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

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

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

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

In Search of Zofia Krawczyk’s Maternal Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Search of Izydor Wilczek’s Paternal Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

Why Genealogy Friends Are the Best Kind of Friends

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

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

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

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

And there you have it.

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

That’s a Wrap (For Now)

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

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

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

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

And now, back to those Walshes!


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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


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

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

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

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

Family Ethnicity Estimates Chart for blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1 “Eastern Europe and Russia,” DNA Origins for Julie Szczepankiewicz, AncestryDNA ( : 10 March 2019).

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


Categories DNA

Ancestry’s New ThruLines Utility Needs More Work

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

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

ThruLines first screen

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

ThruLines second screen

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

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

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

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

Ancestry Member Profile page

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

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

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

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

Potential Ancestors

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

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

Thrulines Walburga Meinzinge3r

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

Meinzinger tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

4 Blaine Bettinger, “Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques” Facebook group, post on 27 February 2019, ( : 3 March 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz  2019

Using your DNA Match List at Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 1: Second cousin matches at Ancestry. Question mark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leveraging Shared Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting It All Together

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

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

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

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

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

Sources and Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

Some relevant blog articles: 

Using GEDmatch:

Using Ancestry’s “Shared Matches” tool: 

Understanding Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™:

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 2019


Categories DNA

DNA Testing for the Scientifically Challenged

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

Going Beyond the Ethnicity Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

first three chromosomes showing matching segments

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

Chromosome Mapping with DNA Painter

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

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

dna painter screenshot

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

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

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

dna painter crop

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBD or…Not?

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

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

The Nuts and Bolts of Autosomal DNA Testing

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

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

raw dna data

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

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

The Big Problem of Small Segments

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

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

Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained.

Leah Larkin’s blog, The DNA Geek.

CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist.

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019




DNA to the Rescue! Evidence for Helena Panek’s Parentage

In my last post, I wrote about my research into my newly-discovered Panek ancestry. To briefly recap, the marriage record for my great-great-great-grandparents, Michał Zieliński and Antonina Ciećwierz, stated that Michał was the son of Piotr Zieliński and Marianna Panek. Piotr and Marianna’s marriage record is indexed in Geneteka, and states that Marianna was the daughter of Helena Panek, with no father’s name given. Although this suggests that Helena was an unwed mother, I believe she was actually Helena (née Święcicka) Panek, wife of Tomasz Panek, of Kuznocin in Sochaczew County. The fact that Helena was married to Tomasz Panek at the time of Marianna’s birth does not necessarily mean that Tomasz was Marianna’s father, however, so the question remains as to whether he was named on Marianna’s marriage record and merely omitted from the index, or whether the marriage record itself states that Marianna’s father is unknown. Of course, the actual marriage record is needed here and may shed some light on the situation, and I have requested a copy from the diocesan archive in Łowicz. However, since I requested a large number of records, and since the archive is closed from now until the end of July, it might take some time before I have Marianna’s marriage record in my eager little hands. Since patience is not always my virtue, I turned to DNA to see if there was evidence to prove or disprove my hypothesis that Marianna Panek was the daughter of Tomasz Panek and Helena Święcicka.

Panning for Paneks

Considering the distant time frame of the research problem, it’s better to analyze my mother’s DNA match list rather than my own, since she is one generation closer to these elusive Panek/Święcicki ancestors than I am. I searched her matches at Ancestry for the surname Panek, and came up with 3 distant cousins with this surname in their family trees. Of these matches, two had family trees which were locked, and one had a public tree. I could request access to the locked trees, but I have no reason to suspect anything earth-shattering there, because the matches are only 10 centimorgans (cM, a unit of genetic distance) across 2 segments, and 7 cM across 1 segment, respectively. Such small segments suggest a very distant match at best, or perhaps even a matching segment that is identical by chance (a false positive). The public family tree of the third Panek match revealed that his Panek family was from Oblekon, Świętokrzyszkie province, which isn’t especially close to Sochaczew, where my Panek family lived. Panek is not an uncommon surname, and moreover, that match, too, was only about 10 cM, so it won’t be an easy task to identify our common ancestors.

The fact that Mom doesn’t yet have any strong matches to Panek cousins does not in itself offer evidence regarding the question of whether Tomasz Panek was Marianna’s father. It’s entirely possible that Tomasz Panek could have been Marianna’s father, but that Mom simply did not inherit the right bit of DNA to match another of Tomasz Panek’s descendants. It’s also entirely possible that a match will show up some day as more people test. At the moment, the vast majority of Mom’s 117 DNA matches at the level of 4th cousins or closer, appear to be people living in North America who have traced their ancestry back to Poland, rather than Poles living in Poland today. DNA testing is still unaffordable for many Poles, and Ancestry DNA is not well known in Poland, so there are very few Poles in their database. As DNA testing becomes more affordable, hopefully the situation will improve and more Poles will become interested in testing with Ancestry, increasing the likelihood that I’ll find cousins from Poland in my match list. However, at this point, the search for cousins from the Panek family didn’t pan out, so it was time to try a different angle.

Searching for Święcickis

I searched Mom’s matches for the surname Święcicki with much more promising results. A fourth-cousin match immediately popped up to “D.K.,” as well as one 5th-8th cousin match to “J.G.” Both of them have public trees, and based on these trees, D.K. and J.G. are related to each other as well as to Mom. Note that diacritics matter when searching DNA matches in Ancestry, as a search for “Święcicki” will produce different results than a search for “Swiecicki.” If you try to get around this problem by checking the box to include similar surnames, all hell breaks loose. In the case of this search, Mom’s list suddenly jumped from two matches to 68 matches, many of whom had surnames that weren’t remotely close to Święcicki/Swiecicki. Rather than wading through all these matches, I chose to focus on just the first two Święcicki matches see if I could determine how we might be related.

The Gontarek Family of Minnesota and Młodzieszyn

Both J.G. and D.K. trace their ancestry back to the Gontarek families of Minnesota. Their family trees document several siblings — Michał, Wiktoria, Ludwik, Rozalia, Bronisława, and Lena — who emigrated from Russian Poland to locations in Steele, Le Sueur, and Waseca Counties, west and south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The fact that they settled in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was immediately interesting to me, since previous research led to me discover that this area was the destination for other ancestral cousins from Sochaczew County. Although the family trees are well-documented through census records, it’s not immediately clear what evidence they have for the names of the parents of these siblings, since the trees are a little light on vital records. Nonetheless, both family trees report that these immigrants were all children of Stanisław Gontarek and Marianna Święcicka. Furthermore, J.G.’s tree states that Marianna Święcicka was the daughter of Piotr Świecicki and Anna, maiden name unknown, and that she died in Kuznocin on 9 December 1890, and in her gallery, I found a note indicating that she hired a professional genealogist in Poland to find this information.

