I'm a family historian with 20 years of experience in researching my family's origins in Poland, Germany, the U.S. and Canada. You can find me on Facebook, where I'm an administrator for the groups "Polish Genealogy,""Polish Culture, Food and Traditions," and "Genealogy Translations." I'm a member of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State, the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts, and the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Southeast. I also enjoy sharing research strategies and resources via genealogy lectures and webinars, which I've given for the PGSMA, PGSNYS, Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, and Massachusetts Society of Genealogists.
Let’s take a quick detour from Drajem research today to talk about Lewandowskis.
Stanisław “Edward” Lewandowski/Levanduski and Marianna/Mary Woźniak/Wisnock were some of my husband’s great-great-grandparents. I wrote a little about them previously, and I recently obtained their marriage record, for which a transcription and translation were kindly provided by Marcel Elias. The record is shown in Figures 1a and 1b.1
Marcel’s transcription is as follows:
Rogowo am neunten September tausend acht hundert achzig und zwei
Vor dem unterzeichneten Standesbeamten erschienen heute zum Zweck der Eheschließung:
1. der Knecht Stanislaus Lewandowski, der persönlichkeit nach bekannt, katholischer Religion, geboren den neun und zwanzigsten October des Jahres tausend acht hundert neun und fünfzig zu Szetejewo/Szelejewo, wohnhaft zu Wola rzewajewska (???), Sohn des in Szelejewo verstorbenen Knecht Michael Lewandowski und dessen Ehefrau Elisabeth, welche in Putfelde (???) verstorben wohnhaft zu ……
2. die unverehelichte Knechtstochter Marianna Wozniak der Persönlichkeit nach bekannt, katholischer Religion, geboren den sechs und zwanzigsten Juni des Jahres tausend acht hundert drei und sechszig zu Brudzyn, wohnhaft zu Wola rzewaj. Tochter der Knecht Jacob und Marianna geborene Sobczak, Wozniak’schen Eheleute wohnhaft zu Wola rzewujewska.
Als Zeugen waren zugezogen und erschienen:
3. d Gastwirth Joseph Statkiewicz, der Persönlichkeit nach bekannt, zwei und dreißig Jahre alt, wohnhaft zu Rogowo
4. der Knecht Michael Rajkowski, der Persönlichkeit nach durch den Stadtdiener Franz Lukowski von hier anerkannt, fünf und vierzig Jahre alt, wohnhaft zu Johannisgrün
In Gegenwart der Zeugen richtete der Standesbeamte an die Verlobvten einzeln und nach einander die Frage:
ob sie erklären, daß sie die Ehe mit einander eingehen wollen. Die Verlobten beaantworteten diese Frage bejahend und erfolgte hierauf der Ausspruch des Standesbeamten, daß er sie nunmehr kraft des Gesetzes für rechtmäßig verbundene Eheleute erkläre.
Vorgelesen, genehmigt und Schreibensunkunde von Stanislaus Lewandowski und Michael Rajkowski mit ihrem handzeichen versehen, von den anderen Erschienenen unterschrieben
Marcel also provided the following translation:
Rogowo on the ninth September thousand eight hundred eighty and two
Today appeared in front of the undersigned registrar for the purpose of marriage:
1. the servant Stanislaus Lewandowski, of known identity, Catholic religion, born the twenty-ninth day of October of the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty nine in Szelejewo, living in Wola rzewajewska (???), son of the servant who died in Szelejewo, Michael Lewandowski, and his wife Elisabeth, who died in Putfelde (???)
2. the unmarried servant’s daughter Marianna Wozniak, whose identity is known, of Catholic religion, born on the twentieth day of June in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three in Brudzyń, residing in Wola rzewaj. Daughter of the farmhand Jacob and Marianna née Sobczak, Wozniak’ married couple living in Wola rzewujewska.
The following witnesses appeared:
3. Inn-keeper Joseph Statkiewicz, whose personality is known, thirty-two years old, living in Rogowo 4. the servant Michael Rajkowski, whose personality was recognized by the town clerk Franz Lukowski from here, forty-five years old, living in Johannisgrün.
In the presence of the witnesses, the registrar put the question to the engaged couple one by one: whether they declare that they want to marry each other. The engaged couple answered this question in the affirmative and the registrar then declared them legally married couples by virtue of the law.
Read aloud, approved and provided with signature signs by Stanislaus Lewandowski and Michael Rajkowski, signed by the others who appeared. [signed] XXX [Stanislaus Lewandowski’s mark], Maryjanna Lewandowska, J. Statkiewicz, XXX [Michael Rajkowski’s mark].
This record is packed with wonderful genealogical information, including Stanisław’s date of birth (29 October 1859) and place of birth (Szelejewo), the names of his parents (Michael and Elisabeth) and their places of death (Szelejewo and “Putfelde”). Similarly, the record informs us that Marianna was born 20 June 1863 in Brudzyń to Jacob Woźniak and Marianna Sobczak, who were still living at the time of the marriage in “Wola rzewajewska,” or “rzewujewska.” Marcel’s notes made it clear that the handwriting was a bit difficult to make out on some of these place names, but he was confident that I could figure it out.
Figuring it out was, indeed, straightforward in most cases. There are a number of good gazetteers for this area which are useful in identifying locations and determining administrative assignments, including the county in which the village was located, the local parish and registry office, etc., and I’ve discussed some of them previously. A quick check in Kartenmeister, for example, identified Szelejewo as a village in Znin County, Posen province, belonging to the Catholic parish in Gonsawa (German)/Gąsawa (Polish). The civil registry office was also located in Gąsawa; however, civil vital registration did not begin in Prussia until 1874, so the only record of Stanisław’s birth would be the church record. Kartenmeister made short work of identifying Brudzyń and Johannisgrün as well, revealing the former as a village belonging to the Catholic parish in Janowiec Wielkopolski, and the latter as the village known as Łaziska in Polish, located just to the northeast of Rogowo. There were no matches in Kartenmeister for “Putfelde,” but reading that first letter as a “G” turned it into “Gutfelde,” which suggests the present-day village of Złotniki, about 6 km from Rogowo.
However, “Wola Rzewajewska” had me stumped. There were no good matches in Kartenmeister for a village with this name. If at first you don’t succeed…try another gazetteer. I checked the Meyers Gazetteer; still no luck. I tried reversing the names, as I’ve noticed that sometimes the word order is inverted in place names mentioned in old documents relative to modern conventions, so “Wola Rzewajewska” might be called “Rzewajewska Wola” today. Nope.
By this point, it seemed clear that the place name was misspelled, so I decided to check the JewishGen Gazetteer, and even played around with some of the different phonetic search algorithms offered at that site. Nada. Well, perhaps the actual village name was sufficiently different, phonetically, that the search engines were missing it? The search algorithms should pick up an equivalent phonetic version, such as Żewajewska, since “ż” is phonetically equivalent in Polish to “rz.” But would they pick up something like Przewajewska? Still no luck.
At that point, I decided to put myself in the shoes of the registrar, and think about this in context. “Wola” is such a popular place name that an advanced search of Mapa.Szukacz brings up 31 places that are within the present-day Kujawsko-Pomorskie province alone. The Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, which is a mammoth gazetteer of places located within the former Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic countries, devotes 46 pages to descriptions of all the various places called Wola. It’s the kind of place name that strikes fear into the hearts of even seasoned researchers, right up there with Nowa Wieś (which means “New Village”). However, the registrar did not go to great lengths to specify a county or parish, much less a different partition of Poland, so the place in question must be sufficiently close to Rogowo that further clarification seemed unnecessary. I mapped out the places mentioned in this document (Figure 2).
That’s when it hit me. If you look carefully at that map, almost due north of Rogowo is the village of Czewujewo. And if you zoom in on the map, you see a village called Wola that’s just to the northwest (Figure 3).
Looking at the marriage record more closely, it’s clear that the place name was intended to be “Wola Czewujewska.” In order to clearly identify the Wola in question, the registrar tacked on the name of a nearby town in adjectival form, to indicate, “the Wola that’s near Czewujewo.”
Having been thus identified, I was able to locate a description of the village in the Słownik Geograficzny which actually included the adjective “Czewujewska” as part of the name, as well as the Meyers Gazetteer, which only referred to it as “Wola.” Both gazetteers agreed that the village belonged to the Catholic parish in Izdebno (Ottensund, in German), and to the registry office in Rogowo, of course, since that was where the marriage record was found in the first place.
In hindsight, I probably would have found the right village had I explored the map first, rather than jumping right to the gazetteers, but I guess I’m a creature of habit, and I’m very fond of gazetteers. In any case, as with most problems in genealogy, persistence won the day. Onward and upward!
1“Urząd Stanu Cywilnego Rogowo-Wieś, 1874-1913,” (Rogowo, Żnin, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), Akta małżeństw, 1882, no. 38, Stanislaus Lewandowski and Marianna Wozniak, 9 September 1882; digital image, Genealogiawarchiwach (https://www.genealogiawarchiwach.pl/ : 02 February 2022), images 39 and 40 of 68, citing Archiwum Państwowe w Bydgoszczy Oddział w Inowrocławiu, Sygnatura 7/540/0/2.2/26.
In my last post, I shared some recent discoveries I’ve made regarding my husband’s Drajem/Draheim ancestors, focusing on his great-great-great-grandmother, Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem. Her son, Augustyn Drajem, was my husband’s great-great-grandfather, and his marriage certificate reported that he was born 25 July 1866 in Mielno, Mogilno county, located in the part of Poland that was under Prussian rule at the time.1 In the course of my research, I determined that the village of Mielno where August was born was probably the one that belonged to the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno, since his parents’ marriage was recorded in that parish, and both of them were noted to be residents of Mielno.2
However, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and until an actual birth record is found, one can’t make any definitive claims. So, I sought a birth record for Augustyn Drajem circa 25 July 1866 in the records from Niestronno.
I was half-successful.
