Frequency Analysis of Given Names in My Family Tree, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the frequency of given names on my side of the family tree that I tabulated because I’m interested in that sort of thing. Today I’ll report on the frequency analysis of given names on my husband’s side of the family.

The first thing I realized when I sat down to review my data is that I’ve really been slacking off on research into my husband’s family in recent years, a fact which I hope to remedy in 2018. Moreover, I never finished updating my tree with some research sent to me by a couple of his cousins. However, this close to Christmas, that seems like a better project for January than for tonight, so I’m just going to use the data that I currently have in my spreadsheet.

My husband Bruce’s family is 100% Polish, by which I mean that all of his immigrant ancestors reported their ethnicity as Polish, and all of them were born within the borders of Poland today, as far back as I’ve traced. Consequently, we don’t need to develop any particular rules for dealing with German given names, or given names from any language other than Polish, for that matter. So the rules of the game are pretty similar to last time:

  1. Equivalent versions of the same name in different languages (e.g. John, Jan, and Joannes) were counted in the same category.
  2. In Polish culture dating from the mid 20th-century and earlier, the name “Maria” was revered as the name of the Mother of God, and it was considered inappropriate for parents to aspire to use this name for their daughter. Consequently, the name  Marianna, meaning, “like Mary,” was used instead. For the purpose of this analysis, Mary, Marie, Maria, and Marianna were all treated as equivalents and counted together.
  3. Polish immigrants with names that were foreign to American ears often chose to use different names in the U.S. in their efforts to assimilate into American culture. Often they used the English version of the name of their baptismal patron saint, and for that reason, Polish men named Wojciech often became Albert or Adalbert in the U.S. However, some traditional Slavic names such as Stanisław, Czesław, Władysław, etc. do not have a precise English translation. While many men named Stanisław chose to use the name “Stanley” in the U.S., there was no requirement to do so, and some men chose very different names. In the case of Bruce’s family, his 2x-great-grandfather, Stanisław Lewandowski, chose to use the name “Edward” in the U.S. For the purpose of this analysis, I counted him under his baptismal name, Stanisław, rather than his adoptive name.
  4. Only direct ancestors were counted.

The Results

The data included 48 men and 48 women born between about 1732 and the 1940s. In the category of male names, there was a marked deviation from the expected result, in that Albert/Adalbert/Wojciech was the most popular name in Bruce’s family, rather than John/Jan. In fact, John/Jan was only in third place, where it was tied in popularity with the name Stanisław. The name Joseph/Józef took second place. The names Anthony/Antoni and Stephen/Szczepan were tied for fourth place, and there was a four-way tie for fifth place between the names Andrew/Andrzej, Jacob/Jakub, Martin/Marcin, Michael/Michał.

Frequency Distribution Male Names Bruce's Side

Additional male names which each appeared once in the family tree were Augustine/Augustyn, Denis/Dionizy, Francis/Franciszek, Gary, Henry, Lawrence/Wawrzyniec, Louis/Ludwik, Matthew/Mateusz, Matthias/Maciej, Peter/Piotr, Simon/Szymon, Thaddeus/Tadeusz, Valentine/Waleny, and Vincent/Wincenty.

For female names, Marianna/Mary was the winner by a huge margin over second-place Catherine/Katherine/Katarzyna. Third place was a three-way tie between the names Agnes/Agnieszka (which didn’t even make the top 10 in my family), Anna, and Elizabeth/Elżbieta. Finally, the names Angeline/Aniela, Apolonia, Christine/Krystyna, Frances/Franciszka, and Joanna, came in with two votes each, creating a five-way tie for fourth place.

Frequency Distribution Female Names Bruce's Side

Additional names which appeared once each among Bruce’s female ancestors were Antonina, Dorothy/Dorota, Hedwig/Jadwiga, Helen/Helena, Josephine/Józefa, Justine/Justyna, Caroline/Karolina, Magdalena, Margaret/Małgorzata, Petronella, Thecla/Tekla, Theresa/Teresa, Rosalie/Rozalia, and Veronica/Weronika.

Putting the data together, I came up with this comparison of the top names in each family (those that appeared more than once). Names that appear in color are tied for the frequency with which they appeared; in other words, in my family, there were equal numbers of Andrews and Josephs.

Top 10 Given Names for Boys

Seven of the top names were the same in both families: John/Jan/Johann, Joseph/Józef, Michael/Michał, Jacob/Jakub, Andrew/Andrzej, Stanisław, and Wojciech. Robert, Henry, George/Georg and Frank/Franciszek made it into my list, whereas Anthony/Antoni, Stephen/Szczepan, and Martin/Marcin were more popular in Bruce’s family.

For the women, the names Marianna/Mary, Catherine/Katherine/Katarzyna, Anna, Elizabeth/Elżbieta, and Christina/Christiana/Krystyna/Christine made the list for both families, and beyond that, there were quite a few names that were more popular on one side of the family or the other.

Top 10 Given Names for Girls

What does all this mean? Not much, really, although it might shoot down my theory about the relative popularity of the name “Catherine” in my own family, versus the general population, since that name was the second-most popular in both families. However, whereas in my family, there were 19 women named Marianna/Mary and 16 named Catherine/Katarzyna, in Bruce’s family there were 11 women named Marianna/Mary, and only 4 named Catherine/Katarzyna, so it still seems to be relatively more popular in my family. Although it’s not possible to draw too many conclusions based on such a small sample, it’s certainly interesting to take a look at the names that our ancestors chose for their children. I can imagine all the new mothers in my family and Bruce’s, raising their children in small villages or larger towns in what is now Poland, Germany, France, Canada, or the U.S., cradling their newborns in their arms and bestowing on those children the most beautiful, noble, saintly, or strong names they could think of, and dreaming of the men and women these little ones would become.

And if nothing else, I will be well-prepared for that casual inquiry about popular given names in our family tree, the next time someone in the family is having a baby!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

What’s in a Name?: Frequency Analyis of Ancestral Given Names in My Family Tree

Many years ago, when she was pregnant and thinking about baby names, my sister-in-law Ainslie asked me for a list of given names of ancestors on the Szczepankiewicz side of the family. Little did she know how well this simple question would play into my lifelong fascination with given names. Given my obsession with genealogy, I wasn’t about to jot down ancestral given names for a few generations and call it a day. Nope, I decided to develop a spreadsheet that included given names on both sides of the family, and the frequency with which each name appeared. As my research has progressed over the years, I’ve continued to add to this spreadsheet, each time a new generation of ancestors is discovered. Today I’ll discuss the data from my own family, and another day I’ll delve into the data from my husband’s side.

Determining the frequency with which given names appear in the family tree isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Relatively few of my ancestors’ given names are in English, since most of my ancestry is Polish or German. And German ancestry opens the door to the question of how to count German double names like Johann Heinrich or Maria Magdalena. According to German custom, the second name is the rufname, or call name, by which the person is known. So it’s not uncommon to see an entire family of boys with the first name Johann and different middle names. Common first names for girls are Maria or Anna, again used in combination with different rufnamen. However, the waters are muddied because Johannes can be used as a call name, usually for an oldest son.