By this point I was sitting on the edge of my chair. Kuznocin was exactly where my Święcicki ancestors were from, so this could not possibly be a mere coincidence. A quick search in Geneteka revealed the births of most of these siblings in Sochaczew and nearby parishes, including Młodzieszyn, where the most recent generations of my Polish family lived (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for births of children born to couples with surnames “Gontarek” and “Sw,*” searching as a pair in Sochaczew and indexed parishes within a 15-kilometer radius.

Gontarek births

My matches’ family trees suggest that “Lena” was born circa 1860, so she may be the same as the Julianna who was born in 1858. Józef and Walenty are new — perhaps they remained in Poland and did not emigrate, or perhaps they died young. There are unfortunately no death records for any of these individuals, but at least 4 of them emigrated to the U.S. and died there, so their deaths would not be indexed in Geneteka. There is also no birth record for the Ludwik/Louis found in the Gontarek family trees on Ancestry. He was born circa 1872, but if he were born in Młodzieszyn like Bronisława, that could explain his absence from this list, since indexed birth records for Młodzieszyn don’t begin until 1885. In fact, if the family moved to Młodzieszyn after the birth of Walenty in 1870, that could also explain the 15-year gap in births that appears between Walenty and Bronisława. A move to Młodzieszyn would similarly explain the absence of marriage or death records for Józef and Walenty, since all records for Młodzieszyn that are available from the state archive in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are very limited. (Between the archive and the local civil records office, marriage records exist from 1889-1898 and from 1911-1928, and death records exist from 1889-1925. Additional, more recent records after 1928 are almost certainly available as well, but access to records after 1937 is restricted to immediate family.)

Bronisława’s birth record from 1885 is the only one linked to a scan. Birth records for the Gontarek children who were baptized in Sochaczew are only available at the diocesan archive in Łowicz, and Rozalia’s birth record from the parish of Brochów is in the possession of the parish archive. Working with what we have, then, let’s take a quick look at Bronisława’s birth record (Figure 2).1

Figure 2: Birth record from Młodzieszyn for Bronisława Gontarek, 3 August 1885.1

Bronislawa Gontarek birth 1885 marked

In translation from Russian, the record states that Bronisława was born in Młodzieszyn on 3 August 1885 at noon. Her father was described as Stanisław Gontarek, a laborer residing in the village of Młodzieszyn, age 59. The text pertaining to her mother, underlined in red, states that the child Bronisława was born “….of his [Stanisław’s] lawful wife, Marianna née Swięcicka, age forty-eight.” Marianna’s age suggests that she was born circa 1837, and if that was the case, then she would have been about 21 at the time of Julianna Gontarek’s birth. This is quite reasonable, and consistent with the hypothesis that all the children found in our Geneteka search belong to the same couple.

So far, so good. We’ve found additional evidence to support the information found in the family trees of Mom’s DNA matches, indicating that the Gontarek siblings who settled in Minnesota were children of Stanisław Gontarek and Marianna Święcicka or Swięcicka of the parishes of Sochaczew, Brochów, and Młodzieszyn, all located in Sochaczew County. The next step was to find Marianna Gontarek’s death record, which was discovered by the professional genealogist in Poland and was the basis for the information in J.G.’s family tree that Marianna Święcicka was the daughter of Piotr Święcicki and Anna, maiden name unknown, and that she died in Kuznocin on 9 December 1890. This document was easily located in Geneteka (Figure 3).2

Figure 3: Death record from Młodzieszyn for Marianna Gontarek, 9 December 1890.2

Marianna Gontarek death 1890

Here’s the full translation of this document from Russian, as I read it:

“A. 79, Biała Góra. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the 29th day of November/11th day of December in the year 1890 at 11:00 in the morning. They appeared — Maciej Szewczyk, laborer, age 46, and Stanisław Giza, laborer, age 26, residing in the village of Biała Góra — and stated that, on the 27th day of November/9th day of December of the current year, at 4:00 in the morning, died in the village of Biała Góra, Marianna Gontarek, wife, laborer, age 56, born in the village of Kuznocin, residing in the village of Biała Góra, daughter of the late Piotr and Anna, the spouses Swięcicki. She leaves after herself her widower husband, Stanisław Gontarek, residing in the village of Biała Góra. After eyewitness confirmation of the death of Marianna Gontarek, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed by us only. [Signed] Fr. Antoni Morski.”

Since Marianna was reported to be age 56 when she died in 1890, she was probably born circa 1834. Lo, and behold, there are two matching birth records in Geneteka for Marianna Święcicka or Swięcicka in 1835, recorded in Sochaczew which is the correct parish for the village of Kuznocin (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Search result for birth of Marianna Swiecicka, born between 1830 and 1840 in Sochaczew parish.Marianna Swiecicka birth

The two records shown here are the civil record and the church record. It’s possible to tell which is which because the “i” infodot in the “Remarks” column indicates that the second record was taken from the Latin church book, so the first record must be the Polish-language civil transcript. Both versions are only available from the diocesan archive in Łowicz, so it looks like I’ll be placing another order with them. Marianna’s mother’s maiden name is recorded as Janiak, which is new information for me, and presumably for my DNA matches as well.

Another search in Geneteka quickly produced Piotr and Anna’s marriage records — and revealed how I am related to D.K. and J.G. (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Geneteka search result for marriage of Piotr Swięcicki and Anna Janiak.

Piotr and Anna Swiecicki marriage

Piotr was the son of Stanisław and Urszula Święcicki, my putative 6x-great-grandparents!


I say “putative,” because at this point I still don’t have a single shred of direct documentary evidence that I have any ancestors with the Swięcicki/Święcicki surname. I only have a theory based on indirect evidence that my documented ancestor, Helena Panek, was born Helena Swięcicka, daughter of Stanisław and Urszula. Up until this point, one could argue that there might still be an unmarried Helena Panek who was actually my ancestor, but who was not found in the indexes in Geneteka because those indexes are incomplete and don’t cover every year in every parish in the vicinity of Sochaczew. However, the discovery of this DNA evidence certainly adds substantial weight to my theory. Based on the paper trail, both J.G. and D.K. are 5th cousins once removed to my mother, and the amount of DNA shared by my mother with each of them supports this relationship. Due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination, D.K. and my mother share 40 cM of DNA over 2 segments, while J.G. and my mother share only a single segment of 8.6 cM. However, both of these values fall within the normal range of centimorgans shared by people who are 5th cousins once removed. According to Blaine Bettinger’s handy Shared cM Project chart, people who are 5th cousins once removed might share anywhere from 0 to 79 cM of DNA, with an average of 21 cM shared DNA.