Baptismal records from Niestronno for 1866–1913 are online at FamilySearch, starting here. Unfortunately, the first few pages of the register are missing (Figure 1).3
Nonetheless, if you look closely at the image in Figure 1, you’ll see that there is a Drajem/Drahaim baptism recorded on that page (Figure 2).4
This half of a baptismal record tells us that Josephus/Józef Drahaim [sic], a blacksmith, and Marianna Kaszyńska were the parents of a child baptized in 1866, with godparents Michael Kaszyński, who was a farmer, and Carolina Kaszyńska, who was a day laborer (“mercenaria;” the word is cut off in this image). Michael and Carolina are almost certainly relatives of Marianna, and further research can hopefully elucidate their precise relationships.
The record book was set up so that each entry extends across two facing pages. Since this book is missing the left side of the page, we’re missing the record number; the date, time, and place of birth; the date of baptism, the child’s name and sex, whether the child was legitimate or not, and the name of the priest who baptized the child, for each entry. The next page in the book shows what a complete baptismal entry should look like, but it contains only three baptisms from December 1866, and then the records from 1867 begin (Figure 3).5
Civil registration did not begin in Prussia until 1874,5 so these church records are the primary source for direct evidence of births that took place in Niestronno, and the villages belonging to this parish, prior to 1874. Thus, this may be the only birth record that exists for Augustyn Drajem. But is it really his? I think it’s likely, although further research in these records is necessary before we can state that with more confidence. Although the possibility exists that Augustyn was born before 1866, and that this baptismal record is for another, unidentified sibling, there’s only a remote possibility that Augustyn was born after 1866. Given existing evidence that Marianna was born between 1820–1822, she would have been 44–46 years old in 1866—pretty much at the end of her childbearing years.
Wojciech Drajem’s Baptismal Record
That said, I also discovered the baptismal record for Augustyn’s brother, Wojciech—in 1862, not 1867, which was the date of birth he reported in his life insurance application (Figure 4).7
Since this record is in Latin, Wojciech was recorded under the name Adalbert, which was commonly used as a Latin equivalent. Although you will almost never see it used in historical records, Voitecus is a more accurate Latin equivalent of the name Polish name Wojciech, which translates as “joyful warrior,” or “he who is happy in battle.”8 However, the Polish name Wojciech became conflated with the German name Adalbert centuries ago, when Saint Vojtěch of Prague took the name of his tutor, St. Adalbert of Magdeburg, at Confirmation, circa 970 AD.9 Interestingly, the German name Adalbert has nothing to do with the name Wojciech etymologically; it means “noble bright.”10
Getting back to the baptismal record, this tells us that Wojciech/Adalbert Drajem was born on 10 April 1862 in Mielno. (We can be sure that April, and not March, is meant because the column heading specifies year and month, rather than month and year). As expected, he was the legitimate son of Joseph Drajem, a blacksmith, and his wife, Marianna (Kaszyńska), both Catholic. Wojciech was baptized on 13 April, and his godparents were Joannes (Jan/Johann/John) Kaszyński, a farmer, and Elisabeth Siwa, a blacksmith’s wife. There’s another word after “agricola,” the godfather’s occuapation, that looks like “folius,” but that can’t be correct, so I’m moving on for now. [EDIT: After reading this article, my distant cousin, genealogical collaborator, and founder of the Genealogical Translations group on Facebook, Valerie Baginski, suggested that the word “filius” might be what’s intended here. That would mean that Jan Kaszyński was a farmer’s son, which seems very reasonable to me!] It’s becoming clear that the Kaszyńskis were a large family, since that surname is popping up so frequently among the godparents of the Drajem children.
You’ll notice that Wojciech/Adalbert Drajem was one of three boys named Adalbert in that image, all of whom were born at the end of March or in April. This is not a coincidence. Poles celebrate name days (imieniny), which are the feast days in the Catholic Church of baptismal patron saints for whom one is named. Sometimes, the liturgical calendar would influence the name that was chosen for a child, in that a child would be named after the saint on whose feast day the child was born, or whose feast day was close to the child’s date of birth. Since St. Wojciech’s feast day is April 23, it makes sense that boys born near this date would be named after him. This is the roundabout reason why some men named Wojciech opted to use the name George after immigration to the U.S.—April 23 is also the feast day of St. George, Święty Jerzy in Polish. So, even though the names Wojciech and Jerzy have nothing in common etymologically, they are linked through a common name day. A handy calendar of name days is here; it’s in Polish, but you can always use machine translation to get your bearings with navigating the website. Once you’ve figured out the basics, it’s best to view the site in Polish, to avoid potential problems with machine translation of Polish names.
At this point, my Drajem research is moving along nicely, and a small group of Drajem descendants and research collaborators has gathered to share photos and research discoveries via email. If you have a connection to this family and would like to participate, please send me a note through the “Contact” form at the top of this page.
1“Urzad Stanu Cywilnego Kucharki, 1874 – 1935,” Akta małżeństw 1874-1909, 1890, no. 13, marriage record for August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik; digital images, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/ : 28 January 2022), Sygnatura 11/711/0/2/50, scans 29-30 of 75.
2Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Księgi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta małżeństw 1815-1865, 1850, no. 8, Joseph Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/: 28 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2151453, Item 3/DGS no. 8120936, image 593 of 1037.
3 Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Ksiegi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta urodzeń 1810-1865, 1866; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 28 January 2022), FHL film no. 2151453, item 2/DGS no. 8120936, image 831 of 1037.
4 Ibid., 4th entry on the page, partial baptismal record for unnamed child of Josephus Drahaim and Marianna Kaszynska.
7Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Ksiegi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta urodzeń 1810-1865, 1862, no. 9, Adalbertus Drajem, born 10 March 1862; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 28 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2151453, Item 2/DGS no. 8120936, image 511 of 1037.
I’ve been writing a lot about my Hodgkinson research lately, but today I’m going to shift gears and write about some new discoveries on my husband’s Drajem line.
Recently, I was contacted by Debbie, a fellow family historian who’s researching her granddaughter’s ancestry. That granddaughter is my husband’s fourth cousin once removed, and their most recent common ancestors were Józef and Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem. Prior to Debbie’s phone call, I knew nothing of earlier generations of the Drajem family; Józef and Marianna were the end of the line, and I knew only the outlines of their lives. However, after talking with her, I was inspired to dig a little deeper, and learn more about Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem’s story.
I was first introduced to Marianna back in November 2001, thanks to information contained in a life insurance application filed by her son, Wojciech Drajem. This was not an heirloom document, handed down in my husband’s family. Rather, this piece of genealogical gold was mined from the database, “Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA} Insurance Claim File Index,” where I discovered that a death claim packet was available for Wojciech Drajem. This database is maintained by the Polish Genealogical Society of America, which will provide copies of death claim packets for a very nominal fee. When my packet arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it contained Wojciech’s original life insurance application, medical examiner’s certificate, beneficiary certificate, death certificate, insurance claim, and letter of payment. Wojciech’s application, dated 6 February 1915, provided information about his parents and family of origin (Figure 1).1
This document identifies Wojciech’s mother as Marya (__) Drajem, and tells us that she died at the age of 83 of senility. Her husband was Józef Drajem, who died at the age of 50 of unknown causes. Wojciech stated that he had no brothers who were deceased, but one 44-year-old brother who was alive at that time and in good health. He had two living sisters, aged 51–60 years, and one sister who died in childbirth (the certificate states, “in labor”) at the age of 28.
Maryanna Drajem of Buffalo, New York
Back in 2001, as a baby genealogist, I assumed that Marya Drajem died in Poland. It wasn’t until I started researching the family of her daughter, Apolonia (Drajem) Samulski, that I discovered that Marya also immigrated to Buffalo, New York (Figure 2).2
In 1900, Maryanna Drajem was living at 33 Loepere Street with her son-in-law, Ignatz Samulski, daughter Apolonia, and their two children, Pelagia (“Pearl”) and Stanislaus (“Stanley”). She was recorded as a 78-year-old widow, born in February 1822 in “Poland Ger.,” which implies the Prussian partition of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (For a brief summary of Poland’s changing borders, see here.) Her immigration year was not recorded, but her son-in-law arrived in the U.S. in 1880, so it’s likely that she traveled with him and her daughter, or perhaps arrived a few years after they had settled in the U.S. A passenger record has not been found for her to date. Interestingly, this record states that Marianna was the mother of eleven children, seven of whom were still living at the time of the census, which is a bit different from the total of five children reported by Wojciech Drajem in his life insurance application.
Marie (Kaszyńska) Draheim of Buffalo, New York, and Mielno, Posen, Prussia
The first glimpse of Marianna in records from Poland came in this entry from the Poznań Project, which is a database of marriages that took place between 1800–1899 in the Prussian province of Posen and surrounding districts (Figure 3). (A complete list of covered parishes and civil registry offices is found here.)
If you’re new to the variations in surname spelling that are part and parcel of genealogical research, you may be alarmed by the degree to which “Drajem” differs from “Draheim.” Usually, the variants bear some phonetic resemblance to each other, so one way to check whether or not you’re on the right track is to hear the surnames pronounced in Polish using Google Translate. If you click on the “sound” icon in the Polish “input” box on the left, you’ll hear the surname pronounced by a Polish speaker. Similarly, it’s important not to be thrown off by the variety of given names we might find in the records pertaining to the same ancestor. In this case, Mary, Marya, Maria, Marie, Maryanna, and Marianna are all equivalent.