The Rules of the Game

With all this in mind, here are the ground rules I developed for assessing the popularity of  given names in my family tree:

  1. Equivalent versions of the same name in different languages (e.g. John, Jan and Johann) were all counted in the same category.
  2. In Polish culture dating from the mid 20th-century and earlier, the name “Maria” was revered as the name of the Mother of God, and it was considered inappropriate for parents to aspire to use this name for their daughter. Consequently, the name  Marianna, meaning, “like Mary,” was used instead. For the purpose of this analysis, Mary, Marie, Maria, and Marianna were all treated as equivalents and counted together.
  3. If existing data suggest that a German man with the first name “Johann” used a different call name, he is recorded under that call name. If there is no known call name, I assumed he used the name Johann (or some diminutive thereof) in daily life.
  4. In cases where a woman seemed to use two names equally (e.g. Margaretha Elisabeth) or was equally likely to be recorded under her first name or her middle name (e.g. Maria Magdalena, who was sometimes recorded as Mary and sometimes as Magdalena) I used her first name for the popularity ranking.
  5. The names Maciej/Matthias and Mateusz/Matthew were counted separately, even though they have the same ancient etymological orgin, because the distinction between these names dates back to the New Testament.
  6. Similarly, although the name Harry is a traditional diminutive of Henry, it was not used that way in my family, so I counted those names separately.
  7. German immigrants named Walburga often chose to use the name Barbara in America. However, in the single instance in my family where this was the case, I counted her under her baptismal name, Walburga, since St. Walburga and St. Barbara are two different patron saints.
  8. Christina and Christiana were counted together (same etymological origin).
  9. Only direct ancestors were counted.

The Results

The data covered 96 women and 95 men who were born between about 1670 and the 1940s. Some of the results were as expected. Just as John and Mary were the most popular given names in the U.S. throughout the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, they were the most popular names in my family tree as well. However, those same data from the U.S. indicate that William was a close second to John throughout this time period, even overtaking it in some time periods, and this name does not appear at all among my male ancestors.

Male name frequency

Additional names which appeared in the family twice each are Anthony/Antoni, Casimir/Kazimierz, Christoph/Krzysztof, Harry, Matthias/Maciej, Peter/Piotr, Thomas/Tomasz, and Lawrence/Wawrzyniec. Names which appears once each in the family are Carl, Fidel, Gregory/Grzegorz, Ignatius/Ignacy, Lucas/Łukasz, Martin/Marcin, Matthew/Mateusz, Nicholas/Niklaus, Paul/Paweł, Phillip/Philipp, Roch, Sebastian, Simon, Ulrich, and Wenceslaus/Wenzeslaus.

My family’s Catholic roots are very evident in the large number of saints’ names in the list, especially saints popular in central Europe, (unlike poor St. William). Among male names, the top three names (John, Francis, Michael) comprised about 33% of the total, whereas the top three female names (Mary, Catherine, Anna) comprised nearly half the total (47%). Interestingly, there were exactly 34 “different” names (as defined in the Rules of the Game, above) in each data set (male and female), indicating less overall variability among female names. Additional female names that appeared once each in the family tree are Agatha/Agata, Cecilia/Cecylia, Dorothy/Dorota, Elaine, Felicia, Frances/Franciszka, Genevieve/Genowefa, Joanna, Josephine, Julia, Clara/Klara, Constance/Konstancja, Leonora, Martha, Regina, Salomea, Sarah, Ursula/Urszula, Veronica/Weronika, and Victoria/Wiktoria.

Female Given Names

Among female names, I was unsurprised by the popularity of Mary and its variants, but I was somewhat surprised by the popularity within my family of the name Catherine, since its ranking is relatively higher than one might expect based on a comparison with U.S. data. The name was consistently found in the top 10 U.S. girls’ names here, but was never as high as #2, and the U.S. Social Security Administration’s list of the top names over the last 100 years ranks Catherine at #43. However, this list treats the names “Catherine” and “Katherine” separately, and “Katherine” came in at #41. Obviously if the two names were taken together, they would appear much higher on the list.

I admit, I was intrigued by this for personal reasons. I’ve loved the name Catherine since I was a little girl. I named almost all my dolls Catherine Elizabeth or Catherine Marie. When my husband and I were dating and beginning to talk about marriage, I told him that if ever we had a daughter, she had to be named Catherine, and that fact was pretty much non-negotiable. (He married me despite the ultimatum.)  To me, the name is elegant, musical and lovely, and apparently, many of my ancestors agreed with me. It almost makes me wonder if there’s some weird genetic predisposition for name preferences, just as there’s a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap for some people, or a gene that makes some people find broccoli to be bitter. Whether or not that’s the case, it was nice to compile the data and demonstrate to my daughter Catherine that she’s in good company. I think I simultaneously demonstrated to her that her mother is a huge geek, but I think she knew that already.

So how about you? What are the most popular given names for your ancestors? Which names were the most fascinating to discover, or most unusual? Did you name your children after any particular ancestors? Let me know in the comments! Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

Where Were Your Ancestors in 1857?

Genealogists often think in terms of family timelines, tracing one particular family line through many generations. However, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to examine my family tree in cross section. That is, what was happening in each of my family lines in the year 1857? I chose that year because I wrote recently about my 3x-great-grandparents’s marriage in Roding, Bavaria in 1857, and that got me wondering what my other ancestors were doing in that same year, and where they were living around the world. It turns out this is a pretty useful (and fun!) exercise. I gained new insights into each family group, and it also served to point out deficiencies in my research, and families that I’ve neglected, that I should perhaps plan to spend more time on in 2018. Here, then, is a summary of my ancestral couples who were alive at that time. Although the map in the featured image is not “clickable,” you can use this link to explore that map in greater depth, if you’d like.

Maternal grandfather’s line

In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents, Michał Zieliński and Antonia (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska, were living in the village of Mistrzewice in Sochaczew County in what was at that time the Królestwo Polskie or Kingdom of Poland, which officially had some autonomy, but was in reality a puppet state of the Russian Empire. They’d been married about four years, although I don’t know the precise date of their marriage because 19th century records for Mistrzewice prior to 1859 were largely destroyed. Michał and Antonina had one daughter, Zofia, who was about 2, and Michał supported his family as a gospodarz, a farmer who owned his own land.1

Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Budy Stare, Sochaczew County, my 3x-great-grandparents Roch Kalota and Agata (née Kurowska) Kalota welcomed their (probably) oldest daughter, my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Kalota, who was born circa 1857. Again, the destruction of records has been a problem for researching this line, but available records tell us that Roch Kalota, too, was a farmer.2

In the south of Poland in 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents on my Klaus line had not yet married. Jakub Klaus was the son of Wawrzyniec (Lawrence) Klaus and Anna Żala or Żola. He was a young man already 27 years of age, but he did not marry his wife, Franciszka, until 1860.Franciszka Liguz was the daughter of Wawrzyniec Liguz and Małgorzata Warzecha, age 21 in 1857. Both Franciszka and her husband-to-be, Jakub, lived in the village of Maniów in Dąbrowa County in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire, and Jakub was described as a famulus, or servant.

Still further south in what is now Poland, my 3x-great-grandparents Jakub Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz were 4 years away from their eventual wedding date.4 In 1857, Jakub was a 22-year-old shoemaker from the village of Kołaczyce in Jasło County in the Austrian Empire, and Anna was the 23-year-old daughter of a shoemaker from the same village.

Maternal grandmother’s line

Heading further north again in Poland, back into Sochaczew County in Russian Poland, my 2x-great-grandparents Ignacy and Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycki were about 8 years into their marriage, raising their family in the village of Bronisławy. By 1857, they had three children for whom birth records have been discovered, Marianna,5 Paulina,and Tomasz.7 Ignacy was a land-owning farmer who was born in the nearby village of Szwarocin,8 but his wife Antonina’s place of birth remains a mystery.

Moving west now, in 1857 my 3x-great-grandparents Stanisław and Jadwiga (née Dąbrowska) Grzesiak were living in Kowalewo Opactwo, a village that was located in Słupca County at the far western edge of the Russian Empire, within walking distance of the border with Prussia. Ages 51 and 41, respectively, they were already parents to 12 of their 13 children. Stanisław was usually described as a shepherd or a tenant farmer.9

In the nearby town of Zagórów, my 3x-great-grandmother, Wiktoria (née Dębowska) Krawczyńska was living as a 53-year-old widow, having lost her husband Antoni Krawczyński 10 years earlier.10 Antoni had been a shoemaker, and he and Wiktoria were the parents of 8 children, of whom 4 died in infancy. By 1857, the surviving children ranged in age from 27 to 14 — the youngest being my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Krawczyńska.