Of course, the DNA evidence in itself is not “proof” of my descent from Stanisław and Urszula Swięcicki. It’s true that DNA doesn’t lie, but in cases such as this, where DNA evidence is used to confirm a relationship that’s further back than parent-child, DNA evidence is still open to interpretation. The possibility exists that Mom (and I) might be related to D.K. and J.G. through some other set of common ancestors. However, one can invoke the law of parsimony here and conclude that Stanisław and Urszula are, indeed, our common ancestors because that explanation is the simplest, given the substantial body of indirect documentary evidence that’s accumulated. To put it another way, when you hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras.

I just love it when the pieces fall into place like this. I just heard back yesterday from both J.G. and D.K., and I’m delighted to have an opportunity to share all this new information with them. And of course, I still can’t say whether Tomasz Panek was Marianna’s father or not, so that remains a mystery for now. Hmmm….. maybe I’ll go and reexamine those DNA matches with the surname Panek in their family trees. This may be my lucky day!


1 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie” (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1885-1895, 1885, no. 105, birth record for Bronisława Gontarek, 3 August 1885, accessed as browsable images, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, ( : 20 July 2018).

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie” (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga zgonów 1889-1901, 1890, no. 79, death record for Marianna Gontarek, 9 December 1890, accessed as browsable images, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, ( : 20 July 2018).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018







The Mysterious Wanda Gruberska: The Next Chapter

In my last post, I shared an article I wrote for the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s journal, Rodziny, about finding a new DNA match to a cousin who knew only his grandmother’s birth name, Wanda Gruberska, but little else about her, since she was adopted as a child and had her name changed. Today I’d like to provide a few updates to the story, based on new research findings since its publication.

To briefly recap, when I was contacted by this DNA match, I recognized the Gruberski surname because my maternal grandmother’s Zazycki family had multiple ties to the Gruberski family in Poland through marriage. However, Wanda Gruberska herself was not in my family tree, and at that point, I did not know who her parents might be. By process of elimination I was able to identify Wanda’s parents as Jan/John Gruberski and Marianna/Mary (née Pindur) Gruberska, demonstrate that they immigrated to Minnesota, prove that Mary died in 1918, and discover that one of the Gruberskis’ children was living in an orphanage in St. Paul in 1920. However, I still had no direct evidence of Wanda’s birth to these parents or of her own placement in that orphanage. I suspected that Wanda might have been baptized at St. Adalbert’s church in St. Paul, Minnesota, based on her family’s address in city directories.

The Smoking Gun, and a New Sister

What I did not realize at that time was that baptisms and marriages from this parish, as well as other Polish parishes in Minnesota, were indexed by John Rys and compiled into searchable databases which can be accessed via the website of the Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota. John kindly provided me with a copy of Wanda’s baptismal record (Figure 1),1 as well as a copy of the baptismal record for another sister, Helena Josepha (Figure 2).2

Figure 1: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Wanda Grubarska, born 7 May 1916.1Wanda Gruberska baptism 1916

Figure 2: Baptismal record from St. Adalbert’s church, St. Paul, Minnesota, for Helen Josepha, born 18 March 1914.2Helena Gruberska baptism 1914

Wanda’s surname is spelled “Grubarska” in the first record, and her year of birth, 1916, makes her a full three years younger than her family suspected. However, this birth record is nonetheless a “smoking gun” —  the direct evidence which irrefutably identifies Wanda as a child of the parents whom I predicted for her, based on all prior evidence. Although I was previously unaware of another sister, Helena, it makes sense that John and Mary might have had another child born in the U.S. if Wanda was born as late as 1916. John and Mary’s oldest children, Stanisław and Genowefa, were born in Poland in 1908 and 1910, respectively, and arrived in the U.S. in April 1913 with their mother Mary and uncle Bolesław (Bill) Gruberski. Helena had to have been the first of John and Mary’s children born in the U.S., since her March 1914 birth date suggests that she was conceived in June 1913.

The Godfather

Helena’s godfather, Leon Gruberski, was another surprise, since I don’t have him in my family tree. However, my data on the children of Marianna Zarzycka and Józef Gruberski are still incomplete. As mentioned previously, the family lived in Bronisławy, a village belonging to the parish in Rybno. The majority of the 19th-century records for Rybno have not been microfilmed, nor are they available from the Polish State Archives (apart from a narrow range of years starting in 1886). Instead, the records are still in possession of the local Catholic parish. Thanks to a gracious pastor and a diligent researcher (Justyna Krogulska), I have been able to obtain records for my family from this parish, but it looks like another round of research is in order, focusing specifically on the Gruberski family.

Although Leon’s birth record is currently unavailable, a quick check on Ancestry produced his passenger manifest (Figures 3a and b, which can also be viewed free via Ellis Island):

Figure 3a:  Extract from first page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4Leon Gruberski passenger manifest page 1

Figure 3b: Extract from second page of passenger manifest for Leon Gruberski.4Leon Gruberski passenger manifest page 2

The manifest informs us that Leon arrived in New York on 5 May 1909, that he was single, and that he was born about 1885 in “Bronislawa.” His nearest relative in that place was his father, Józef Gruberski, who was living in “Bronislawa, Warschau,” and Leon was a citizen of Russia. All of this is consistent with the village of Bronisławy, which was located in the Warsaw gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire. On page 2, we see that he was headed to his “step brother,” Piotr Przanowski, living at 153 Box (?) Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leon may have used the term “step brother” in a rather broad sense. The Przanowski family was clearly associated with the Gruberski family because Leon’s brother, Roman Gruberski, was married to Julianna Przanowska, who was the daughter of Stanisław Przanowski and Franciszka Dobińska. A quick check in Geneteka reveals that Julianna did indeed have a brother named Piotr Przanowski, who married Łucja Gajowniczek in Iłów in 1897, and this is probably the Piotr Przanowski mentioned in Leon’s passenger manifest. Assuming that further research does not turn up evidence of a closer relationship, Piotr can’t properly be called a “step brother” to Leon. However, our ancestors typically employed a very expansive concept of family when reporting their relationships to contacts in the U.S., and this fact, compounded with the language barrier, probably explains the notation on the manifest.