August Drajem was my husband’s great-great-grandfather, and was the brother of Wojciech, whose insurance application was discussed previously. This index entry from the Poznań Project is helpful because it confirms their parents’ names as Józef and Marianna, and further identifies Marianna Drajem’s maiden name as Kaszyńska, in addition to the other information it provides. It also tells us that the original record came from the civil registry office in Kucharki, Wielkopolski, Poland, and fortunately, those records can be found online at Szukajwarchiwach, the online catalog for the Polish state archives. August and Agnes’s marriage record (which was also shared in a previous post) is shown below. (Figures 4a and b).3
“Kucharki 1st February 1890 1. Before the undersigned registrar appeared the farm servant August Draheim, personally known, Catholic, born on 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno, living in Kucharki, son of the deceased master tailor Josef Draheim and his wife Marianne, nee Kaszynska, living in America 2. the unmarried maiden Agnes Jamrozik, personally known, Catholic, born on 9 January 1865 in Kucharki, county Kleschen, living in Kucharki, daughter of the innkeeper Johann Jamrozik and his wife Rosalie, nee Juszczak, living in Kucharki. As witnesses appeared: 3. The innkeeper Jakob Tomalak, personally known, 60 yers old, living in Kucharki 4. the innkeeper Adalbert (Wojciech) Szlachetka, personally known, 48 years old, living in Kucharki … read, approved and signed August Draheim Agnieszka Draheim, nee Jamrozik Jakob Tomalak Wojciech Szlachetka The registrar signed Grzegorzewski
Kucharki, 8 February 1890 (signature)”
This document goes well beyond the information in the index entry from the Poznań Project, providing August Drajem’s exact date and place of birth as 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno. The marriage record also tells us that Marianna Drajem was already a widow by the time of August’s marriage in 1890 and living in “Amerika.” Although the Meyers Gazetteer indicates a number of places called “Amerika” that were located within the German Empire, we already have evidence from the census that Marianna had children living in Buffalo as early as 1880. Therefore, it’s quite plausible that the obvious “Amerika”—the United States of America—is really the one that was intended here.
In contrast, the obvious choice was not the correct one when it came to identifying the Mielno where the Drajem family was living when August was born. Although Mapa Szukacz identifies 17 places within the borders of Poland today that are called Mielno, the marriage record specifies that August was born in Mielno in Mogilno County. The Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego has a number of entries for places called Mielno, but the only one described as being in Mogilno County (“pow. mogilnicki”) was the one belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. Kartenmeister similarly offers 23 search results for places called Mielno, but only three entries mention Mogilno County. The three entries correspond to variant place names (Mielno, Moelno, Mölno) for the same village, belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. However, August’s birth record was not found in church records from Pakość in July 1866, nor was it recorded in this parish anywhere within the period from 1864–1867. This suggests that the Mielno located just north of Pakość is not the right place, after all, although other interpretations (i.e. August was born outside the range of years checked, or baptized as a Protestant who subsequently converted to Catholicism) are also possible.
Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłoska Draheim of Buffalo, New York and Mielno, Posen, Prussia
Despite this setback, the Poznań Project came through again with the marriage record for Józef Drajem/Draheim and Marianna Kaszyńska, which offered further insight (Figure 5).
This index entry was the only result in the database for a groom with the given name of Joseph/Józef/Josef and a surname phonetically similar to Draheim, and a bride named Marianna Kaszyńska, and her age is exactly what we would expect, given our previous evidence that points to a birth year circa 1822. The index entry informs us that Marianna and Józef married in Niestronno, that Marianna had been married previously to a man with the surname Radłoski, that her father was deceased, and that her mother’s name was Rosalia Kaszyńska.
Records from the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno are also online, this time at FamilySearch, which permits at-home access to these images (as opposed to viewing only at a Family History Center or Affiliate Library) after logging into a free FamilySearch account. Józef and Marianna’s marriage record is shown in Figure 6.5
Due to the faded ink, the bleed-through from the reverse pages, the cramped handwriting, and my rudimentary ability to read Latin, this one took some time to decipher, and I ran into a bit of trouble in some spots. So, I ran it past my friend, Marcel Elias, for corrections and insights, and with thanks to Marcel, the transcription is as follows:
[Annus Dies et Mensis Copulationis]1850. 7 Julii
[Nomen sacerdotis benedicicensis matrimonium] Bartholem. Cieśliński, Commen’us (“commendarius”) ac Decanus
[Nomen et cognomen Copulatorum, denominatio, domicili, status artis vel Conditionis vitae, et atrum in Ecclesia art privato loco consecrati sunt] Joseph Drahim, ferrifeber, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonisca. Uterque ex Mielno. Copulati in Ecclesia.
[Num copulati vel una pars eorum vinculo matrimonii obstricti vel obstricta fuit. Num sub potestate parentum vel faterum existunt] Juvenis sub potestale parentium. Vidua
[Aetas sponsi]28 [sponsae] 28
[Religio sponsi] Cath. [sponsae] Cath.
[Nomen et cognomen parentum: Sponsi] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Sponsae] Pater mortuus, mater Rosalie Kaszyńska
[Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii… atetaris matrimonium contractum sit] Sponsus cum consenca parentum Sponsa Judi ???? 14 Juni 1850 II 4633
[Dies promulgati onum] 16, 23 et 30 Juni
[Nomen et cognomen, Ors et Conditio vitae adstantium testiam] Adalb. Kaszyński agran (?), Joan Berunt agran., Adalb. Kraczo (?) agran (?)
Translated, this states,
[Year, Day, and Month of Marriage] 7 July 1850
[Name of the priest who blessed the marriage] Bartłomiej Cieśliński, pastor and dean
[Given and surname of those married, denomination, domicile, state or condition of life, and whether the marriage took place in church or in a private location] Joseph Drahim, blacksmith, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonist, both of Mielno. Married in church.
[Whether one of them was bound by matrimony. Whether they are under parental control, or in control of their own fates] Young man under parental control. Widow.
[Age of the groom] 28 [of the bride] 28
[Religion of the groom] Cath. [of the bride] Cath. (Catholic)
[Given name and surname of the parents: Groom] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Bride] father deceased, mother Rosalie Kaszyńska
[Whether the marriage was contracted with parental consent, or with judicial (?) permission] The groom with parental consent, the bride, with permission from 14 June 1850, II 4633 (?)
[Dates on which the banns were published] 16, 23 and 30 June
[Given name and surname, origin and condition of life of present witnesses] Adalbert Kaszyński, farmer, Jan Berunt, farmer, Adalbert Kraczo?
This record is packed with both information and mysteries. Consistent with the index entry from the Poznań Project, the record states that 28-year-old Joseph Drahim, a blacksmith, married 28-year-old widow, Marianna Radłoska on 7 July 1850 in the Roman Catholic church in Niestronno. (I would argue that Joseph’s surname is spelled Drahim, rather than Drahem, in the two places in which it was recorded in this document, but that’s a minor point.) Marianna has a curious notation after her name, “/: Liebener :/,” and the way that it’s written seems to suggest that Liebener was her maiden name, rather than Kaszyńska. Her parents’ names don’t shed much light on the situation, since her father’s name was not provided, and her mother’s name was recorded as Rosalie Kaszyńska, which could be interpreted as a maiden name. However, the other entries on this page do not provide mother’s maiden names; mothers were referred to by their married names, as was the case with Joseph’s parents, Adalbert and Anna Drahim. Moreover, the priest had a pattern of not recording names of deceased parents of the brides and grooms, from which we might infer that any parents whose names were recorded were still alive at the time of the wedding. So, the evidence does seem to favor Kaszyńska as Marianna’s maiden name, and it suggests that her mother, Rozalia (__) Kaszyńska, was still alive in 1850. For now, the “Liebener” notation remains a mystery, and its significance will depend on further research.
The record indicates that Marianna needed some sort of judicial permission in order to remarry, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was from a religious or civil authority. Marcel noted that the phrasing, “Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii…” could suggest that in some cases, the parish was the legal guardian of a person, if the father or both parents of a minor groom/bride were deceased, since luterum is a medieval Latin term for a baptismal font. It may be that the document referenced as granting permission for the remarriage, “14 Juni 1850 II 4633,” can be found in the parish archive.
In addition to providing an introduction to three “new” ancestors for my husband and children—Adalbert and Anna Draheim and Rozalia (__) Kaszyska—this marriage record states that both the bride and groom were from Mielno, which helps us to identify the specific Mielno where August Drajem was born. The village of Mielno that belongs to the parish in Niestronno is, in fact, located in present-day Mogilno County, gmina Mogilno, and I’m still baffled as to why it was not showing up in either of the two gazetteers I checked. These locations are shown in Figure 7.
Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłowska of Popielewo, Mielno, and Buffalo
Although the record of Marianna Kaszyńska’s marriage to Józef Draheim made no mention of her father’s name, it seemed possible that this information was included in the record of her first marriage to (__) Radłoski. I searched the Poznań Project again for brides named Marianna Kaszyńska and grooms with the surnames that were at least 60% phonetically similar to Radłoski. There were no good matches. However, when I repeated the search, leaving off the groom’s surname entirely, a probable match was obtained (Figure 8).
The bride’s age suggests a birth in 1820, which would be a couple years off from prior evidence that she was born in 1822; however, this is still within a reasonable ballpark. Records for the Roman Catholic parish in Trzemeszno are online at FamilySearch, so the original image was retrieved and is shown in Figure 9.6
Although this record, too, was a bit disappointing in that it omitted the names of the couple’s parents, it is almost certainly the correct marriage record for our Marianna Kaszyńska. If you look closely, it’s clear that the groom’s name was actually Stephan Radłowski, and was mistranscribed as Racławski. A death record for Stephan dated prior to 1850 would provide further evidence that this interpretation is correct. The record identifies Popielewo as the village where the marriage took place, and since it was traditional to hold the wedding in the bride’s parish, this suggests that Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem was living in Popielewo in 1838 (Figure 10).
The existence of a previous marriage for Marianna, and the likelihood that she had children with her first husband in those years prior to her marriage to Józef Drajem, may also help to reconcile the discrepancy between Wojciech’s statement that he had one brother and three sisters, with Marianna’s statement in the 1900 census that she was the mother of 11 children. Perhaps Wojciech was considering only his full siblings, neglecting to mention his six half-siblings from his mother’s previous marriage? Further research is required to find the answer.
While this research is far from finished, we have at least opened the door to further discovery in records from Poland. At the outset, we knew little more than Mary Drajem’s name. Now we have evidence that Marianna Kaszyńska was born circa 1820–1822 to a mother named Rozalia (__) and an unknown Kaszyński father, who was deceased by 1850. Marianna was married in Popielewo, Posen, Prussia (Trzemeszno parish) to Stephen Radłowski on 11 November 1838. There is some evidence to suggest that she might have had six children with Stephen Radłowski, and a focus of further research will be the identification of all of her children.