Paternal grandfather’s line

Meanwhile, in Detroit, Michigan, my 3x-great-grandparents Michael Ruppert and Maria Magdalena Causin were newlyweds in 1857, having married on 12 May of that year.11 Michael had immigrated to the U.S. just four years earlier, at the age of 19, with his parents and siblings.12 The Rupperts were from the village of Heßloch in the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt, or what is now Alzey-Worms district in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.13 Michael was a carpenter, and he and his family had already begun to use the surname Roberts.14 His wife Maria Magdalena Causin/Casin/Curzon is a bit of a mystery, and will likely be the subject of future blog post, because she doesn’t show up in the records until her marriage in 1857, and her parents’ names are not on her marriage or death records.

In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Henry and Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner and were also living in Detroit, had been married for 2 years and were parents to their first child, John Wagner.15 Henry was a teamster who had arrived in Detroit about 3 years previously along with his parents and siblings, all immigrants from the village of Roßdorf in the Electorate of Hesse, a state within the German Confederation.16  This was a first marriage for Henry, but a second marriage for Catherine, since she was a young widow after the death of her first husband, Victor Dellinger or Dalmgher.17 In addition to burying her husband some time between 1850-1855, it appears that both of Catherine’s children from that first marriage 18 also died young, since they were not mentioned in the 1860 census in the household of Henry and Catherine Wagner. Catherine herself was an immigrant from Steinsoultz, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, who came to Detroit with her parents and siblings some time between 1830 and 1834.

Across the border and some 225 miles to the east, my 3x-great-grandparents Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh made their home in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. In 1857, Elizabeth Walsh was a 39-year-old mother of 5, pregnant with her 6th child, Ellen, who was born in December of that year.19 Elizabeth was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of United Empire Loyalists, so her family were among the first settlers in St. Catharines. Her husband, Robert Walsh, was a 49-year-old tailor from Ireland whose family origins have proven to be more elusive than his wife’s.

Also living in St. Catharines were my 3x-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds. In 1857, Robert was a 40-year-old immigrant from England, usually described as a laborer or farm laborer. Nothing is known about Robert’s family of origin. He married his wife, Catherine, circa 1840, and by 1857 they were the parents of three daughters and three sons.20 Catherine’s origins, and even her maiden name, are unclear. There is evidence that she was born circa 1818 in Martintown, Glengarry, Ontario to parents who were Scottish immigrants or of Scottish extraction, but no birth record or marriage record has yet been discovered for her.

Paternal grandmother’s line

Jacob and Catherine (née Rogg or Rock) Böhringer, my 3x-great-grandparents, were German immigrants from the Black Forest, having lived in the village of Gündelwangen in the Grand Duchy of Baden21 prior to their migration to Buffalo, New York in 1848.22 By 1857, Catherine and Jacob had already buried three of their seven children, including oldest daughter Maria Bertha, who was born in Germany and apparently died on the voyage to America. Jacob was a joiner or a cabinet maker.23

In 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Joseph Murre and Walburga Maurer were still about 5 years away from their eventual wedding date. They were born and married in Bavaria, Germany, although I have yet to discover their specific place of origin. I don’t know the names of the parents of either Joseph or Walburga. Joseph was a woodworker who was employed in a planing mill in Buffalo, New York in 1870 24 and was later listed as a carpenter in the Buffalo city directory in 1890. He and Walburga arrived in New York on 3 April 1869 with their children Maria, Anna and Johann.25

In October 1857, my 3x-great-grandparents Johann Meier and Anna Maria Urban were married in the parish church in Roding, Bavaria.26 Their first child, Johann Evangelista Meier, was born out of wedlock two years previously although the father was named on the baptismal record with a note that the child was subsequently legitimized. Johann and Anna Maria would go on to have a total of 10 children, 3 of whom migrated to Buffalo, New York.

In 1857, my 4x-great-grandparents, Ulrich Götz or Goetz and Josephine Zinger, were living somewhere in Bavaria and raising their 4-year-old son, Carl Götz, who was my 3x-great-grandfather. Almost nothing is known of this family, including where they lived in Bavaria or the names of Carl’s siblings. Carl grew up to be the second husband of a much older wife, Julia Anna Bäumler, who was already 19 in 1857. Julia had at least one child from a previous relationship, a son, John George Bäumler, who was born in 1858. Julia and Carl married in Bavaria circa 1875, a development which may or may not have influenced John Bäumler’s decision to emigrate from Bavaria to Buffalo, New York in 1876.28 Julia gave birth to her only child with Carl, Anna Götz (my great-great-grandmother), in 1877, and the Götz family eventually followed John Bäumler to Buffalo in 1883. Julia Götz’s death record states that she was born in “Schlattine, Bavaria,” which suggests the village of Schlattein in Neustadt an der Waldnaab, Bavaria, but further research is needed to confirm this location.

So there you have it: a summary of where my ancestors were in the world, and in their lives, in the year 1857. But what about your ancestors? Where were they living, and what were they doing? Is there a more interesting year for your family than 1857? Choose a different year, and tell me your ancestors’ stories!

Selected Sources:

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mistrzewicach, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl, 1875, Małżeństwa, #2, record for Zofia Zielińska and Piotr Malinowski, accessed on 10 November 2017.

2 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl, Księga zgonów 1889-1901, 1895, #59, death record for Wojciech Kalota, accessed on 10 November 2017.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary Magdalene parish (Szczucin, Dąbrowa, Małopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1786-1988, Akta małżeństw 1786-1988, Maniów, 1860, 16 September, marriage record for Jacobus Klaus and Francisca Liguz, Family History Library film # 1958428 Items 7-8.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anne’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), Śluby, 1826-1889, Stare Kopie, 1861, #11, marriage record for Jacobus Łącki and Anna Ptaszkiewicz.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1850, #48, baptismal record for Maryanna Zarzycka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1853, #60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, 1855-1862, 1856, #48, baptismal record for Tomasz Zarzecki.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1828, #34, baptismal record for Ignacy Zarzycki.

Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. słupecki), 1832, marriages, #14, record for Stanisław Grzesiak and Jadwiga Dąbrowska, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/, accessed 17 November 2017.

10 Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, 1843, #137, death record for Antoni Krawczyński.; FHL film #2162134, Item 1, Akta zgonów 1844-1849.

11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages”, 1857, #15, marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin.

12 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (index and image), record for Franz, Catherine, Michael, Arnold, and Catherine Rupard, S.S. William Tell, arrived 4 March 1853, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 123; Line: 51; List Number: 146, accessed 17 November 2017.

13 Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch (Kr. Worms), Hesse, Germany), Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876, 1834, baptismal record for Michael Ruppert, FHL film #948719.

14 1860 U.S. Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, p. 142, Michael Roberts and Frank Roberts households, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

15 Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940, database, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org), database with images, 1855, #11, record for Henry Wagner and Catherine Dellinger, accessed 17 November 2017.

16 New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry, Cath., August, Johnny, Gertrude, and Marianne WagnerS.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, arrived 29 September 1853 in New York,  Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 132; Line: 12; List Number: 1010,  http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

17 Michigan, County Marriages, 1820-1940,  (images and transcriptions), Wayne County, marriage certificates, 1842-1848, v. B, #1733, marriage record for Victor Dellinger and Catherine Grenzinger, 3 February 1846,  FamilySearch, https://familysearch.org, accessed 17 November 2017.