In any case, Leon seems to disappear from U.S. records subsequent to that 1909 passenger manifest. We know he must have remained in the U.S. through 1914 at least, since he was godfather to his niece, Helena Józefa, in April of that year. This, in turn, implies that he should be found in the 1910 census. Very often, Polish immigrants can be tough to locate in U.S. census records because their names were misspelled by the census-taker on the original form, or mistranscribed during the indexing process. One of my favorite tricks for getting around this is to omit the surname entirely and search using other known data. However, a search of the 1910 census for men named Leon, no surname specified, born 1880-1890 in Russia, living in St. Paul, Minnesota, produced no promising hits. I also checked for his contact in the U.S., Piotr Przanowski, since occasionally one might see a boarder mistakenly recorded on a census record under the surname of the head of household. I successfully located the household of Peter Przanowski — misindexed as Peter Pozanowski — living in South St. Paul in 1910. I’m sure it’s the right family, because his wife’s name was Lucy and he and his wife reported that they’d been married for 13 years, suggesting a marriage date of 1897. Both of these facts match the marriage record in Geneteka precisely. However, there was no Leon living with them, so for now I’ll put Leon on the back burner and move on.

Crowdsourcing at its Best

Since publishing that article, I also obtained Mary Gruberski’s death certificate (Figure 4).4

Figure 4: Death certificate for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, 11 December 1918.Mary Gruberski death 1918.jpg

At the time of her death, the Gruberskis were living at 844 Gaulthier (sic) Street in St. Paul. Mary’s date of birth was reported to be 25 March 1880, but based on her age reported on her marriage record, 1890 would be a more probable birth year for her. Mary died of epidemic influenza on 14 December 1918 and was buried two days later in Calvary Cemetery. She was reported to be the wife of John Gruberski, but the document is worded in such a way that it makes no distinction between a wife, a widow, and a divorcée, so we cannot tell from this information whether or not John Gruberski is already deceased. However, the fact that John himself was not the informant is potentially significant. The name of the person who was the informant is unclear, but he did not know Mary’s parents’ names, or her precise place of birth, which suggests that he may not have known her well.

I was really bothered by the fact that I couldn’t read the informant’s name on this document. The disjointed appearance of the signature made it look almost like a short name, e.g. Geo. (George) Doun or Dorn, followed by a phrase, which I thought might contain some clue about the relationship of the informant to the deceased. Moreover, the 1910 census did indeed show a man by the name of George Dorn who lived at 1058 Rice Street in St. Paul in 1910, less than a mile from the Gruberskis’ address on the death certificate. However, this theory was blown out of the water last night by the amazing Kasia Dane in the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook.

One of my favorite strategies when I need another pair of eyes or a fresh perspective, is to crowdsource the problem by posting in a Facebook group. I posted this record in Polish Genealogy recently, and after some discussion, Kasia produced irrefutable evidence that the informant was a Belgian immigrant named Georges Dommels-Huizen. Kasia’s most compelling piece of evidence was this World War I draft card, which informs us that Georges was employed as a records clerk at the City and County Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a hospital records clerk, Georges would have had access to the basic information contained in Mary’s medical chart when she was admitted to the hospital.

Bill Gruberski’s Day in Court

Rather than resting on her laurels, Kasia dug a little deeper and turned up a spectacular find in Internet Archive. It’s often surprising what information one can find by a simple internet search using the name of a research subject combined with an identifying fact or two. In this case, a search for “Mary Gruberski 1918” produced a book entitled Minnesota Reports, which is a summary of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, published in 1922.5 The case summary tells us that Mary took out a life insurance policy on herself in 1918, shortly before her death, naming her brother-in-law, Bolesław “Bill” Gruberski, as the beneficiary. The insurer was the Brotherhood of American Yeomen, which was a fraternal beneficiary organization. The policy was issued in September of 1918, but prior to issuance of the life insurance certificate, the insurer required Mary to undergo a physical examination and to answer questions about her own health history, family health history, and her physical condition. The medical examination took place on 18 August 1918, and one of the questions asked was, “Are you pregnant?” At the time of the exam, Mary was 5 1/2 months pregnant, and she delivered a full-term baby on 15 November 1918, one month before her death.

Since the death claim was made so soon after the policy issued, it seems that the insurer balked at making the payout on the policy. They argued that the policy was void if any of the statements made during the medical exam regarding Mary’s physical condition were untrue, and they claimed that Mary stated that she was not pregnant. Never mind that her death was completely unrelated to her pregnancy, the whole case came down to the question of whether or not the statements made during the exam were warranties that could invalidate the insurance certificate if proven to be false. The plaintiff, on the other hand, charged that the medical examiner erroneously inserted Mary’s answers into the medical report, and that Mary did, in fact, admit to being pregnant. Mary was known to be illiterate, with limited English-speaking skills. Both sides offered conflicting testimony regarding Mary’s actual oral statement, and whether or not an interpreter was used, and it was noted to be strange that the medical examiner recorded her waist measurement, yet did not realize that she was 5 1/2 months pregnant. When the case was first tried in the Ramsey County District Court, it was judged in favor of the plaintiff — that is, the insurer was required to pay a death benefit of $1,000 to Bill Gruberski for his sister-in-law’s death. The defendant appealed that verdict, but it was upheld by the State Supreme Court.

So what are the genealogical implications of this new evidence? First, we now know that John and Mary Gruberski had at least 5 children prior to Mary’s death in 1918: Stanisław, Genowefa, Helena, Wanda, and this new baby born in November 1918, just a month before Mary’s death. Second, these data support my suspicion that John Gruberski might have preceded Mary in death. It’s a little odd that she would have named her brother-in-law as her beneficiary if her husband were still alive. Perhaps her intention was to have Bill use the money for the care of her children. In any case, the question remains as to when John Gruberski died, and the probable timeframe for this event is pretty narrow. If John and Mary’s youngest child was born in November 1918, the baby would have been conceived in February of that year. Therefore John must have died some time after the baby’s conception, but before Mary applied for the life insurance policy in August 1918, and named her brother-in-law, and not her husband, as beneficiary. It’s also theoretically possible that John did not die in 1918, but rather abandoned his family and moved back to Poland, and I hope to address this question with futher research.