At some point, she moved from Popielewo to Mielno, where she was living when she married Józef Drajem in 1850, following the death of her first husband. She had four children with Józef who have been identified thus far, in research not discussed here: Antonina (b. 1851), Apolonia (b. May 1859), Augustyn (b. 25 July 1866), and Wojciech (b. 12 April 1867). We can infer that Józef died circa 1872, since his marriage record suggests a date of birth circa 1822, and Wojciech’s life insurance application stated that his father died at the age of 50. At some point between 1880 and 1890, Marianna Drajem migrated to Buffalo, New York, where she was living with her daughter, Apolonia Samulska, in 1900. Since Wojciech Drajem reported that his mother died at the age of 83, we can infer that she died circa 1905, and seek death and burial records for confirmation.
In my next post, I hope to discuss some further discoveries I’ve made for the Drajem family. Stay tuned.
1 Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Applicant’s Certificate (Zeznania Kandydata) for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915, claim no. 22169, certificate no. 112904.
2 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 14, Enumeration District 110, sheet 29B, house no. 33, family no. 533, lines 59-63, Ignatz Samulski household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 23 January 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.
3“Urzad Stanu Cywilnego Kucharki, 1874 – 1935,” Akta malzenstw 1874-1909, 1890, no. 13, marriage record for August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik; digital images, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/ : 23 January 2022), Sygnatura 11/711/0/2/50, scans 29-30 of 75.
4 Johann Kargl, reply to post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Genealogy Translations (Facebook group), 27 March 2016.
5Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Księgi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta małżeństw 1815-1865, 1850, no. 8, Joseph Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/: 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2151453, Item 3/DGS no. 8120936, image 593 of 1037.
6Roman Catholic Church, Trzemeszno parish (Trzemeszno, Gniezno, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1874,” Copulatorum, 1837 – 1842, 1838, no. 22, Stephen Radłowski and Maria Kaszyńska, 11 November 1838; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2004406, item 20/DGS no.8020665, image 847 of 873.
I am positively giddy with excitement over here, after a huge breakthrough with my Hodgkinson research! Over the past several months, I’ve been researching and blogging about the family of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson (c. 1750–1832), a United Empire Loyalist who served with Butler’s Rangers and settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). I summarized known data on his family here, and discovered a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, a daughter whom I’ve not seen mentioned in any online Hodgkinson trees to date. I discussed some theories about the family’s origins here, and warmed up to the hypothesis that John, William, and Mary Hodgkinson might all be children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, although further evidence is needed in order to be confident in that assertion. I began searching for records relating to Ellender’s godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, and discovered evidence that she was married in New York in 1772 to Ralph Miller/Meller, a Loyalist who served in Jessup’s Rangers, and settled with him in Dunham, Quebec. I suspected that Mary was a sister to John and William Hodgkinson, but had no evidence to prove that.
I’ve been doing further searches in indexed databases on Ancestry to turn up additional records for Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller/Meller. The other day, a search result came up that left me speechless (which is hard to do). It’s shown in Figure 1.
Mary Miller—Mary HodgkinsonMiller—was named as the daughter of John Hodgkinson in a probate file from Vermont, with John and William Hodgkinson both named as sons, and Samuel Hodgkinson named as a grandson?! No. Freaking. Way. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!
I, and many other Hodgkinson researchers, have been looking for traces of this family in historical records for decades. How could this document have remained hidden until now? Clicking over to the “Source” tab indicates that this database was copyrighted by Ancestry relatively recently, in 2015. Nonetheless, for more than six years, despite all my countless searches for John Hodgkinson and William Hodgkinson, employing every search technique in the book, this document failed to turn up. Prior to 2015, one would have had to search those probate records the old-fashioned way, browsing through microfilm from the Family History Library, and I can certainly excuse previous generations of researchers for not guessing that the Hodgkinsons were originally from Vermont! Who knew, or who would have suspected, especially in light of the red-herring evidence that caused many to believe they were from Burlington, New Jersey? Maybe we’re all victims of tunnel vision. As I’ve said before, what we see depends on where we look.
At the end of the day, it was only by searching for Mary Miller that the curtain parted and the document was exposed. Mary Miller—a name which you’d think would be so much more common, that it would produce all kinds of irrelevant search hits and very few relevant ones. I’m still scratching my head to know how the search algorithms could’ve missed this one. “Hodgkinson” isn’t even misspelled here! How did this record not turn up before now?
In any case, here it is, so let’s dig in!
Clicking the document shown in the Ancestry search result takes you to a page in the middle of the will (where Mary Miller was mentioned), so I had to scroll back a few pages in order to begin at the beginning. The whole thing consists of four images, chock-full of rich genealogical detail. These pages must have been recopied at some point, because the dates in the various records appear out of sequence relative to the original page numbers. That’s a shame, because having original signatures would have been the icing on the cake, but I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll discuss the pages in chronological order.
The will itself starts on pages 191–192, shown in Figure 2a, and continues on pages 193–194 (Figure 2b).1
The transcription is as follows, retaining original capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, but converting all the instances of the old “long s’” into standard modern forms.
“In the Name of God Amen. I, John Hogkinson of Pownall and State of Vermont, Yeoman, being very weak in body, but of perfect mind and memory, Thanks be given to God, calling to mind the Mortality of my Body, and knowing that is appointed to all Men once to Die: Do make and ordain this, my last Will and Testament; That is to say,
Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my Soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it, and my Body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent, Christian Burial, at the discretion of my Executors herein after mentioned, nothing doubting but at the general Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God. And as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it hath Pleased God to Bless me with in this world. I give, demise, and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.
First, I give and Bequeath unto Mary, my dearly and well beloved Wife the Houseroom in my dwelling House with a Sufficient Garden Spot to raise necessary Garden Fruit for her:
Also, seven pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Estate and paid to her Yearly in Grain or such other necessaries as she may stand in need of for her natural subsistence. Also the keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep): Also her firewood to be drawn to her door, all which shall be done out of my Estate during the time she remains my Widow: Also I give to my well beloved Wife, one certain Grey Mare that is called here Mare, and all the Household Goods she brought with her when she came to me to dispose of at her own Will and Pleasure, all which I give to my said Wife in lieu of her Right of Dower.
Also I give to my well beloved Son, John Hodgkison Junior, that part of my Homestead Farm lying in Pownall aforesaid that lies west of the Brook that Runs thro. The Farm (if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same) and if the circumstances of my s. [said?] son John Hodgkisson should be such that he can never enjoy the same by any means whatsoever, then I give it to my well beloved GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson.
Also I give unto my Well beloved Son William Hodgkisson all that part of my said Homestead lying Eastwardly of the S. Brook (if he can come and freely enjoy the same himself). But if neither of my two Sons abovesaid can come and enjoy The Lands or Estate above given or bequeathed to them, or either of them, and the other Son above dis???? [?] cannot come to enjoy his part: then I give the whole of my Homestead Farm to that Son that can enjoy the same: My true intent and meaning is, that ^if either of my two sons cannot enjoy The Farm as aforesaid or otherwise they Choose not to Live upon it, that it be sold, and each one of them or either of them so ??? [choosing?] not to live upon it to have his equal part of what it shall sell for: And that part of the Farm lying westward of the Brook be made equal as to the improvement with the East Side of The Farm.
And if either of my two Sons or both of them can never enjoy my said Homestead Farm as hath been before described by any circumstances whatever, by Death or otherwise; then I give the same to my well beloved Grand-Son Samuel Hodgkisson to be delivered to him when he arrives to the full age of Twenty One Years, and the Profits arising from the Rents and Profits of my said Homestead Farm to be equally divided between all my Grand-Children both Male and Female.
Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Dorothy Deal, three pounds fifteen shillings Lawful Money, to be raised out of my personal Estate, and paid to her by my said Executors herein after Mentioned.
Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Ann McKenna, seven pounds, ten shillings L[awful] Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate, and to be paid to her by my said Executors.
Also I give to my well beloved Grand Son Thomas Miller three pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate and paid to him, or his Lawful Guardian, by my said Executors.
Also I give to my aforesaid GrandSon, Samuel Hodkgisson, that certain Lot or Farm of Land Lying in Bennington containing Fifty Acres of Land that I purchased of Col. Samuel Robinson to be delivered to him by my said Executors or their Successors in Administratorship, when he arrives to the age of Twenty one Years; and the Profits arising from T. Farm, until that time is expired, after paying the Legacy to my said Wife and other Necessary Charges, to be equally divided between my said Grand Children.
Also I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her Daughter Ann, GrandDaughter Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer and keeping for it, on my said Farm until it becomes a Cow (if it Lives).
Also I give to my aforesaid Sons, John and William Hodgkinson, the use of all my moveable effects that hath not herein before been disposed of, after my just Debts and Funeral Charges be paid, until my aforesaid GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson comes to the age of Twenty one Years with their paying unto my well beloved Daughters, Mary Miller and Martha Pember, five shillings each, and when the term aforesaid is expired, to pay the value of these moveables to be divided equally amongst all my Grand Children.
Likewise, I make, Ordain and Constitute David Goff and Basteyon [sic] Deal, both of Pownall aforesaid the Sole Executors jointly and severally of this my last Will and Testament, and I do hereby utterly disavow, revoke, and disannul all every other former Testament, Legacies, Bequests, and Executors by me in any wise named Willed and bequeathed. Ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.
In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this nineteenth day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty Two. [signed] John Hodgkinson
Signed, Sealed, Published, Pronounced, and declared by the said John Hodgkinson as his Last Will and Testament In presence of us, who in his presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto Subscribed our names
[signed] Paul Gardner
John Hodgkinson of Pownall, Vermont
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Hodgkinson family described in this will is the same family as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons. This will offers evidence that the father, John Hodgkinson Sr., also immigrated, and this fact alone is significant, because I’ve never seen it asserted or referenced in any other Hodgkinson resource. Moreover, the fact that the father’s name was John is consistent with the hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield. We have no idea how long John Sr. lived in Vermont, and this document alone offers no indication that John was born in Colonial America. So, this piece of evidence does not necessarily contradict the existing hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.