18 1850 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, page 156B and 157, Victor Dalmgher household, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.  

19 Census of 1861, database, Library and Archives Canada, St. Catharines, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), Robert Walsh household, item number 2721097, accessed 17 November 2017.

 20 Census of 1861, database, Library and Archives Canada, Grantham, Lincoln, Canada West (Ontario), Library and Archives Canada, Robert Dodds household, Item number 1884852, accessed 17 November 2017.

21 Roman Catholic Church, Gündelwangen parish (Gündelwangen, Waldshut, Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany), Kirchenbuchduplikat, 1810-1869, 1847, baptisms, #4, record for Maria Bertha Rogg, p. 165, with addendum on page 171, Family History Library film #1055226.

22 Passenger and Immigration Lists, 1820-1850,  record for Jacob Behringer, Catherine, and Marie Behringer, S.S. Admiral, arrived 4 November 1848 in New York, http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

23 1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), 7th Ward Buffalo, Erie, New York, p. 77, Jacob Barringer household, http://familysearch.org, accessed 17 November 2017.

24 1860 United States Federal Census (population schedule), 7th Ward Buffalo, Erie, New York, p. 73, Joseph Murri household, http://familysearch.org, accessed 17 November 2017.

25 Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Joseph, Walburga, Anna, Marie, and Johann Muri, S.S. Hansa, arrived 3 April 1869 in New York,  Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 308; Line: 38; List Number: 292. http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

26 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), Marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857, Vol. 27, page 3 MF 573.

271900 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Buffalo, Erie, New York, E.D. 107, Sheet 16B, Charles Goetz household, https://.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

28 1900 United States Federal Census (population schedule), Gainesville, Wyoming, New York, E.D. 122, Sheet 9A, John Baumler household, https://.ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 17 November 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

The Meier Family of Obertrübenbach, Bavaria and Buffalo, New York

Recently, I wrote about my first attempt at translating a German marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Johann Meier and Anna Maria Urban. I was getting a little ahead of myself there, since I never really explained my connection to that couple, so I’d like to take this opportunity to remedy that.

Anna (née Meier) Boehringer (or “Nana,” as she was known by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren) was my father’s maternal grandmother, and one of the three great-grandparents whom I distinctly remember from my childhood. All three of them — Nana; her husband, “Grandpa John” Boehringer; and “Big Grandpa” (Joseph Zielinski) appear in this photograph from a family party in 1969. Although I was too young to remember this particular moment, but I love this photo nonetheless because they’re all in it.

My Three Great Grandparents 1969Anna (née Meier) Boehringer, John Boehringer, and Joseph Zielinski, June 1969, Grand Island, New York.

Anna Julia Meier was born 25 April 1895 in Buffalo, New York; the oldest of the 13 children of Wenzeslaus (“Wenzel”) and Anna (née Goetz or Götz) Meier. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a three-generation portrait of Anna with her parents, grandparents, and some of her siblings, taken circa 1903. This version of the photo was retouched by Leslie Utley of the Genealogists Photo Restoration group on Facebook to remove some scratches and flaws. In the front row, left to right, there is my great-great-great-grandmother, Julianna (née Bäumler) Götz (1838-1905). Next to her are her grandchildren, Anna Meier, Julia Meier, Marie Meier, and Frances Meier, followed by my 3x-great-grandfather, Carl Götz (1853-1933). In the back row are Wenzeslaus Meier (1871-1942) and Anna (née Götz) Meier (1877-1949), holding baby Margaret Meier.

Meier 3 generation portrait retouched

One of my most cherished family heirlooms is Nana’s First Communion prayer book, written in German, with her name inscribed in it.

 

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Here’s one more great photo of Nana, at the age of 17 in 1912, retouched to remove creases and colorized by Lisa Binion of the Genealogists Photo Restoration group on Facebook. I love the confidence on her face here, and the hint of a smile around the corners of her mouth.Anna Meier at 17, retouched and colorized by Lisa Binion

As mentioned, Anna’s father was Wenzel Meier, a German immigrant born in Bavaria. Wenzel is on the left in this photo taken circa 1939, presumably at his home in Buffalo, New York.Wenzel Meier on left with neighbor circa 1939According to the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, he was born 27 March 1871 in Roding, Federal Republic of Germany.1 He came to the U.S. in 1890, on board the S.S. Fulda, which departed from Bremen and Southhampton and arrived in the port of New York on 8 August.2 The passenger manifest states that his last residence was “Obertrubenbach” (Figures 1a and b).

Figure 1a: Extract from passenger manifest for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, far left side of the page.2Wenzel Meier Manifest left crop

Figure 1b: Extract from passenger manifest for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, far right side of the page.2Wenzel Meier Manifest right crop

These two pieces of information, Roding and Obertrubenbach, were consistent with the location of Obertrübenbach, which is a village in Cham county, Regierungsbezirk Oberpfalz, in the easternmost part of Bavaria, roughly 20 miles from the present-day border between Germany and the Czech Republic, as shown on the map. (A Regierungsbezirk is an administrative division that’s intermediate between a county and a state.) Obertrübenbach has had a Catholic church, Sts. Peter and Paul, since the second half of the 12th century, but this church has been a filial church of the church in Roding since at least 1391.3 Although the entry for Obertrübenbach in the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire) does not specify the relationship between the churches, only mentioning that a Catholic church did exist in Obertrübenbach, the online version of the gazetteer confirms that the village belonged to the parish in Roding (claiming FamilySearch as the source for this information). The church of St. Pancras in Roding is indeed where Wenzel Meier was baptized in 1871, and his baptismal record is shown here (Figure 2).The priest who recorded Wenzel’s baptism really loved abbreviations, so a complete transcription and translation of this record was a joint effort by several contributors in the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook, including William F. Hoffman, Mente Pongratz, Gerardo Cacciari, and Jadwiga Berntsson.

Figure 2: Baptismal record for Wenzeslaus Meier, 1871. Transcription (including full words where the priest abbreviated): “Die 27 Mart[ii] h[ora] 1 noct[is] nat[us] et eodem h[ora] 9na [?] a C. Piendl bapt[izatus] est Wenzeslaus fil[ius] leg[itimus] Joan[n]is Maier, aedic[ularii] in Obertruebenbach Nr. 5 et ux[oris] Mariae c[uius] p[ater] Math[aeus] Urban, aedic[ularius] in Kalsing, Lev[antes] Joseph Urban, aedic[ularii] fil[ius] [son of a Häusler] de Alzenzell c[uius] v[ices] g[erens] Math[aeus] Pongratz. Obst[etrix] Christoph”4
Wenzeslaus Meier 1871 crop

In translation, the record states, “On the 27th day of March at 1:00 at night was born, and on the same day at 9:00 in the morning by C. Piendl was baptized Wenzeslaus, legitimate son of Johann Maier, homeowner in Obertruebenbach [house] number 5, and his wife Maria, whose father is Matthias Urban, homeowner in Kalsing. The godfather was Joseph Urban, son of a homeowner, living in Atzenzell, and acting in his place [as proxy godfather] was Mathaeus Pongratz. The midwife was (Crescentia?) Christoph.”

I had originally read the abbreviation aedc as aedt, for aedituus, meaning “sacristan” or “sexton,” but Mente Pongratz set the record straight that it’s actually aedicularius meaning homeowner, equivalent to the term Häusler in German. Moreover, he added that the Latin term aedic. fil. is equivalent to the German word Häuslerssohn, which is the son of homeowner, as opposed to the idea that the priest was describing Joseph Urban as both as homeowner and a son. William F. Hoffman further clarified that the midwife’s given name was likely to be Crescentia, based on the previous entry on the page, which reads “Obst Cresc. Christoph.” In any case, the birth date on this record matches exactly with the date of birth reported by Wenzel Meier on U.S. records, and his parents’ names, which were recorded as John Meier and Mary Uhrman on U.S. documents, are also sufficiently similar that we can be sure this is a match. The variation in surname spelling, Maier rather than Meier, isn’t a big deal, despite the popularity of the surname.