The Seven Siblings

There’s one final new development that I want to share in this next chapter of the story. As mentioned previously, John and Mary’s oldest son, Stanisław, was reported in the 1920 census to be an inmate at St. Joseph’s German Catholic Orphan Society Home in St. Paul, Minnesota. I contacted the Archdiocesan Archives for St. Paul to inquire about records from the orphanage, and was delighted to learn that they do have records for Wanda and all her siblings, which I can request from their archive 100 years after the date of the record.  The earliest records will be available in January 2019 and the latest in September 2025.  It seems a long time to wait, but I’m in this for the long haul. The surprise came when the archivist wrote that they have records for seven Gruberski children, not just five.  Based on the dates of birth of the children previously discovered, the remaining two children must have been born in 1915 and 1917.  Given how large this family was, it seems odd that Stanisław was the only one of the siblings who was reported to be living in the orphanage in 1920. Prior to my correspondence with the Archdiocesan Archive, I assumed that the younger children might already have been adopted by 1920, leaving only Stanisław there. However, assuming that the release dates on the orphanage case files correspond to the dates when each child was legally adopted, there should have been three additional Gruberski children reported on the census, based on the census date of January 1920. Why they were not reported on the census is another mystery for another day.

There’s also the mystery of where these children would have been baptized, since the only baptismal records found at St. Adalbert’s were for Wanda and Helena. The obvious answer is that they must have been baptized in a different parish, so I took a look at the family’s addresses in city directories to determine what other parish they might have lived in. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t help much. In the 19147 city directory for St. Paul, John Gruberski was reported to be living at 720 S. Concord Street, which isn’t especially close to any of the ethnic Polish Roman Catholic churches in St. Paul. In 1915,8 he was listed in several places in the directory.  He appears first in the alphabetical listing of residents, which confirmed the previous home address of 720 S. Concord Street, and was also mentioned in the business directory under both “blacksmiths” and “horseshoers” where it was noted that his blacksmithing business was located at 161 Milford. In 1916,the only Gruberski listing is for “Jochim,” although it’s clearly the same as our John, since he’s a blacksmith working at 161 Milford. This time his residence is reported to be 865 Rice Street, but that’s still only a mile away from St. Adalbert’s.

In 1917,10 I found John’s brother, Bill Gruberski, living and working at his brother’s former address, 161 Milford. Moreover, the 1917 directory shows “Joachim Gruberski,” also a blacksmith, living at 887 Albemarle. Google Maps informs me that 887 Albemarle is about 26 feet away from 161 Milford, so right next door. By 1918,11 there’s no longer any mention of any John, Jochim, or Joachim Gruberski, but William Grubarski is mentioned as a “helper” living at 844 Galtier, which is again, quite close to St. Adalbert’s. 844 Galtier is an address we’ve seen before:  it’s where Mary Gruberski was living at the time of her death in December 1918. Moreover, both of these facts are consistent with our present hypothesis, that John Gruberski died (or perhaps abandoned his family) between February 1918 and November 1918. It seems quite plausible that Mary and her children might have moved in with her brother-in-law and his family if her husband died suddenly while she was pregnant with her seventh child.

Although this analysis of the city directories has helped us to understand some aspects of the story, it did not suggest any other parishes where the Gruberski children might have been baptized, since all the addresses associated with the family point to St. Adalbert’s. At this point, I don’t have any answers, merely speculation. Maybe, for some reason, some of the children were baptized at nearby St. Stanislaus parish, even though it was an ethnic Czech parish and therefore probably not the first choice for Polish immigrants? They were most likely not baptized at the ethnic Polish St. Casimir church in St. Paul, because their baptisms would have been captured in John Rys’s database. So this, too, remains another mystery for another day.

To Be Continued….

To sum it up, this next chapter in the saga of the Gruberski family in St. Paul has been pretty interesting, and the pieces of the story are starting to come together. We now have Wanda’s baptismal record, which provides direct evidence for her parentage, and we have a baptismal record for one additional sibling, Helena. We’ve learned of the existence of three more siblings, previously unknown, and we know the dates on which we can request adoption records for each of the seven siblings from the Archdiocesan Archive. We’ve discovered Leon Gruberski, John’s brother, and have a plan in place for further research in Polish records to obtain his birth record, and the birth records for all additional children of Józef Gruberski and Marianna Zarzycka. The report of a successful lawsuit, brought by Bill Gruberski against the Brotherhood of American Yeomen after their refusal to pay the death claim on Mary Gruberski’s life insurance policy, provided key genealogical details including the date of birth of Mary’s youngest child, and the fact that Mary named her Bill, rather than her husband, as her beneficiary. This, in combination with data from Mary’s death record and city directories, contributed evidence to our developing hypothesis that John Gruberski died between February 1918 and August 1918. Some questions still remain, of which the most important are those regarding the fate of John Gruberski, but hopefully further research can resolve those. Stay tuned!


Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1916, #61, baptismal record for Wanda Gruberska.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Adalbert’s Parish (St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota), Baptisms, 1911-1923, 1914, #15, baptismal record for Helena Josepha Gruberski.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957  (images and transcription)Year: 1909; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 1257; Line: 14; Page Number: 149, record for Leon Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017

Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics, Death Certificates, 1918, #8746, record for Mrs. John (Mary) Gruberski, died 14 December 1918 in St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota.

Minnesota Reports, Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota (1922), Bill Gruberski v. Brotherhood of American Yeomen, a Fraternal Beneficiary Organization, May 6, 1921, Case number 22,197, pp. 49-53.; book digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb., Internet Archive (, accessed 31 August 2017.

6 1920 United States Federal Census (image and transcription), Year: 1920; Census Place: St Paul Ward 11, Ramsey, Minnesota; Roll: T625_855; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 140; Image: 1041,, Record for Stanislaus Gruberski, accessed 31 August 2017.

7U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1914, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, p. 734,, accessed 31 August 2017.

U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1915, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for John Gruberski, pp. 698 and 1757,, accessed 31 August 2017.

U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1916, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Jochim Gruberski, p. 712,, accessed 31 August 2017.

10 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1917, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Bill and Joachim Gruberski, p. 708,, accessed 31 August 2017.

11 U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (image and transcription), R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory, 1918, (St. Paul, Minnesota: R.L. Polk & Co.), record for Wm. Grubarski, p. 501,, accessed 31 August 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017


The Mysterious Wanda Gruberska: A Genetic Genealogy Success Story

Note: This story was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Rodziny, the journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America. With their permission, I’m publishing it again here, with the intention of following it up with some new data that I’ve obtained since it was published.

Recently I got some exciting new autosomal DNA test results for my “Uncle” (mother’s maternal first cousin), Fred Zazycki.  Uncle Fred generously consented to provide a saliva sample for autosomal DNA testing through Ancestry, which is really an incredible gift.  Why is it better for me to have his DNA tested in addition to my own?  Let’s quickly review some basic concepts in genetic genealogy.