According to this document, we have John Hodgkinson, Sr., making his last will and testament in Pownal, in the State of Vermont, on 19 August 1782, during the final year of the American Revolutionary War, which would end with the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783. Pownal is a small town situated about 27 miles southeast of Schaghticoke, where Samuel and Ellender Hodgkinson were baptized in 1776 and 1778, respectively (Figure 3). The “State of Vermont” mentioned in the will is not a U.S. state, but rather a reference to the Vermont Republic, which was an independent state that existed from 1777–1791.2 Prior to that, between 1764 and 1777, “Vermont” did not exist: the land west of the Connecticut River was declared by King George III to belong to New York, while New Hampshire lay to the east of that river.3 So, if John settled in Pownal prior to 1777, and his children were living in the vicinity of Albany, then they all would have been residents of the Province of New York.
While I know nothing about John (Sr.)’s personal politics, all of his children discovered to date were Loyalists, so John Sr. may have been one as well. Were they all living in Schaghticoke originally, and then John Sr. moved to the independent State of Vermont after the British lost at Saratoga, while his sons continued to serve with Butler’s Rangers until they disbanded in 1784? Certainly it would not have been possible for him to continue living in New York State as a known Loyalist after the New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act, was passed on 22 October 1779.4 This Act identified 59 prominent Loyalists by name, confiscated their land and personal property, banished them from the state, and gave them death sentences, without benefit of clergy, should they ever be found within the State of New York. It made further provisions for indicting additional Loyalists—such as the Hodgkinsons—besides those 59 named individually. John Sr.’s death in 1784 came seven years before Vermont was admitted to the union as the fourteenth of the United States, yet perhaps it was uncertainty over Vermont’s future that led John to word his bequest of his land to his sons so carefully, declaring that each son would inherit his portion of the farm, “ifhe can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same.“
His Dearly Beloved Wife, Mary
John’s wife was named as Mary in this document, not Sarah, but she appears to have been a second wife. This hypothesis is supported by the statement, “I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her [emphasis mine] Daughter Ann Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer…” This suggests that Ann Gardner was Mary’s daughter by a previous spouse. It’s unclear whether Gardner was Ann’s maiden name, or her married surname. If the former, then it would also have been Mary’s surname from her first husband. I’ll have to look for a death record for Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson in records from Vermont or Mansfield (England), as well as a marriage record for John and Mary in Vermont. One of the witnesses to the will, Paul Gardner, is likely to be another relative, and research into this family is also on my to-do list.
The current value of the money that John bequeathed to Mary—seven pounds, ten shillings, paid annually—is estimated at £645.78 using the currency calculator here, but the estimate ranges from £898.60 to £87,520.00 using the more nuanced currency value calculators at MeasuringWorth. This was not all that he left her, however, since there was also the matter of the houseroom, the garden, the “keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep),” the firewood brought to her door, and the gray mare “that is called here Mare.” (My ancestors were perhaps not the most creative folk in naming their livestock, but I find this phrasing charming nonetheless!) Later in the will, he also bequeathed to her a two-year-old heifer—so she clearly does have a cow—and all the household goods that she brought with her into their marriage.
His Sons, John Jr. and William, and Grandson Samuel
John Hodgkinson bequeathed his farm to his sons, John Jr. and William, with John getting the western half of the farm and William receiving the eastern half, based on the location of a brook that divided the farm. The phrasing in the will suggests that John Sr. truly hoped that one or the other of his sons might be able to use and enjoy the farm, which was undoubtedly the fruit of much of John Sr.’s labor. On reading this, my first thought was that I need to find land records to locate this farm in Pownal and view the title history, to see who eventually owned it. Both John Jr. and William ended up in Grantham Township on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, as did John Jr.’s son, Samuel, so it may be that all the heirs to the farm elected to sell it. Samuel Hodgkinson would have been six years old at the time his grandfather wrote his will in 1782, and when he turned twenty-one, he was to receive an additional 50 acres of land in Bennington.
His Daughters, Mary, Martha, Dorothy, and Ann
Although the bequests and descriptions of John’s assets are fascinating, what’s really jaw-dropping about this document is the list of previously-unknown daughters. The will names his daughters as Dorothy Deal, Ann McKenna, Mary Miller, and Martha Pember, and identifies Thomas Miller as another grandson. This information provides further confirmation that the Hodgkinson family described in this document is the same as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham. The records of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake show that, on 14 May 1815, a number of children of William and Mary (Jones) Hodgkinson were baptized, including “William, Thomas, Dorothy, John Pember, Rockaway, Martha, Eleazer Alexr [sic], and George.”5 It seems obvious now that William’s daughters, Dorothy and Martha, were named after his sisters, Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember, and that his son John Pember’s middle name was inspired by Martha’s married surname. All of this is fertile ground for growing the Hodgkinson family tree. The executors, David Goff and Basteyon Deal, are also worthy research subjects, as are Abraham Bowdish and Joseph Briggs, who were the other witnesses to the will in addition to Paul Gardner. In particular, “Basteyon” (Sebastian?) Deal is most probably a relative by marriage of Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal.
The Plot Thickens
Immediately following the last page of the will (page 194), there is a pair of entries on page 195 in the court records, shown in Figure 3.6
These decisions and orders by Judge Jonas Fay, Judge of Probate Court, are transcribed as follows:
At the Probate Court holden in in Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 7th day of April AD. 1783 by Virtue of a Legal Citatation [sic], Personally appeared the within named Mary Hodgkinson, and alledged [sic] that the within Will does not make such Provision for her, as the Law in such Cases Allows, and therefore pray, the Court to disapprove the same, the several persons named in the Citation being present and having nothing to offer (in the opinion of the Court) sufficient to approve the Will, the Court does therefore disapprove thereof, that Administration to be taken out, and that the same be Recorded. [Signed] Jonas Fay Judge Probt.
At a Probate Court holden at Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 24th day of March AD. 1785 Mary Hodgkinson Widow of the within Testator being personally present, and relinquishing her former objection to Probating the within Will, and John Hodgkinson one of the Legatees named in said Will being Likewise present in behalf of himself, and Peter McKenna, Adam Deal, Ralph Miller, William Hodgkinson and Philip Pember as appears by writing under their ^names and Seals, and Registered in this office, and praying in their several capacities that the within Will may be Probated, the same is hereby approved and allowed. By Jonas Fay, Judg. Probt.”
So, John wrote his will on 17 August 1782, and on 7 April 1783, while her husband was still alive, Mary Hodgkinson petitioned the court to disapprove of the will. But then, after John was deceased, she turned around and relinquished her objection to probating the will on 24 March 1785. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of that situation, and determine the implications. I might be able to gain some insight through deeper investigation of these probate records, as there are other entries in this same probate book that are relevant (i.e. page 190). However, I won’t make a long blog post even longer by discussing them today.
What’s exciting about these two decisions and orders by Judge Fay, though, is that John Hodgkinson’s sons-in-law are identified by name. Now we know that Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal was married to Adam Deal, Ann (Hodgkinson) McKenna was married to Peter McKenna, and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember was married to Phillip Pember—information which will facilitate research into these families.
Coming full circle now, back to Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller, one final question occurred to me. If she was married to Ralph Miller in 1772, and this same Mary was godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778, then she should have been recorded in the baptismal record as Mary Miller, not Mary Hodgkinson. So might the godmother have been the other Mary Hodgkinson, John Sr.’s second wife. and Ellender’s stepgrandmother? Maybe so. Nonetheless, a precedent exists for referring to Mary Miller by her maiden name after her marriage, in that she was recorded as “Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham” in her death record.7 So, it’s still possible that the intended Mary Hodgkinson was Ellender’s aunt, and the truth of the matter may be lost in the mists of time. However, when it comes to knowing the truth about the origins of the Loyalist Hodgkinson family, the mists of time were just blown away by the discovery of John Hodgkinson’s will.
1“Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), John Hodgkinson, Last Will and Testament, 19 Aug 1782, probated 15 June 1784, Bennington, Vermont; citing Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812, Vol. 1, pp 191-194. The featured image for this blog post is a detail from p 191.
5 Ontario Genealogical Society Niagara Peninsula Branch, Paul Hutchinson, editor, St. Marks’ Anglican Church Baptisms, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792–1856 (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 22, “14 May 1815, All (the following) were baptized at the 12-mile creek on the same day…William HODGKINSON, Thomas/Dorothy/John Pember/Rockaway/Martha/Eleazer Alexr/George }of William and Mary”.
6Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Vol. 1, 1778–1792, p 195, Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 7 April 1783; Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 24 March 1785, imaged in “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), path: Bennington > Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812 > image 107 of 909.
7 “Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.
Recently, I wrote about some new discoveries into the history of my Hodgkinson ancestors—Loyalists who settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada, after the American Revolutionary War. Both John Hodgkinson and his brother, William, were privates in Butler’s Rangers, and there is ample evidence for both of them in historical records from Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). However, the Hodgkinson brothers are commonly reported to have a sister, Mary, based on baptismal records from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, who is absent from the narrative in Upper Canada. Some believe that Mary never emigrated, pointing to a marriage record for Mary Hodgkinson to Samuel Holehouse in Mansfield in 1774.1 However, this marriage record does not include parents’ names, so further evidence is needed before concluding that this is the same Mary Hodgkinson who was the sister of the Loyalist Hodgkinsons.