It was Wenzel’s parents, then, whose marriage record from 27 October 1857 I translated in that previous blog post. And now you know a bit more of their story.

Sources:

1U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015), Record for Wenzel Meier, 27 March 1871, Social Security number 122106193, Ancestry.com, subscription database, https://www.ancestry.com/, accessed 20 October 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (images), (Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), record for Wenzeslaus Meier, S.S. Fulda, 8 August 1890, accessed 20 October 2017.

3 Obertrübenbach,” Wikipedia, https://de.wikipedia.org, accessed 20 October 2017.

4 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), baptismal record for Wenzeslaus Maier, born 27 March 1871, vol. 6/213, p. 378, MF 273.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

The Final Clue: Tracing the Wagners Back to Germany

As dead people go, Joseph Riel wasn’t even all that interesting to me. He was just an in-law, the husband of my great-great-great-grandaunt, Gertrude Wagner Riel. He was not even a blood relative, much less a direct-line ancestor, and he and Gertrude died without issue, so I cannot hope to find Riel cousins among my DNA matches. And yet it was Joseph Riel’s grave marker that gave me the final clue to the German place of origin of my Wagner family. Before I explain what was on the grave marker and why it mattered, let me introduce you to my Wagners and summarize the evidence for their place of origin in Germany up to this point.

The Henry Wagner Family of Detroit, Michigan

My great-great-great-grandfather was Henry Wagner, born circa 15 December 1829 in Germany.1 According to the 1900 census, which was recorded when Henry was living as a widower in the household of his son of his son, John, Henry arrived in America in 1855 (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: Excerpt from the 1900 census for Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, showing Henry Wagner in the household of his son, John Wagner.2

Henry Wagner 1900 census crop

On that census, Henry reported his own date of birth as September 1827, and no baptismal record from Germany has yet been obtained to verify the correct date. Henry Wagner’s death certificate reveals that his father was also named Henry Wagner, and his mother was Mary Nau (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: Death certificate for Henry Wagner, 6 February 1907.3Henry Wagner death certificate

Further digging revealed that Henry (Jr.)’s parents, Henry and Mary (née Nau) Wagner also immigrated. The family can be seen in the 1860 census (Figure 3), living in Detroit.Henry himself was already married by that time and living separately.

Figure 3: Excerpt from the 1860 census showing the family of Henry (Sr.) and Mary Wagner with sons John and August, son-in-law Joseph Riehl (sic), and daughter Gertrude Riehl.4Henry Wagner family 1860 census Detroit

Henry Wagner (Sr.) is noted to be a “gentleman”, born circa 1810 in Hessia, whose personal estate was valued at approximately $5,000. Mary, his wife, was also born circa 1810, and their sons John and August were born circa 1832 and 1834, respectively, and were both employed as carpenters. Son-in-law Joseph Riehl was noted to be a blacksmith and he and his wife, Gertrude, were both born about 1835.

The passenger manifest for Henry Wagner (Sr.) and family does not reveal where they were from in Germany, unfortunately (Figure 4).5

Figure 4: Passenger manifest of the S.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, which arrived in New York 29 September 1853, showing the family of Henry Wagner (Sr.).5

Henry Wagner fam Passenger List

The manifest shows the family of Henry Wagner, a 50-year-old male farmer from Germany traveling to the U.S. Henry’s age suggests a birth year of 1803. The name of the passenger below him appears to be “Cath.;” however, the passenger is marked as a 24-year-old male. No trace has yet been discovered in U.S. records for a Catherine Wagner born circa 1829 who belongs to this family, and “Catherine’s” birth year is approximately correct for Henry Wagner (Jr.) who is missing from this manifest. This suggests one of two possibilities: either (a) Henry Wagner (Jr.) immigrated separately from his family, which would explain his absence from this manifest, and Catherine Wagner is a real sibling for whom evidence may yet turn up in U.S. records with further digging, or (b) the name “Cath.” was recorded in error, and the 24-year-old male passenger listed with the Wagner family was actually Henry (Jr.). The names of the other passengers listed below “Cath.” — August, Johnny and Gertrude — are consistent with the known children of Henry (Sr.) and Mary Wagner, although their ages appear to be 20, 22 and 28 (?), suggesting birth years of 1833, 1831, and 1825, which are a bit off from what was reported in the 1860 census. Interestingly, the family matriarch, Mary (née Nau) Wagner is not mentioned with the family group, although there is a good match for her at the bottom of the page — 50-year-old Marianne Wagner. Since she was separated from the family on the manifest, the possibility existed that perhaps Henry (Jr.) was similarly separated, perhaps on the next page after Marianne’s name. However, all pages of the manifest were checked and there was no match for a Henry Wagner of the appropriate age.

The Search for Henry’s Manifest

To examine the possibility that Henry Wagner (Jr.) traveled separately from his family, another search was made for a manifest for Henry Wagner, born circa 1827-1829 in Germany, arriving in the U.S. circa 1855. A possible match was discovered (Figure 5), which shows a single Henry Wagner who arrived on the S.S. General Jacobi on 3 May 1854.6

Figure 5: Excerpt from manifest for the S.S. General Jacobi, arrived in New York on 3 May 1854.6

Henry Wagner passenger record

According to this manifest, 27-year-old Henry Wagner was a German carpenter who was traveling to Buffalo, New York. His age suggests a birth year of 1827, and his occupation, carpenter, matches the occupation reported for John and August Wagner on the 1860 census. While I was excited to see his place of origin reported as “Fritzlar,” I recognized that this information would not help me unless I could be sure that the passenger described here is “my” Henry Wagner. And his destination, Buffalo, is somewhat problematic, since the Wagner family was not known to live in Buffalo. So although this could be the correct manifest, it’s also possible that this passenger was a different Henry Wagner, since the surname is so common.

At this point, we have two hypotheses to evaluate: (a) this is the manifest for “my” Henry Wagner, and he stopped in Buffalo briefly before moving on to Detroit, or (b) this manifest is for a different Henry Wagner who traveled to Buffalo and remained there. If (b) is correct, we should expect to find evidence of a German immigrant named Henry Wagner who matches this passenger, living in Buffalo or thereabouts. Accordingly, census records for Buffalo, New York and adjacent counties were checked, and there is evidence of a Henry Wagner, born in Germany circa 1830, who arrived in the U.S. circa 1852 and lived in Clarence, New York, which would at that time have been farm country on the outskirts of Buffalo. This suggests that perhaps the Henry Wagner who arrived on the General Jacobi is not my Henry after all. So perhaps my Henry really did arrive with his family on the Erbpring Luidrich August in 1853 and was misrecorded as “Cath.”? I think it’s possible, maybe even likely. But with such a common name, we may never know for certain.

Church Records to the Rescue

Since the Wagners’ place of origin in Germany could not be determined from the passenger manifest, other sources had to be checked. In this case, as it often happens, church records proved to be very helpful. As noted on his death record (Figure 2) Henry Wagner (Jr.) and his wife Catherine (née Grentzinger) had only two children, John and Mary (my great-great-grandmother). Both of them were baptized at Old St. Mary’s parish in Detroit, and their baptismal records revealed the place of origin of both their parents.  Shown here is Mary’s baptismal record (Figure 6).7

Figure 6: Extract from baptismal record for Maria Wagner, born 10 July 1860 in Detroit.7

Maria Wagner 1860 page 1 marked

All names in this record are written in Latin. Although the column headings are cut off in this image, the record indicates that Mary Wagner was born 10 July and baptized 15 July 1860, and that she was the daughter of Henry Wagner of “Roßen ChurHessen” and Catherine Granzinger of Oberelsau. Godparents were named as August Wagner and Maria Wagner, and they were probably the baby’s uncle and paternal grandmother.