The ABCs of DNA

Each of us has 23 pairs of chromosomes located in the nucleus of almost every cell in the body.  These chromosomes contain the genetic material (DNA) that makes us unique individuals.  Of these 23 pairs of chromosomes, 22 pairs are called autosomes, and the final pair are the sex chromosomes.  For men, the sex chromosomes are an X inherited from the mother and a Y inherited from the father.  Women inherit two X chromosomes, one from the mother and one from the father.

One copy of each of the 22 paired autosomes comes from the mother, and one from the father, so roughly half our genetic material comes from each parent. Each parent’s genetic contribution gets cut in half with each successive generation, so although I inherit half my DNA from my mother, I only inherit a quarter of my DNA (on average) from each of my maternal grandparents, and only 1/8 of my DNA (on average) from each of my maternal great-grandparents. If we extend this further, each of us has 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, and each of them will only contribute 1/64 of our genetic makeup, or about 1.563%, on average. However, due to a process called recombination that affects the way bits of DNA are inherited, these are only statistical averages.  In practice,  one might inherit a bit more or a bit less from any given ancestor, and all of us have many ancestors from whom we’ve inherited no DNA at all.

For this reason, it’s important to try to test the oldest generations in a family first.  Since Uncle Fred is one generation closer than I am to our immigrant ancestor, John Zazycki, Uncle Fred will have inherited an average of twice as much DNA from John Zazycki as I did. This means that his DNA “looks back” into the family tree a generation further than mine is able to.

The Zarzycki and Gruberski families of Bronisławy and Błędów

Almost as soon as Uncle Fred’s DNA test results posted, and before I’d even had a chance to look at them, I already had a message in my Ancestry inbox from a DNA match who wanted to investigate the connection. The DNA match,”Cousin Jon,” has a family tree on Ancestry which included a surname I recognized:  Gruberski.  My great-grandfather John Zazycki had an oldest sister, Marianna Zarzycka, who married Józef Gruberski in 1874 in Rybno (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Marriage record from the parish in Rybno, Sochaczew County, for Marianna Zarzycka and  Józef Gruberski, 25 October 1874.1


A full translation of this record is provided in the footnotes, if you’re really interested in reading the whole thing.

From this record and from the parish records in Łowicz, we know that Józef Gruberski was a 40-year-old widower when he married 24-year-old Marianna Zarzycka. His first wife, Anna Trojanowska, had died four years earlier, and he came into this second marriage with four children. The records of Rybno also reveal that the paths of the Zarzycki and Gruberski families crossed in other ways besides just this marriage.  In 1890, Józef Gruberski and Anna Trojanowska’s third son, Antoni Gruberski, married Aniela Zarzycka.  Aniela was the younger sister of Antoni’s step-mother, Marianna (née Zarzycka) Gruberska. (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Marriage record from the parish in Rybno, Sochaczew County, for Aniela Zarzycka and Antoni Gruberski, 19 January 1890.2aniela-zarzycka-and-antoni-gruberski-1890

For my great-grandfather Jan Zarzycki, Józef Gruberski was not only husband to his sister Marianna and father-in-law to his sister Aniela, he was also the boss.  Józef Gruberski was the master blacksmith under whom Jan had apprenticed.  We know this because one of the documents which Jan brought with him from Poland, which was handed down in our family, was an identification booklet that included basic biographical information written in Russian and Polish. (Figure 3).

Figure 3:  Identification booklet from Russian Poland for Jan Zażycki.3jan-zazycki-working-papers-p3

In our family, my grandmother’s brother, Joseph, fondly known as Uncle J, was the one who inherited the book from his father, Jan Zażycki.  He, in turn, passed it down to my cousin, John, who is Jan Zażycki’s namesake.  Consequently, I don’t have the actual book in my possession, but my cousin kindly made a photocopy of some of the pages for me, which included notes from a translator. Some of these aren’t especially accurate, but I don’t have a copy without the notes, so we’ll overlook that part.  The interesting thing to note in this context is the part highlighted in red, that states, “Pracuje u Józefa Gruberskiego/Majstra tegoż kunsztu kowalskiego.”  This tells us that Jan Zażycki was a blacksmith who was working for Józef Gruberski, master of the blacksmithing craft. The word “czeladnik” in the corner next to Jan’s name means “journeyman,” which would suggest that Jan had completed his training and was now fully qualified to be employed as a blacksmith.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker….

Given all the ways in which the Zarzycki family and the Gruberski family had intertwined, it seemed very likely that this must be how Uncle Fred’s new DNA match was connected to our family.  So what do we know about the match itself? Well, GEDmatch reports that it consists of substantial matches on Chromosome 12 (32.8 cM), Chromosome 17 (28.4 cM) and Chromosome 21 (30.4 cM), for a total of a whopping 91.5 cM, which is fantastic, given that this is to a cousin previously unknown to the family (Figures 4a and 4b).

Figure 4a:  GEDmatch Autosomal Comparison Between Uncle Fred and Cousin Jon. Green = base pairs with full match, yellow = base pairs with half match, red = base pairs with no match, and blue = matching segments > 7 cM (centiMorgans, a measure of genetic distance).gedmatch-1

Figure 4b:  gedmatch-2

GEDmatch estimates 3.6 generations to the MRCA (Most Recent Common Ancestor) between Uncle Fred and Cousin Jon.  Interestingly, when I checked my own matches, I also match Cousin Jon, although the match is much smaller.  I ran a GEDmatch Segment Triangulation, which verified that all three of us do share a common segment consisting of 12.2 cM on Chromosome 17 (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  GEDmatch Segment Triangulation graphic showing start and stop points for the matching segment shared by Uncle Fred, Cousin Jon and me.Figure 4

In my case, GEDmatch estimates 5.1 generations to MRCA, even though I’m only one generation away from Uncle Fred, which nicely illustrates the inequalities of DNA inheritance.

The Sad Tale of Wanda Gruberska

So who was the mystery Gruberska cousin? Unfortunately, Cousin Jon’s family didn’t know much about the Gruberski family at all.  According to family recollection, Jon’s grandmother was born Wanda Evangeline Gruberska.  The family believed that she was Polish.  Wanda was born circa 1913, and was left at an orphanage, either in Minnesota or Michigan, shortly after arriving in America.  She was adopted out of the orphanage and her name was changed to Katherine Burke.  By the time the 1930 census was enumerated, she was living with her adoptive family.  Cousin Jon’s family suspected that she was not actually an orphan, but that her biological mother was unable to care for her. Armed with that information, I set out to see how Wanda fit into my family tree.