Even if Mary never emigrated, that mystery godmother remains, Mary “Huskinson,” godmother to Ellender “Huskinson,” daughter of John “Huskinson” and Mary “More.”2 If you believe, as I do, that the family described here is likely to be the family of John Hodgkinson of Grantham, then we have evidence of some female relative named Mary who was named as godmother in 1778. Does her role as godmother necessitate her physical presence at the baptism in Schaghticoke, New York? That’s unclear. While it’s possible in some faiths and circumstances to have proxy godparents, who stand in when the godparents are unable to be present at the baptism, I have no idea what rules might apply to an 18th-century Dutch Reformed baptism of the child of an Anglican father and a mother whose religious faith is unknown. But if we admit the possibility that Mary Hodgkinson was present at the baptism of Ellender Hodgkinson, and if we agree that she was almost certainly a relative and quite probably a sister, then it begs the question: what happened to Mary Hodgkinson, and why did she not end up in Grantham with her brothers?
The Search for Mary Begins
If Mary Hodgkinson was personally present at the baptism of Ellender in 1778, then there should be some evidence of her existence in historical documents from New York. A quick search of indexed records at Ancestry produced a marriage record from the “New York, Marriage Index, 1600–1784,” for Mary “Hodkisson” and Ralph Mellor on 29 January 1772 (Figure 1).3
Clicking over from the “Detail” to the “Source” page provides additional information about the original records from the New York State Archives from which the index information was taken, and includes a caveat that they “are limited in availability and additional informational value” due to the New York State Capitol fire of 1911 (Figure 2).
Hope dies last, so I emailed the New York State Archives anyway, just to see if there was any chance for more information. Their reply stated,
“Thank you for contacting the New York State Archives with your inquiry. I’ve checked A1893, marriage bonds executed by persons obtaining marriage licenses, and the corresponding book regarding these documents, New York Marriage Bonds (947.7 S427n) but neither the name Mary Hodkisson or Ralph Mellor were found. Both this series and the book are about those documents that did survive the 1911 Albany fire, but it appears this marriage record did not. I would suggest you check the local newspaper at the time or a local church for an announcement of this marriage. This may be the only record you will find now.” 4
Finding a newspaper announcement of the marriage is a long shot, given the extremely limited number of newspapers that were in publication in New York in January 1772. A church record might be found in time; although this record does not state precisely where in New York the couple was married, we can perhaps assume that it was in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, since that’s where Ellender Hodgkinson was baptized in 1778. (A marriage record for Ralph and Mary is not found in that same collection of Dutch Reformed Church records which contained Ellender’s baptismal record, because that would be too easy.) Even in the absence of any detailed information, this marriage record is still an important discovery, because it offers further evidence for the existence of a Mary Hodkisson/Hodgkinson/Huskinson living in Colonial New York, and it provides her married name.
“Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham, deceased in the eighty fourth year of her age, died on the fifteenth day of June one thousand eight hundred and thirty two, and was buried on the seventeenth day of the same, in the presence of the subscribing witnesses by, James Reid, Min’r [Minister], [Witnesses] Robert Aitken, John Pickering.”
Mary’s age at the time of her death—84 years—suggests a birth year of 1748. For reference, Mary Hodgkinson, daughter of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was baptized on 6 April 1755. Now, it could be that her age at the time of death was reported inaccurately, and it’s also possible that the Hodgkinsons were a bit lax in baptizing their children promptly. In fact, this discrepancy between Mary’s suggested year of birth and her documented date of baptism fits the pattern I noted previously with John and William Hodgkinson, since existing data for John indicate that he was born in 1750 but baptized in 1753, and that William was born in 1751, but baptized in 1759. If you think it’s also possible that I’m way off base, and these aren’t necessarily the same family at all, I don’t blame you, because I’m not convinced yet, either.
But wait, there’s more.
A search at Find A Grave produced memorials for both Ralph Miller/Mellor/Meller and Mary (Hotchkisson/Hodkisson/Hodgkinson) Meller. They were laid to rest in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec. Ralph’s memorial indicates that he died 8 March 1822 at the age of 81 years, suggesting a birth circa 1741.6 Mary’s memorial states that she died 12 June 1832 at the age of 83 years, which is sufficiently consistent with the death record from Holy Trinity Anglican Church as to leave no doubt that these records pertain to the same person.7 What’s interesting is that, in that same cemetery, one John Pickering was also laid to rest.8 You may recall that name because John Pickering was a witness to the death of Mary Hodgkinson Miller—he was a member of the Hodgkinsons’ FAN club (Friends, Associates and Neighbors). The memorial states that John was born 29 March 1797 and that he died on 6 May 1844, which makes this John Pickering of an appropriate age to be the same John Pickering mentioned in that burial record. Moreover, the memorial includes a photo of his grave marker, which states specifically that John Pickering was born in Collingham, Nottinghamshire, England, and that he died in Dunham—the same village in Quebec mentioned in the death record as the home of the Miller family. The village of Collingham is only 25 miles from the town of Mansfield, where the Hodgkinsons were said to originate, lending credence to the hypothesis that Mary Hodgkinson Miller was also from Nottinghamshire.
Ralph Miller, Loyalist
So who was Mary Hodgkinson’s husband, Ralph Miller? A little digging into historical records suggests that he, too, was a Loyalist, which tracks well with the the Hodgkinson family tradition. A search in the database, “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764–1841,” turned up land petition no. 346, “Alex. Taylor and many other Loyalists, praying for land,” which was filed about 1783 (Figure 4).9
The petition includes a list of claimants’ names, their present place of abode, the Loyalist corps in which they served, and their time of residence (i.e. date of arrival) in Canada. Ralph Miller is included in this list (Figure 5).10
Circa 1783, when the petition was filed, Ralph Miller was noted to be living in “Caldwells M.,” which is a reference to Caldwell Manor, an early Loyalist settlement located in present-day Noyan, Quebec.11 The notation regarding his immigration to Canada states that he arrived in 1780, and was “now in Canada.” The document also states that he served “in Jessop’s Corps S. R.” It’s unclear to me what the “S.R.” stands for, but Edward Jessup’s Rangers were a Loyalist militia unit that functioned from 12 November 1781 until 24 December 1783.12 The corps was created from the remnants of smaller military formations, including the King’s Loyal Americans—a militia group led by Edward and his brother, Ebenezer, which took part in the battles of Saratoga in 1777.
I think at this point, we have some idea of what became of Mary Hodgkinson, godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778. She was married to Ralph Miller/Meller in New York, probably in the vicinity of Schaghticoke, in 1772, and was likely still living in that area at the start of the Revolutionary War. Her husband may have joined Edward Jessup as early as 1777, and been one of the participants in the Battles of Saratoga, but by 1780, the Mellers were living in Quebec. Ralph and Mary lived in Dunham, where he died in 1822, and she passed ten years later, in 1832. Both are buried in Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery in Frelighsburg, Quebec.
Additional research can still be done to discover more about their family. A quick search for other Meller graves in the same cemetery reveals a grave for a probable son, also named Ralph Meller, who died in 1871 at the age of 84 years, as well as a grave for his wife, Sarah (VanAntwerp) Meller.13 Broadening the search to Meller graves in the Monteregie Region of Quebec, where Frelighsburg is located, produces additional graves of probable relatives, and census records, vital records, and other genealogical documents can be used to help sort out the relationships. However, further evidence is still needed before we can be comfortable with the assertion that Mary Hodgkinson Meller was the sister of John Hodgkinson, U.E., and William Hodgkinson, U.E.
That said, I think I’m onto something, here. Stay tuned!
1“England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodgkinson and Samuel Holehouse, 14 February 1774, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.
2 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 07 January 2022), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11. This document is the source of the featured image for this blog post.
3“New York, U.S., Marriage Index, 1600-1784,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor, 29 Jan 1772, citing New York State Archives, Names of Persons for whom Marriage Licenses were Issued by the Secretary of the Province of New York, Previous to 1784. State of New York, 1860, Record Number: M. B., Volume: XVIII, OSPage: 23.
4 New York State Archives Researcher Services, Albany, New York, to Julie Szczepankiewicz, e-mail dated 28 October 2021, “RE: Marriage record for Mary Hodkisson and Ralph Mellor.”
5“Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 07 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.
6Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258423/ralph-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown-8 Mar 1822), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258423, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).
7Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258431/mary-meller : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for Mary Meller (unknown-12 Jun 1832), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258431, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702).
8Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/119277256/john-pickering : accessed 07 January 2022), memorial page for John Pickering (29 Mar 1797–6 May 1844), Find a Grave Memorial ID 119277256, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Stephen Payne (contributor 47327291) .
9 “Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841,” no. 346, Alex. Taylor & many other Loyalists praying for Land, p. 91105; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng : 07 January 2022), item no. 61500, image 10 of 36, citing Lower Canada Land Papers, RG 1 L3L, Vol. 190, pp 90996-91013, Taylor, Alex – Taylor, James.
10Ibid., p. 91106, line 8, Ralph Miller, image 11 of 36.
13 Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258440/ralph-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Ralph Meller (unknown–16 Aug 1871), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258440, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702); and
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/169258452/sarah-meller : 07 January 2022), memorial page for Sarah VanAntwerp Meller (unknown–7 Nov 1882), Find a Grave Memorial ID 169258452, citing Bishop Stewart Memorial Church Cemetery, Frelighsburg, Monteregie Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Graceti (contributor 47177702) .
14 1825 census of Canada, Bedford County, Lower Canada, population return, Dunham Sub-District, Vol. 2, page no. 843, Ralph Millar household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 07 January 2022), Item no. 11282, image no. 004569586_00477, citing Reference MG 31 C1, Lower Canada/Canada East census returns, Microfilm C-717.
2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.
Connecting the Dodds
In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.
Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly
In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.
Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.
Honing in on the Hodgkinsons
In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.
Caus(in) for Celebration
Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.
Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.
A Look Ahead
As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:
I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.
This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.
Back in March 2019, I wrote about the most recent ethnicity estimates from Ancestry DNA for three generations of my family: myself, my husband, all four of our parents, and our four children. Since this is a rather unique data set, I thought it would be interesting to see what insights such analysis might offer about DNA inheritance, and also about the limitations inherent to these estimates.