The baptismal record for Henry and Catherine’s son John (Figure 7) indicates that he was baptized with the name August, although this is the only record discovered to date in which he was referred to that way.8

Figure 7: Extract from baptismal record for Augustinus Wagner, born 3 May 1856 in Detroit.8Augustinus Wagner 1856 p 1marked

The date of birth for “Augustinus” is approximately consistent with dates of birth reported for John Wagner, and since this was the only other birth record discovered for a child of this couple (and since they were known to have only two children), it’s reasonable to conclude that “Augustinus” is really John. It’s customary in parts of Germany to name a child after the same-sex godparent, and since August Wagner was named as this child’s godfather, that might explain the priest’s error in recording the child’s name, if perhaps the priest was from one of those regions. In any case, this record tells us that Henry Wagner was from “Roßdorf, Chur Hessen” and Catherine Grenzinger was from “Steinsolz, Alsatiae.”

“Chur Hessen” in both these records is a reference to Kurhessen, properly called Kurfürstentum Hessen, the Electorate of Hesse, a German state which existed from 1814-1866, at which time its territory was annexed by Prussia. The territory was also known as Hesse-Cassel or Hesse-Kassel. Although the Meyers gazetteer does not reveal any places called “Roßen” that were located in this area, “Roßdorf” turns out to be a better clue, since there were two places by that name that were in Hesse-Cassel. One of these was located in Hanau County, about 2 km north of Bruchköbel, while the other was located in Kirchhain County,  about 5 km southwest of Amöneburg. Based solely on this information, I had no way of knowing which Roßdorf was meant, so I put the Wagner research on the back burner.

The Final Clue

Fast-forward now to last weekend, when I had the opportunity to visit Detroit and present two lectures for the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan at their annual fall seminar. While in Detroit, I was able to visit Mt. Elliott Cemetery in person. This cemetery is the final resting place of all my immigrant Wagners, as well as some of their descendants, so I was eager to get some photographs. I was somewhat disappointed to find that only two monuments for this family are presently visible, although I was very pleased that one of these was for my great-great-great-grandparents, Henry and Catherine (née Grentzinger) Wagner (shown on the right in the featured image at the top of the page). The other monument is for Gertrude and Joseph Rhiel (sic). As I mentioned in the beginning, I was pleased to find this monument, but not overly excited about it, until I got home and took a closer look at the inscription on it. The inscription states that Joseph Rhiel was “geboren in Mardorf, Kurhessen.” A quick check in Meyers reveals the existence of a village called Mardorf that was located in Kirchhain County. This village is apparently too small to be shown on modern maps, but can be seen in relation to Roßdorf and Amöneburg on this old map of the Kassel region circa 1906 (Figure 8).9

Figure 8: Map showing relative locations of Roßdorf, Mardorf, Amöneburg, and Neustadt, Hesse-Kassel, circa 1906.9Map of Rossdorf and Mardorf

Of course, Meyer’s gazetteer identifies a second location called Mardorf that was in Kurhessen, in Homberg County. How can we be sure that Joseph Riel wasn’t from that Mardorf instead?

Cluster research in genealogy (also known as FAN research, research which focuses on our ancestors’ Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) is based on the principle that our ancestors did not live their lives in a vacuum. One person in a village would decide to move and settle in a new area, and he would be followed by others from the same village — a phenomenon known as chain migration. So it’s more logical to suppose that the Riel and Wagner families were from the same part of Germany, and continued that association in Detroit, rather than supposing that they came from villages that were relatively far apart.

While in Detroit, I also had the opportunity to attend Mass at Old St. Mary’s church — the parish to which my Wagner ancestors belonged. After Mass, I had the good fortune to chat with Randy Bowers, operations manager and archivist at the parish. He gave me a draft of a parish history by John D. Little which states, “In 1830 the first German immigrants — all Catholics and mostly farmers — arrived in Detroit from Neustadt, a small country town of about 2,100.”10 This statement offers further evidence that we’re on the right track in identifying the locations of Roßdorf and Mardorf, since the town of Neustadt can be seen on the map in Figure 8, about 22 km (13 miles) from Roßdorf.

Although the evidence looks pretty good at this point, the identification of the Wagners’  ancestral village must be considered tentative until we find mention of them in the church records for Roßdorf.  There is also a great deal more research that can be done to document the Wagners in Detroit, especially in church records. Unfortunately, I had no time during this visit to utilize the vast genealogical resources of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, so that research remains on my to-do list for the time being. However, I’m fairly confident that I’m on the right track, since all the clues regarding place of origin for the Wagners and their FANs are pointing to the same location. Joseph Riel may have been just an in-law to my family, and it’s true that he left no descendants. But in retrospect, it turns out that he was a pretty interesting guy after all.

Sources:

1 Mt. Elliott Cemetery (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Grave marker for Henry and Katherina Wagner, photographed 27 October 2017. Inscription: “Hier Ruht in Gott/Henry Wagner/Geboren/D. 15 Dez. 1829/Gestorben/D. 6 Feb. 1906/Katharina Wagner/Geborene/Graenzinger.”

2 1900 U.S. Federal Census (population schedule), Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, E.D. 23, sheet 24B, John Wagner household, http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 3 November 2017.

Death Records, 1897-1920, Michigan Historical Center, Seeking Michigan (http://seekingmichigan.org), 1907, #735, certificate for Henry Wagner, died 6 February 1907 in Detroit, Wayne, Michigan.

1860 U.S. census (population schedule), 3rd Ward Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, page 173, Henry Wagner household, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 3 November 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry, Cath., August, Johnny, Gertrude, and Marianne Wagner, S.S. Erbpring Luidrich August, arrived 29 September 1853 in New York,  Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 132; Line: 12; List Number: 1010,  http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 3 November 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image and transcription), record for Henry Wagner, S.S. General Jacobi, arrived 3 May 1854 in New York, Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 138; Line: 19; List Number: 406http://ancestry.com/, subscription database, accessed 3 November 2017.

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.”

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.”

Map, “Kassel” circa 1906 from 3rd Military Mapping Survey of Austria-Hungary, Elte Department of Cartography and Geoinformatics, http://lazarus.elte.hu, accessed 4 November 2017.

10 John D. Little, The History of Old St. Mary’s, p. 4; photocopy to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2017; original held by Randy Bowers, Detroit, Michigan.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Anatomy of a German Marriage Record

In my last post, I wrote about my excitement over my brand-new copy of Hoffman and Shea’s recently published German genealogical translation guide, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin and Russian Documents: Volume IV: German. I decided to test-drive it using a marriage record from the Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv Regensburg that my friend Mente Pongratz obtained for me a while ago. While most of the documents he obtained were in Latin, there were a few that were in German, and I’ve been saving the German-language ones for this moment. These documents pertain to my Meier family from the village of Obertrübenbach, presently located in Cham County, Oberpfalz, Bayern (Bavaria),. I’ll have to introduce you to my Meiers in the next post, but right now, I want to focus on the process I use when I begin to learn to read genealogical records in an unfamiliar language.

The marriage record in question is for Johann Meier/Maier and his bride, Anna Maria Urban, who were my great-great-great-grandparents, and it comes from the Catholic Church in Roding, Bavaria. Let’s start by looking at the entire document (Figure 1a and b).

Figure 1a: Left page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1.jpg

Figure 1b: Right page of marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857.1 The entry pertaining to them is the second one from the bottom.

Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 2

Remember that I’m starting from the same place as many of you. I have no prior experience with reading, speaking, or writing German, and I’ve never made any serious attempt to decipher records in that language until now. I do have some prior knowledge about the names of my ancestors, and I’m going to leverage that advantage as far as possible. As I looked at this for the first time, my first thought was that learning the cursive letter forms is going to be almost as bad as learning Cyrillic. The letter forms used are an old German cursive script called Kurrent which is sufficiently different from our cursive script that it’s not just a matter of reading bad handwriting. The printed text at the top is in a typeface called Fraktur, which is sufficiently similar to our “Old English” Gothic typefaces that it shouldn’t pose too many problems. That said, one of the first things I should have done when I obtained this document as a hard copy from the archive was was to scan it immediately and open it up on my computer, in order to zoom in on the text, rather than trying to work from the hard copy. Since I didn’t do that, I struggled for a bit with the fact that the Fraktur 𝕭 (B) is almost identical to the Fraktur 𝖁 (V), especially when viewed at a small size. This made it difficult to look up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Take It From the Top

Let’s start with looking at the column headings on the left page:Johann Meier & Anna Maria Urban 1857 p 1 top crop

The first thing I did was to check Hoffman and Shea’s section entitled, “Marriage Entries and Certificates: Columnar-Form Original Entries in Registers” to see if this exact form was reproduced. Unfortunately, it was not. However, this section provided a good starting point for me to decipher many of the words found in the column headings without having to resort to the glossary in the back every time. The first column reads Trauung-Tag, or wedding date. The second column is Bräutigame Tauf- und Zuname, Bridegroom, given- and surname. Easy enough so far. In the third column, you’ll notice that the Fraktur 𝕾 looks rather different from our S, and the final 𝖉 in the first word looks almost like a 𝖇, and I found myself referring frequently to Hoffman and Shea’s handy German alphabet chart on page 1, where they show Fraktur, Cursive, and Roman letters all side by side for comparison. However, it’s clear from the examples in the book that the first word in the third column is Stand. and then Religion is easy to read.

The glossary at the back of Hoffman and Shea’s book defines “Stand” as “position, class; (marital) status; occupation; state,” making it clear that the word could have multiple meanings. Moreover, there’s a period after Stand. in this document, so I briefly entertained the idea that perhaps this was intended to be an abbreviation for Standesamt, which is the civil registry office. Now, as it turns out, Hoffman and Shea spell it out on page 232 that, “What we see under Stand will usually be occupation.” However, since I was skipping around in the book, I managed to miss that part initially, so I had to prove this for myself. To rule out the possibility that maybe Stand. meant Standesamt, I checked the Meyers gazetteer for Obertrübenbach, which reported that the Standesamt was in Obertrübenbach itself.  I knew I should be able to locate this word in this document, since I knew that Wenzel Meier’s family came from Obertrübenbach. Sure enough, in the entry for the marriage of Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban (second from the bottom), “Obertrübenbach” appears in the 4th column on the left page. Since the writing in the 3rd column is completely dissimilar, we know that Stand can’t mean Standesamt in this context. 

Further examination of the entries in this third column reveals that only one word was recorded in most cases (sometimes hyphenated), and the word katholisch does not appear to be written in any of the columns. This makes sense; in a register from a Catholic parish, presumably all or most of the brides and grooms would be Catholic, so perhaps religion was recorded only in cases where one party was of a different faith.  I spent a few minutes wondering whether any of the entries in this column could possibly be ledig (single, unmarried), but then I skipped ahead to the column heading a few columns over, and realized that it reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib, or “single, or widower whose wife is deceased (or separated).Although the glossary defines geschieden as “separated,” in this context I think we can understand it to mean “divorced.” This column heading is interesting in light of the fact that this is a Catholic parish register and the Catholic church does not permit remarriage after divorce. Taken together with the previous column heading that mentioned stating the religion of the bridegroom, I wondered if this might imply that this form was created for use by a variety of religions in Germany, in an era when church records were recognized as legal documents, and I made a mental note to look up the date when civil vital registration (independent from church registration) began in Bavaria.

Since marital status was covered in Column 6, I finally arrived at the conclusion that “Stand” in column 3 must refer to the bridegroom’s occupation. After much back-and-forth between the alphabet chart showing the letter formations in Kurrent, and comparison of all the other entries, I concluded that Johann Maier must be a Häusler, which Hoffman and Shea define as, “cottager, peasant with a small house and garden and a livestock (e.g., a goat), but not enough to support a family.”

The next column heading is Landgericht, Aufenthalts-Ort, meaning, “District Court, place of residence.” This is where the word Obertrübenbach was recorded, which helped me determine the context for Stand in the previous column heading. Next comes Eltern. Bei der Mutter auch der Geschlechts-Name. This is translated to mean, “Parents. With the mother, also the Family Name.” So what we should see in this column are the names of the groom’s parents, with his mother’s maiden name specified. I was able to make out Johann’s father’s name, Christoph, and his mother’s name, Walburga gb. (geboren, i.e. née) Meinzinger. Did it help that I already knew what these names should be? Absolutely. But when you’re just starting out, using every scrap of information available to you is fair game.

The next column heading was also discussed previously, as it’s the one that reads, Ledig oder Wittwer, dessen gestorbenes (geschieden) Weib. In this case, Johann Maier was recorded as ledig, single. After that, the column heading is Geboren wann? wo?, which we understand to mean, “Born when? Where?” Apparently the priest saw no need to record any of the wheres, but he did record Johann’s birthdate for us, 27 July 1827.

Here Comes the Bride

The next columns pertain to the bride, starting with the column that reads, Der Braut Vor – und Geschlechts-Name, which is, “The Bride, given and family-name.” In the relevant entry, the bride’s name is recorded as Anna M. Urban, but her Stand doesn’t make sense to me. The first part of the word looks exactly like Häusler as it’s written in the groom’s column, but it looks like it ends in “𝖘𝖙,” i.e., “Häuslerst.” This isn’t possible. Häuslerin would be a female Häusler, but those final two letters clearly aren’t “𝖎𝖓.” I left this alone for a while and moved on, but after further consideration, I’m wondering if perhaps those final letters really are “𝖘𝖙,” and this was intended to be an abbreviation for Häuslerstochter, “daughter of a Häusler.”

Having completed the first page, I anticipated that the second page would be a little easier since many of the column headings are the same for the bride as they were for the groom. The first column on the right page is Landgericht Aufenthalts-Ort, although this time the word bisheriger, meaning “previous” or “up until now” is inserted after Landgericht. Anna Maria’s residence prior to her marriage was noted to be Kalsing. Her parents, described in the next column (identical column headings to corresponding column on groom’s side), were Johann and A. Maria gb. Ederer.  The next column, which reports whether she was single or a widow, states, led. — possibly abbreviated because by now, the priest’s hand was no doubt cramped from the effort of writing such tiny letters with any degree of precision. Anna Maria Urban was noted to have been born on 11 October 1832 in Kalsing.

We’re in the home stretch, with just four columns to go. The next one up has the heading, Pfarrer Stellvertreter, “Parish Representative,” implying that this column should name the priest who performed the marriage (who might not be the pastor himself). At this point, I had no more lifelines, in that I didn’t know in advance what the name should be here. My best guess was that the first letter is a P, and the last two letters are “-it” or possibly “-is.” Poppit? Poppis? The middle two letters that seem to be repeated contain a downward stroke that suggests either the letter p, g, or z; it doesn’t look like y, f, or h. I tried playing with versions of this surname on a German-language surname distribution site, and even on Google. My new best guess was that the surname might be Kappis, but the fact that this surname does not exist in Cham County today doesn’t bode well for that hypothesis. There’s also the fact that the capital “K” in “Kalsing” and in Klessing (3rd entry from the top in the first column on the second page) is formed quite differently from the first letter in the priest’s name. At this point, I decided to move on again and maybe come back to this name.