Since two of the Zarzycki women (Marianna and Aniela) had married Gruberski men (Józef and Antoni), I took a look at both of those lineages to identify the most likely candidates to be Wanda’s father.  Józef and Marianna Gruberski had four children that I’d been able to discover through Polish vital records:  Roman (b. 1876), Jan (b. 1877), Bolesław Leopold (b.1880), and Julia Antonina (b. 1887).  Any one of the boys could have been Wanda’s father, or Julia might have been Wanda’s unwed mother.

Antoni and Aniela Gruberski had two sons, both named Bronisław, the second one (b. 1903) named after the first son Bronisław who died at the age of three. Aniela Gruberska was born in 1863, so she would have been 50 by 1913 when Wanda was born — too old to be Wanda’s mother.  Similarly, her son Bronisław, and any unknown sons born after him, would be too young to be Wanda’s father.  That ruled out that lineage, so the focus must be on the children of Józef and Marianna Gruberski.  What was known about their descendants?

Parish records from Ilów show that Roman Gruberski married Julianna Przanowska on 21 February 1906.4  Although birth records for this parish are online and indexed at Geneteka through 1909, there are no births to this couple during that time, nor are there any births to this couple recorded in any of the indexed records on Geneteka. Parish records from Szymanów reveal that Jan Gruberski married Marianna Pindor on 23 July 1907.5  In addition to the marriage record, indexed records in Geneteka contain one birth for a child from this marriage, that of Stanisław Alfons Gruberski, who was born in Ilów on 1 May 1908.Finally, parish records from Rybno indicate that Bolesław Gruberski married Helena Zarzycka on 6 March 1902.7  Yes, it’s another connection between the Zarzycki and Gruberski families.  Helena was Bolesław’s first cousin once removed, the youngest of the ten children of Wojciech Zarzycki and his wife, Aniela (née Tempińska). Therefore she was first cousin to Bolesław’s mother, Marianna Gruberska, even though there was 31 years’ difference in the ages of the two women.  Bolesław and Helena had at least four children that I’ve been able to discover, Wacław (b. 1902), Marianna (b. 1903), Genowefa (b. 1905) and Stanisław (b. 1906), all of whom married in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki parish between 1926-1930.

So at this point, we have some individuals who might be good candidates to be the parent(s) of Wanda Gruberska.  Was there any evidence that any of them had emigrated?Yep!  A little digging on Ancestry turned up a passenger manifest from 1910, which showed both Jan and Roman Gruberski coming to the U.S. in 1910 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: First page of the passenger manifest for Jan and Roman Gruberski, arriving 4 May 1910.8new-york-passenger-lists-1820-1957-jan-gruberski

On closer inspection, we see that Jan and Roman Gruberski are reported to be 31 and 34, respectively, suggesting birth years of 1879 and 1876, which is reasonably consistent with what we’d expect for our Gruberski brothers. Younger brother Jan is noted to be a laborer, while Roman was recorded as a blacksmith, consistent with the tradition of blacksmithing in the Gruberski family. Jan is reported to be from “Blędowo,” while Roman is from “Bronisławow,” which correspond to the locations of Błędów and Bronisławy, where the family is know to have lived.  Jan’s nearest relative in the old country is his wife, Marya Gruberska, and Roman’s is his wife, Julia Gruberska — names that fit exactly with what is known about our Gruberski brothers.  They were headed to Buffalo, New York, which is where my great-grandfather Jan Zazycki first settled when he immigrated in 1895.  The manifest contains a second page which I won’t discuss in detail, since we already have more than enough information to verify that these are our Gruberski brothers and since it doesn’t add anything significant or contradict anything already supposed.

So far, so good.  Two of our potential candidates for Wanda’s Gruberska’s father have made it to Buffalo.  But how do we get from Buffalo to an orphanage in Michigan or Minnesota, and which one is the father? Further digging produces a second passenger manifest, this one from 1913, which shows the third brother, Bolesław Gruberski, accompanying his sister-in-law, Marianna Gruberska, to the United States, along with her two children, Stanisław and Genowefa (Figure 7).

Figure 7:  First page of the passenger manifest for the Gruberski family, arriving 22 April 1913.9new-york-passenger-lists-1820-1957-boleslaw-leopold-gruberski

Again, the ages match with what we would expect for our three known Gruberski family members, and there is a new addition to the family:  little Genowefa Gruberska, age 2 years 6 months, who is the daughter of Marianna Gruberska.  Genowefa’s age indicates a birth date of October 1910.  All of them are reported to be from “Jeziorka,” which suggests the village of Jeziorko, about halfway in between Błędów and Bronisławy.  Marianna reported her nearest relative in the old country to be her mother, Florentyna Gonsewska.  The surname Gonsewska is new, perhaps indicating a second marriage, but her mother’s given name was definitely Florentyna.  Marianna’s brother-in-law, Bolesław Gruberski, reports his nearest relative as his wife, Helena Gruberska. The final column gives us a critical bit of information:  they were headed to St. Paul, Minnesota!

The second page of the manifest confirms that their relative in St. Paul is, in fact, Marianna’s husband, Jan Gruberski, who is also reported as the father of Stanisław and Genowefa and the brother of Bolesław (Figure 8).

Figure 8:  Detail of second page of passenger manifest for Gruberski family, arriving 22 April 1913.9detail-of-manifest

The pieces are starting to fall into place, and we’re getting closer now to the orphanage in “Michigan or Minnesota” where Wanda Gruberska was adopted.  The 1915 St. Paul City Directory confirms that our John Gruberski is still living there, two years after the arrival of his wife and children, and that he’s still working as a blacksmith (Figure 9).

Figure 9:  Detail of R.L. Polk and Co.’s St. Paul City Directory 1915, showing John Gruberski.10john-gruberski-1915-city-directory-marked

Since John’s wife Marianna arrived in April of 1913, it’s entirely possible that another daughter, Wanda, could have been born to them by January of 1914, which is reasonably consistent with Wanda’s approximate birth year of 1913. Minnesota did not conduct a state census in 1915, so the next opportunity for catching a glimpse of the whole family in documents would be the 1920 U.S. Census.  However, the only member of the family who is readily found in the 1920 census is the young son, Stanisław — living in an orphanage (Figure 10).

Figure 10:  Detail of the 1920 census for St. Paul (Ward 11), Minnesota, showing Stanislaus Gruberski.111920-united-states-federal-census-stanislaw-alfons-gruberski

Interestingly, Stanisław is the only Gruberski child found in the census listings for that orphanage. His sister Genowefa is not there, nor is there any sign of a sister Wanda. Moreover, I have not yet been able to locate the parents, Jan and Marianna, in the 1920 census.  So what happened?