Ancestry DNA has updated their ethnicity estimates several times since that first blog post, adding new reference groups and Genetic Communities™ for increased granularity. Last month, they released another update, bringing the total number of Genetic Communities™ to 61 for Poland. So, this seems like a good time to revisit that concept and compare the newest ethnicity estimates for my family members to each other and to those previous estimates, to see how they have changed over time.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™ are the result of Ancestry’s effort to identify more precisely the regions from which each DNA tester’s ancestors originated. They’re assigned automatically, so if Ancestry is able to place you into one of their Communities, they will, without any requirement to opt-in. Ancestry’s algorithm takes into consideration the family trees of clusters of DNA testers who all match each other, and uses the locations mentioned in those family trees to identify birthplaces or migration destinations common to the group. Theoretically, if a majority of the family trees incorrectly identified a place of origin for a group of people, the algorithm might be thrown off, but I suspect that this risk is minimized due to the size of Ancestry’s database.
With this most recent update, Ancestry correctly assigned me to a Genetic Community of those with ancestry from Southeast Poland, and further refined that to Northeastern Lesser Poland (Figure 1).
I’ve traced my Klaus and Liguz ancestors to villages in that region between Szczucin and Mielec, so Ancestry nailed that one. Moreover, they were able to be even more precise with my mother’s estimate, specifying Dąbrowa County as one of her ancestral places of origin (Figure 2).
I was also assigned to the Genetic Community of Northeast Poland, indicated by the larger yellow area on the map in Figure 3, with a further assignment to the Łódź Province and Surrounding Area Community.
Zooming in on that map reveals that the “Łódź” area is defined rather broadly, so I’m not surprised that their map encompasses my ancestry from parishes that are in the Mazowieckie province, but are only a few kilometers east of the border with Łódź province. However, I am a little surprised by the extent to which these Genetic Communities overlap, and by the fact that I was not assigned to all of the Genetic Communities that cover a particular geographic area. For example, the geographic region identified as “Łódź Province and Surrounding Area” encompasses my ancestry from parishes in Słupca County, Wielkopolska, nearly 150 km west of Łódź. However, Ancestry has identified other Genetic Communities (e.g. West Central Poland Community, Greater Poland Community, and Central Poland Community) which also cover this region. The map in Figure 4 defines the geographic region identified as the place of origin of those in the definition of the Central Poland Community, so one might expect that someone with roots in Słupca County—located west of Konin and east of Poznań—would be assigned to this community, but that was not the case for me. My mother-in-law was assigned to this area, however, so the map shown in Figure 4 comes from her ethnicity estimate.
Of course, these estimates and Genetic Community assignments are still a work in progress, and we have every reason to expect that the accuracy will continue to improve over time. With that in mind, here is the table which compares the ethnicity estimates for my family, consisting of a group of four siblings, their parents, and all four grandparents (Figure 5). For each ethnicity component, the reported value is given in bold, with the range indicated in the line below. Check marks indicate the Genetic Communities that were assigned to each tester. A dash indicates that a person was not assigned to a particular ethnic group or Genetic Community. Ancestry tests for over 1500 ethnicities, but only the ten groups shown were reported in ethnicity estimates for members of my family.
As with my previous post, it’ll be helpful to discuss the ethnicities in my family based on pedigree. The ancestors of my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa” in the chart) were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Prussian partitions as far back as I’ve been able to discover. (A brief discussion of the partitions of Poland and subsequent border changes is found here.) My mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) ancestors were also ethnic Poles, from the Prussian partition. My mother’s (“Maternal Grandma’s”) family were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Austrian partitions. My father’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) ancestry is more mixed. His mother’s family was entirely German, and his father’s family was half German/Alsatian, half English/Irish/Scottish.
Based on those pedigrees, “Paternal Grandpa, “Paternal Grandma,” “Dad,” and “Maternal Grandma” should all be 100% Polish ethnicity, since all of their ancestors were Poles, living in Polish lands, as far back as I have traced thus far. I’m half Polish, since all my ancestors on my Mom’s side were Polish and none of my Dad’s ancestors were, and my kids, then, are 75% Polish.
For comparison, the summary chart for the data from March 2019 is shown in Figure 6.
In comparison with these earlier data, the November 2021 ethnicity estimates for each person have not changed significantly. My father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa”), for example, was previously reported to be 83% Eastern Europe & Russia,16% Baltic States, and 2% Finland; in this current estimate, 84% of his ethnicity was Eastern Europe & Russia, with 11% Baltic, and 5% Sweden & Denmark. The Baltic and Sweden & Denmark components may or may not be real, since the reported ranges indicate 0% at the low end. It may happen that these components eventually disappear, just as the “Finland” component did, as the ethnicity estimates are continually refined. However, it’s also possible that these components are real, and reflect retained traces of more ancient ancestry. Time will tell.
My father-in-law was also assigned to some Genetic Communities™, specifically, the Northeast Poland community, with additional sub-assignments of Central & Northeast Poland, Central Poland, and Łódź Province and Surrounding Area. Given the degree of overlap between those communities, I think this is, at best, a modest improvement over the simple statement that his ethnicity is Polish, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.
Another interesting difference between the 2019 ethnicity estimate and the current estimate is the increase in my Dad’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) reported Scottish ethnicity. This is due to Ancestry’s attempt in 2020 to differentiate between the closely-related ethnic groups in the United Kingdom. As explained in this blog post by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications at Ancestry, earlier reference panels included only two groups for this region, an Irish/Celtic/Gaelic group and an Anglo-Saxon/British/English group. In 2020, Ancestry added additional reference panels in an attempt to offer increased granularity, so testers with U.K. ancestry could now be assigned to one or more of four ethnic groups for this region: England & Northwestern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Unfortunately, this particular change to the algorithm led to inflated estimates of Scottish ancestry for many of us. In 2019, my Dad’s combined “Ireland & Scotland” component represented 4% of his ethnicity (range = 0–5%). For comparison, we can calculate Dad’s ethnicity by pedigree. His most recent Irish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh, from whom Dad would have received, on average, 6.25% of his DNA. Another great-great-grandmother, Catherine (Grant) Dodds, was the source of Dad’s Scottish ancestry, but her family’s origins are unclear, as she herself was most likely born in Canada of parents or grandparents who were Scottish immigrants. If we assume that Catherine’s ancestry was purely Scottish, then Dad would be expected to inherit 6.25% Scottish ethnicity from her, for a total of 12.5% “Ireland & Scotland.” So, the 4% “Ireland & Scotland” reported in 2019 falls short of that, partly due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination—Dad may simply have inherited less than the average amount of DNA from each of those two ancestors—and partly due to the inexact science of generating ethnicity estimates.
However, in Dad’s current ethnicity estimate, his Scottish component is inflated to a whopping 31% (range = 12–33%), while his Irish estimate is 3% (range = 0–7%), and his England & Northwest Europe component comes in at 18% (range = 0–51%). These changes are the result of that attempt in 2020 to distinguish between Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English/Northwestern European ethnicities, and they effectively double his total U.K. ancestry, which should be about 25% since all of his English/Irish/Scottish roots are through one grandmother, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. (Dad’s other three grandparents were all German or Alsatian.) I suspect that this over-estimate of Scottish ancestry will be resolved in a future ethnicity estimate update.
I think the rest of the data in the charts largely speak for themselves, so an exhaustive analysis of each person’s results is unnecessary. However, a few observations can be made:
Both Child 1 and Child 4 both had ethnicities reported that were not detected in the tests of either their parents or their grandparents. Child 1 was reported to have 1% DNA (range = 0–4%) from Sardinia, and Child 4 was reported to have 6% (range = 0–12%) DNA from Norway. Since DNA cannot “skip a generation,” these results cannot reflect any true ethnic origins in those areas. Since we only recognize that that these results are spurious by comparing them with data from both parents, this illustrates the need for caution in interpreting ethnicities reported at values less than about 10%.
Even if a reported ethnicity matches the known pedigree, checking the range of values is recommended; anything that dwindles down to 0% should be taken with a grain of salt, in the most conservative interpretation.
Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™, identified in conjunction with place data from family trees, track well across generations. There were no Communities assigned to children which were not also assigned to their parents, and in one case, a parent’s data exhibited a higher degree of accuracy and precision ((Northeastern Lesser Poland > Dąbrowa County) than was detected in the child.
Identification of Genetic Communities™ did not always line up with known data about ancestral origins, even when those origins are confirmed through DNA matches. Despite having a grandmother born in Greater Poland and having deep ancestry in that region confirmed by DNA matches, my mother was not assigned to this Community. Despite having no evidence of ancestry from places further south than Greater Poland, my mother-in-law was assigned to the Southeast Poland Genetic Community. Go figure.
At the end of the day, these are only estimates of one’s ethnicity, and they are liable to change, modestly or significantly, as additional testers enter the data pool and new reference populations are added for comparison. DNA match lists are ultimately more useful than ethnicity estimates in answering genealogical research questions, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see how these estimates play out within a family group.
In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.
1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key
Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.
2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees
Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.
Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.
Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.
3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom
Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.
The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.
The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.
Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).
The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).
Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.
4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record
The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1
However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.
When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.
Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.
Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.
1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.
Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.
Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts
Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from St. Joseph’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2
The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4
Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5
In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”
The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.
Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6
The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.
To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7
Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8
The Search for Causins in Buffalo
With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.
Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12
According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?
I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from St. Joseph’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.
I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?
Clues from the Causins’ Cluster
Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.
DNA to the Rescue
Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.
And that’s when it happened.
I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agatha (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!
A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.
In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.
Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17
“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829
L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”
I’ve translated the record below:
“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”
The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.
Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.
The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.
The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,
“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19
So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.
On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.
While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.
11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.
8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.
12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.
For most genealogists, vital records create the backbone of a family tree, so it’s important for us to be able to locate the ones we need for our research. As a general rule, those of us researching Polish ancestors expect to find vital records in local registry offices, parish offices, state archives, and diocesan archives. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes, we find them in libraries or other repositories that are further from the beaten path. Once such library that’s recently come onto my radar, thanks to a tip from my colleague in Germany, Marcel Elias, is the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek, located in Herne, Germany.
Why Should I Care About This Library?
The Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek offers unique collections which can be accessed online, as well as those which must be accessed in person. As their website states,
“The collections of Martin-Opitz-Library, founded in 1948, cover the history and culture of Germans in East Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. An emphasis of the collection is the historical eastern provinces of Prussia. It is the largest scientific library of this kind in Germany.”
The library holds church books—both Roman Catholic and Protestant—as well as a few civil registers, for a number of locations that may be of interest to those researching Polish ancestors. Locations include places in Warmia-Masuria, Silesia, Pomerania, Greater Poland, Galicia, and Volhynia, and online collections include both digitized scans (original sources) as well as abstracts and transcriptions (derivative sources). Many of the transcripts are found in the 62-volume collection known as the Hipplersche Kirchenbücher (Hippler’s Church Books). Dr. Erich Hippler (1892–1969) made complete transcripts of all the baptisms, marriages and deaths recorded from a number of parishes in the northern Warmia area, which encompass the period from 1485–1882. In some cases, the original books no longer exist, making these transcripts invaluable as a genealogical resource.
In many cases, the collections found in the Martin-Opitz-Library are complementary to those found in other repositories. For example, Roman Catholic parish books for Samoklensk in Kreis Schubin, known today as Samoklęski Duże in gmina Szubin in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, are available in several collections which span the period from 1750–1830. These records predate the collections available from FamilySearch, which are images of original records held by the Archiwum Archidiecezjalne w Gnieźnie (Archdiocesan Archive in Gniezno) and include vital records from 1831–1951. (The end date of that collection is nominal; in practice, birth records are protected by Polish privacy laws for 100 years, and marriage and death records are protected for 80 years, which might explain why the more recent collections have not yet been digitized by FamilySearch.) For the parish of Giedlarowa in gmina Leżajsk, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, in the former Galicia region, the Martin-Opitz library has a collection of baptisms from 1787–1827. In contrast, FamilySearch has no vital records for this parish, and the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie (state archive in Rzeszów) only has 19th-century records starting in 1852 (plus some 20th-century holdings). Although the Archidiecezjalne w Przemyślu (archdiocesan archive in Przemyśl) can often be counted on to have collections of Roman Catholic church books for parishes in this area, even they only have records for Giedlarowa dating back to 1826, at least according to the Ekstrakty Metrykalne w Archiwum Diecezjalnem Przemyskiem, which is an old catalog of the holdings of this archive created by Fr. Dr. Jan Kwolek and published in 1928. Besides the vital records, the Martin-Opitz-Library offers an interesting collection of postcards from Łódź with a focus on 20th-century images prior to World War I; a Galicia-German Archive, a collection focused on Volhynian Germans, assorted maps, and so much more.
Since this is a German library, you’re likely to find places referred to by their German names, and you may be wondering how to convert those names to their current Polish equivalents. There are two good options for that. The first is Kartenmeister, where you can search Uwe-Karsten Krickhahn’s database of locations according to their German names, and the results will include alternate names for each place in Polish, Russian, or Lithuanian. The second option is the Meyers Gazetteer, where you can search for a German place name, then view the results on the map, varying the transparency so that the default, historical map fades into the modern map, revealing the current place name.
How Do I Search the Holdings of This Library?
You’ll probably want to search both the digital offerings and also the library’s catalog. I found it worthwhile to browse to the genealogy collections from the main page, since that method permits a bit of an overview of some of the different collections along the way. The library’s homepage is shown in Figure 1.
Although the site offers options for English and Polish as well as German, those translation features are a little glitchy, as of this writing. For example, if you’re viewing a page other than the home page and you select “English,” the site kicks you back to the home page, rather than translating the current page. Nonetheless, if you click on “More Collections” (boxed in green), and then choose “Digitale Sammlungen” (digital collections), as shown in Figure 2, you can eventually get to the site’s “Familienforschung” (Genealogy) page.
At any point during this process, you can always cheat and machine translate the page using Chrome as your browser. Right-click anywhere on the webpage, and the box shown above the blue arrow in Figure 3 will pop up, offering you the option to Translate to English. Alternatively, stick with German and click on “Familienforschung” (Genealogy), boxed in green, or browse first to some of those other collections that may be of interest.
Figure 4 shows the machine-translated version of the Genealogy page. You can also shortcut the process by navigating to this page directly.
Once you’re on the Genealogy page, you’ll probably want to view “Church records,” unless your ancestors happened to be from Reinswalde/Złotnik or Rogsen/Rogoziniec, both in Lubusz Voivodeship, or Zimdarse/Siemidarżno in West Pomeranian Voivodeship, as these are currently the only locations for which civil vital registrations are available online.
When you select “Church records” (or “Kirchenbücher,” if you’re continuing in the German original), you’ll have options to view the special collection of Hippler’s Church Books from the Warmia-Masuria region, Warmian church book films, or further parish registers. The Warmian church book films include digitized vital records from two locations, Mehlsack/Pieniezno in the present-day Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, and Tiefenau/Tychnowy in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. The further parish registers (“weitere Kirchenbücher”) consist of church books from 44 parishes (mostly Protestant) located throughout Poland today (Figure 5).
Hippler’s Church Books and the Warmian church book films are really the highlight of this library’s digital offerings, in terms of vital records, because Dr. Hippler seemed to be intent on creating accurate transcriptions.
On Abstracts and Rabbit Holes: A Word of Caution
In contrast, one should exercise caution in using some of the books from the “weitere Kirchenbücher” (further parish registers). As an interesting example, I chose to examine the library’s collection of Roman Catholic church books, identified as being from Kazimierza Wielka from 1802–1845 (Figure 6).
This collection consists of typed abstracts of the church books, as well as a 109-page alphabetized index of the individuals whose vital events are recorded in those books. Apparently, these abstracts are not complete, but were created selectively, aimed at identifying individuals of German descent, so the record numbers are not continuous, going from 4 to 6 to 54 and 55, as shown in Figure 7.
Unfortunately, I hit a snag when I tried to find the original records that were abstracted here. Roman Catholic books from Kazimierza Wielka (located northeast of Kraków in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship) are digitized at GenBaza, which has images from the duplikat books (1810–1939), held by the state archive of Kielce (Archiwum Państwowe w Kielcach), as well as the unikat books (1690–1868) held by the diocesan archive in Kielce (Archiwum Diecezjalne w Kielcach). The duplikat books were created from the original church records (unikat) at the end of each year and stored in the archives of the district court, and for Kazimierza Wielka, many books from both the unikat and duplikat collections have survived. (More information on the practice of creating vital records books can be found here.) Unikat scans from the diocesan archive from 1690–1870 can also be found in Metryki, which makes them slightly more accessible than the scans in GenBaza since Metryki does not require a login. Moreover, records from Kazimierza Wielka are indexed at Geneteka (1670–1874).
With all those resources available online, it was easy to look up birth record number 4 from 1827 for Kazimierza Wielka from the unikat records of the diocesan archive in Kielce, and this is shown in Figure 8. That birth record was clearly not a birth record for Karoline Wilhelmine Emilie Bohr, as suggested by the typed abstract from Figure 7, but rather one for Błażej Czupierda, son of Kazimierz and Franciszka née Wrześniak.
Figure 9 shows the duplikat version of this same record from the state archive in Kielce, and it, too, confirmed that the fourth birth recorded in 1827 in Kazimierza Wielka was that of Błażej Czupierda, not Karoline Wilhelmine Emilie Bohr.
Since both of those original records agreed, the only logical explanation was that the parish had been misidentified. Mapa.szukacz.pl identifies 14 places within the borders of Poland today called Kazimierz. So which Kazimierz was the source of the abstracts held by the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek?
Closer examination of the other abstracted records in Figure 7 revealed references to other local villages that were presumably located within the parish, such as Krzywiec in no. 54, Rąbień in no. 55, and “Konst.,” in no. 4, where Karoline Bohr herself was born. Already deep inside the rabbit hole, I checked out Krzywiec and Rąbień in Mapa.szukacz.pl. There’s only one Rąbień in Poland and it’s near Łódź. Similarly, there’s a village called Krzywiec near there, and “Konst.” must be Konstantynów Łódzki. Lo, and behold, “Kazimierza Wielka” must be Kazimierz, presently located in gmina Lutomiersk, within Pabianice County, Łódź Voivodeship (Figure 10).
If nothing else, this exercise really underscored for me the richness and abundance of historical records that are now available online, thanks to the efforts of volunteers from Polish genealogical societies and Polish archives. It also underscored the need for careful evaluation and understanding of source material for genealogical research.
Using the Catalog of the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek
As is true for most other libraries and archives, the digitized offerings available at the website of the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek represent only a small fraction of their holdings. To see what else they have that might be relevant to one’s research, it’s necessary to check the catalog. This can be accessed from the search bar at the top (“Suchen und Finden”) of the home page shown in Figure 1. Since this is a German site, I like to use correct German spellings for my search terms, as a rule. However, the search engine does not seem to be particularly fussy about diacritics. A search for “Kirchenbucher” came up with the same 1,779 results as a search for “Kirchenbücher,” and a search for “Krakow” returned results for “Kraków.” One thing that does not seem to be readily available is a complete list of parishes for which the library holds original books, whether digitized or not. Most librarians and archivists are extremely helpful, however, so a quick email is probably all that will be required in order to confirm the availability of collections that may be of interest.
Knowing where to find collections of historical documents that are relevant (or potentially so) to our research is important for all genealogists, and sometimes those collections may be found in places that are a bit off the beaten path. Poland’s tumultuous history and changing borders can make it even more challenging to locate records, and metrical books can sometimes turn up in surprising places, after being hidden from—or confiscated by—invading armies. When in doubt, professional, onsite researchers can be invaluable allies in our quest to locate records. In cases where originals no longer exist, derivative sources can help fill in the blanks. However, it’s important to evaluate them carefully, making an effort to understand why they were created, and by whom, and what originals were used in their creation. Hopefully some of you readers will be able to find your ancestors in these records from the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek. If you do, be sure to let me know in the comments. Happy researching!