The next column is for the witnesses, with given name, surname, occupation, and place of residence. Again, I was without a safety net. The first witness was easy, Georg Maier, but the next line was not so easy: F???? m. (?) and then a word that looked like it might be “Obertrübenbach,” but with half the letters randomly omitted from the middle. Sigh. My guess was that the word beginning with F was an occupation, and maybe what looks like “m.” was actually im (in), so this phrase might describe Georg, rather than indicating the name of a different person. The third line in this column appears to be “Math. Pongratz,” and as this realization dawned on me, I realized that the first letter in that priest’s name really must be P, although I still can’t find a valid German surname that seems to fit that pattern.

The next column, Weltliche Heiraths-Lizenz, refers to a secular marriage license. I had no idea what the initials here are supposed to indicate; they seemed to be “L.R.” in most cases. It would be interesting to know if a secular marriage license could be obtained for further documentation of this marriage. I made a mental note to ask one of my friends who is an expert in German genealogy for more information on the entries in this column and their implications for further research.

The final column, Getraut mit oder ohne Dispens in den Graden, mit oder ohne Denunziationen, seemed to translate as, “Married with or without dispensation in degrees, with or without denunciation,” and some Roman Catholic canonical context is needed to understand this. My sense is that it relates to the need, or lack thereof, for a dispensation for the marriage due to consanguinity, since this need is determined by the degrees of separation in the relationship between the bride and groom. Denunciation in this context seems to refer to the reporting of known impediments to the marriage to the priest beforehand, in response to the announcement of the marriage banns (see “Denunciation of impediments,” here.) So in the case of most of the marriages recorded on these pages, there were no impediments to the marriage that were reported, and therefore there was no need for any dispensations. The one exception to this is the 8th marriage record down from the top (immediately above the record for Johann Maier and Anna Maria Urban), for Wolfgang Niklas and Elisabeth Niklas. Given their shared surname, they were probably relatives by blood or marriage, whose marriage would necessitate a dispensation. I considered trying to decipher the script pertaining to the dispensations, but I felt that I’d banged my head on a wall long enough for one day.

That’s a Wrap

So after all this, my best (first) attempt at translation can be summarized as follows:

  • Wedding date:  27 October 1857
  • Groom’s Name:  Johann Maier
  • Occupation:  Häusler (cottager)
  • Place of Residence:  Obertrübenbach
  • Parents’ Names:  Christoph and Walburga née Meinzinger
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date of Birth:  27 July 1827
  • Bride’s Name:  Anna M. Urban
  • Occupation:  Häuslerstochter (daughter of a Häusler)
  • Place of Residence:  Kalsing
  • Parents’ Names:  Johann and A. Maria née Ederer
  • Marital Status:  single
  • Date and Place of Birth:  11 October 1832 in Kalsing
  • Parish Representative:  Pa??il or Pa??it (?)
  • Witnesses:  Georg Maier, ?? in Obertr???h, Math. Pongratz.
  • Secular Marriage License:  LR (whatever that means)
  • Marriage dispensation with or without denunciation:  Not applicable

I never did come to any resolution with bits of it, but I can always ask a German friend, or post the record in the Genealogy Translations Facebook group to get help with those little bits, and to have them correct my translation. Even without those options, it’s okay to have small bits remain unresolved. I used to do this all the time when I was translating Russian records, before I discovered Facebook genealogy groups. Now, with a few more years of experience in reading Russian records, I sometimes come across those early translations in my research notes and fill in the little bits that I couldn’t decipher the first time around. Now that I have my first German translation behind me, I know that it can only get easier from here!

If I Can Do This, So Can You!

So what are some general tips to keep in mind when learning to translate documents in a foreign language? Here are seven pointers:

Always look at the entire page, not just a single record.

I think this one ought to be obvious, but it’s really critical to familiarize oneself with all the examples of handwriting on the page.

Use the familiar to decode the unfamiliar.

Find something you recognize on the page — any words that you can recognize or predict based on your prior knowledge, or about what you’ve been told the document says (for example, from an indexed entry) — and use these words as your Rosetta Stone to understand the nuances of the handwriting of this particular writer. Since there are multiple forms of the letter “s” that are possible in Kurrent, for example, does the writer consistently use the same form? Or does he use them all interchangeably?

Use maps and gazetteers to help understand the places mentioned.

A good exercise for me will be to go through the list of places of residence mentioned in this document and see if I can translate them based on the names of villages close to Roding.

Formulate hypotheses and test them.

When you think you’ve deciphered a surname found in a record, test your theory by plugging it into a German language surname distribution database. If the surname exists in Germany today, you may be on the right track, and you score bonus points if the surname is also found in your county of interest. Similarly, if you think you’ve deciphered the priest’s name, try Googling the history of the parish to see if this particular priest was mentioned. Note that Google.de will provide different (and more appropriate) results than English-language Google, and for Polish records, Google.pl is the preferred search engine. You may need to translate your search terms first using Google Translate, which is an approach that is always fraught with peril when working with inflected languages, so keep your searches simple.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The more you work with foreign-language records, the more things will start to make sense to you. Especially with different letter forms like Cyrillic and Kurrent, it seems like a certain amount of time has to be spent in the beginning in staring at alphabet charts, committing the letter forms to memory and learning the sounds that each letter makes.  Be patient with yourself. You’ll get there.

Get help when you need it.

Learning to translation foreign-language records is an investment in yourself, but you don’t have to go it alone. The global genealogical community is a very generous one, and there are people who are willing to help you along the way. If you get stuck, you can always post the record and your translation attempt in the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook. Volunteers in that group, or in one of the groups targeted to your ethnic group of interest (German Genealogy, Polish Genealogy, etc.), can usually provide insight into archaic terms and offer historical context to help you understand the record, in addition to merely offering a translation.

Have fun!

Deciphering genealogical records can be quite an enjoyable puzzle, and you’ll gain a useful skill that will help you in your research. I’m really excited to continue my practice with German records, now that Hoffman and Shea’s German genealogical translation guide is here. While you won’t see me offering assistance to others with German translations any time soon, I’m confident that regular practice, the day will come when I can pick up a German document written in Kurrent and read it without having to look up any words in the book. And if I can do that, you can, too!

Note: The first round of edits is in! Apparently I was systematically misreading 𝖇 and 𝖉 in this document, too. I’ve made those changes in the text above. Thank you, Mente. Every correction is a learning opportunity.

Sources:

1 BZAR, Roman Catholic Church, St. Pancrus parish (Roding, Cham, Oberpfalz, Germany), marriage record for Johann Maier and Anna M. Urban, 27 October 1857, vol. 27, pg. 3, MF 573.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

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

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

So why are these books so great?

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

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

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

 

 

5 Strategies for Finding Living Relatives In Poland

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

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

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

1. Check out those attics!

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

2. Develop your own tree first.

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

3. Get your surnames out there.

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

4. Reach out in the right places.

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

5. When in Poland….

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Zielinski and the Board of Special Inquiry

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

— Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Special Inquiry manifest Frank Zielinski crop

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For further reading:

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

http://www.dvhh.org/dta/usa/general-research/alien_detentions.htm

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

http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/Manifests/bsi/

Sources:

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

 

 

 

 

The Leonard Zarzycki Family of Warsaw

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

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

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

Zygmunt Zarzycki and Henryka Kurkiewicz 1929 crop

The translation of the record is as follows:

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

 

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1870-1880, 1876, #87, baptismal record for Leonard Zarzycki.

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017