, to the baptismal record for Catherine Grentzinger which I recently located with ease using the date of birth Connie provided in her family tree (Figure 4).6

Figure 4: Birth record of Catharine Grentzinger, born 8 January 1828 in Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, France.6Catherine Grentzinger birth 1828

The record is in French, which I studied in high school, so I was able to translate most of it despite the rustiness of French language skills. However, credit goes to Monika Deimann-Clemens of the Genealogy Translations Facebook group for her assistance in deciphering the parts that confounded me. The translation is as follows:

“In the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight, on the eighth day of January at four o’clock in the evening, before Us, Jean Walburger, mayor and officer of the civil state commune of Steinsoultz, canton of Hirsingue, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Pierre Grentzinger, having twenty-six years of age, farmer and resident of  this commune, and presented to Us a child of the female sex, born this day at eight o’clock in the morning, daughter of the declarant and of Elisabeth Eckerd, age twenty-seven years and his wife, and to whom he declared that he wanted to give the name Catharine. These statements and presentations were made in the presence of Jean Keppÿ, age thirty-five years, farmer and resident of this commune, and Pierre Mißlin, age forty-four years, farmer and resident of this commune; and the father and witnesses have signed with us the present Birth Record, after it was read to them.”

This document made an impression on me for several reasons beside the fact that it was the birth record of my 3x-great-grandmother (which makes it inherently cool). First, it’s the first document I’ve discovered for my family to date that was recorded in French, rather than Polish, Russian, Latin, German, or English. Despite this, the style in which it was written was very familiar to me because it followed the format prescribed by the Napoleonic Civil Code, which was used in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Congress Poland or Russian Poland). This document was also signed by my 4x-great-grandfather, Pierre/Peter Grentzinger (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Extract from birth record of Catharine Grentzinger, 8 January 1828, showing signature of her father, Pierre Grentzinger.Signature of Peter Grentzinger

I always get a special thrill when I find a document that my ancestor signed with his own hand — especially when the signature is of an ancestor for whom I have no photographs. Even though I may only be looking at a digital image of the document, it’s still amazing to see that unique piece of personal history.

I find tremendous satisfaction in building a family tree on a solid foundation of documentation, but genealogy research is hardly a solitary pursuit. It’s only because of the research done by Aunt Carol and Connie, and the gift of time and talent given by Valerie, that I have the pleasure of discovering the Grentzinger family through the records of Steinsoultz for myself. For me, it’s a gift to be able to peer into my family’s past, but if I can see a long way back into the mists of time, it’s only because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.



1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit (Third Ward), Wayne, Michigan, page 173, Henry Wagner household, FamilySearch ( : 30 October 2017) original data from NARA microfilm publication NARA Series M653, roll Roll 565; and

1870 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit (Ward 6), Wayne, Michigan, Catharine Wagner in Henry Wagner household, Ancestry (subscription database, : 26 August 2018) Roll: M593_713; Page: 333A; Image: 232072; Family History Library Film: 552212; and

Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1950, database with images, record for Catherine Wagner, died 25 November 1875, 6th Ward Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, Ancestry (subscription database, : 26 August 2018).

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

Roman Catholic Church, Old St. Mary’s Parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan), Baptisms, 1860, #148, p. 359, record for Maria Wagner. “[Record number] 148, [date of baptism] Julii 15, [date of birth] Julii 10, [child’s name] Maria, [father and place of birth] Henricus Wagner Roßen ChurHessen, [mother and place of birth] Cath. Granzinger, Oberelsau [Oberelsass], [[godparents] August Wagner Maria Wagner, [residence] Detroit, [minister] P. Nagel.”

1870 United States Federal Census, ibid.

Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed 27 August 2018), memorial page for Elizabeth Eckert Granzinger (1800–5 Aug 1854), Find A Grave Memorial no. 108389561, citing Assumption Grotto Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA; maintained by Jackson County Genealogical Society – Michigan (contributor 47614392) .
“Our Beloved Mother
Elizabeth Eckert
Wife of Peter Granzinger
Born in the Year 1800
Died Aug 5 1854
Aged 54 years.”

6 Officier de l’état civil (Steinsoultz, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France), Naissances, 1797-1862, 1828, #1, birth record for Catharine Grentzinger, 8 January 1828, accessed as browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin, ( : 27 August 2018), Steinsoultz > Naissances, 1797-1862 > image 194 out of 391.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018