The Minnesota Deaths and Burials database gives us a clue (Figure 11), although the year of birth is significantly off from what we’ve seen in other records.

Figure 11:  Entry for Mary Gruberski in the Minnesota Deaths and Burials database.12mary-gruberski-death

Marianna’s year of birth suggested by records from Poland (her marriage record and Stanisław’s birth record) was 1890-1891.  However, it was 1886 based on her passenger manifest, and the fact that her husband was the only Gruberski noted in the 1915 St. Paul City Directory suggests that Gruberski wasn’t a popular surname in the city at that time.  Morever, the death date of 1918 is consistent with her son being placed in an orphanage by 1920.  Without a family support system to help care for his children after his wife’s death, John Gruberski may have felt that he had few options.


Of course, this still leaves many unanswered questions, which can hopefully be resolved with more data.  Although the evidence points to Wanda Gruberska being the daughter of Jan and Marianna (née Pindor) Gruberski, it should be possible to confirm that by locating a birth/baptismal record for Wanda.  It would also be nice to obtain death and burial records for her mother and possibly her sister, Genowefa. St. Adalbert’s parish was an ethnic Polish parish located just one mile from the Milford Street address noted for John Gruberski in the 1915 city directory, so that would be a reasonable place to search for such records.  And what became of the father, John Gruberski?  He and his brother Roman seem to disappear from indexed records. However, the paper trail for his brother Bolesław suggests that he adopted the name William in the U.S. (a common choice for men named Bolesław), was still married to Helena (“Ellen”) when he registered for the draft in 1917, was a widower by 1940, and died in Chicago in 1943. Helen is not mentioned in any indexed records in the U.S. discovered to date, apart from her husband’s World War I draft registration. So her stay in the U.S. may have been brief, especially considering that all her children married in Poland.

The story had a happy ending for young Wanda, who became Katherine Burke.  Cousin Jon’s family reports that she married, raised her family, loved to cook, and was beloved by her children and grandchildren until her death in 1991.  But what of her brother, Stanisław Gruberski, last seen as an 11-year-old boy in the orphanage in 1920?  He, too, disappears from the records, but like his sister Wanda, his name might have been changed upon adoption.  We may never know if there are any cousins stemming from his line — unless, of course, they wonder about their origins and turn to DNA testing for answers.


Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga ślubów 1868-1886, 1874, #15, marriage record for Józef Gruberski and Maryanna Zarzycka. “#15, Bronisławy.  It happened in the village of Rybno on the thirteenth/twenty-fifth day of October in the year one thousand eight hundred seventy-four at four o’clock in the afternoon.  We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Maciej Bartoszewski, age thirty-eight, and Wawrzyniec Pytkowski, age forty, both farmers residing in the village of Bronisławy, that on this day was contracted a religious marital union between Józef Gruberski, widower after the death on the tenth/twenty-second day of October in the year one thousand eight hundred seventy in the village of Błędów of his wife, Anna née Trojanowska; blacksmith residing in the village of Błędów, born in the village of Ożarów, age forty, son of the late Mateusz and Nepomucena née Banowska, the spouses Gruberski; and Maryanna Zarzycka, single, born in the village of Bronisławy, age twenty-four, daughter of Ignacy and Antonina née Naciążek, the spouses Zarzycki, farmers residing in the village of Bronisławy; in that same village of Bronisławy residing with her parents.  The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the twenty-second day of September/fourth day of October, the twenty-ninth day of September/eleventh day of October, and the sixth/eighteenth day of October of the current year in Rybno and in the parish church in Łowicz.  The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them.  The marriage ceremony was performed by Fr. Józef Bijakowski (?).  This Act to the declarant and witnesses was read aloud but signed only by us because they are unable to write.   [Signed] Fr. Józef Bijakowski, pastor of Rybno performing the duties of Civil Registrar.”

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne,  Projekt indeksacjia metryk parafialnych (, 1890, Marriages, #1, accessed on 26 January 2017. “#1. This happened in the village of Rybno on the seventh/nineteenth day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety at three o’clock in the afternoon.  We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Mateusz Kania, farmer residing in the village of Bronislawy, age thirty-seven (?), and Aleksander Lesiak, organist residing in the village of Rybno, age thirty-two; on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Antoni Gruberski, blacksmith, soldier on leave, single, born in the village of Bledów, in the district of Lowicz, son of Józef and the late Anna née Trojanowska, the spouses Gruberski, residing in the village of Bronislawy, having twenty-six years of age; and Aniela Zarzycka, single, residing and born in the village of Bronislawy, living with her parents, daughter of Ignacy and Antonina née Naciazek, the spouses Zarzycki, having twenty-four years of age.  The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local parish church on the twenty-fourth and thirty-first days of December in the year one thousand eight hundred eighty nine [corresponding to the fifth and twelvth days of January and the] seventh/nineteenth days of January of the current year, after which no impediments were found.  The newlyweds stated that they had no premarital agreement between them.  The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Grigori Gruzinski (?), local administrator of the parish of Rybno.  This document was read aloud to the declarants and witnesses and was signed by Us and by the second witness due to the illiteracy of the other witnesses. [Signed] Fr. Grigori Gruzinski, Administrator of the parish and keeper of vital records [signed] Aleksander Lesiak”

Książka Rzemieślnicza Czeladnika Kunsztu Kowalskiego Jana Zarzyckiego, Worker’s identification book for Jan Zarzycki, 29 August 1886, privately held by John D. Zazycki, Milford, Ohio, 2000.

4  Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Ilowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne,  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (, 1906, Marriages, #15, record for Roman Gruberski and Julianna Przanowska, accessed on 26 January 2017.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Szymanowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne,  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (, 1907, marriages, #25, record for Jan Gruberski and Maryanna Pindor, accessed on 26 January 2017.

Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Ilowie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne,  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (, 1908, births, #52, record for Stanislaw Alfons Gruberski, accessed on 26 January 2017.

7 Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne,  Projekt indeksacjia metryk parafialnych (, Ksiega slubów 1888-1908, 1902, #6, marriage record for Boleslaw Leopold Gruberski and Helena Zarzycka, accessed on 26 January 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Jan Gruberski and Roman Gruberski, S.S. Bremen, 4 May 1910,, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (image), Marianna, Stanisław, Genowefa, and Bolesław Gruberski, S.S. President Lincoln, 22 April 1913,, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

10 U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 (images), John Gruberski, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1915,, subscription database, accessed January 2017.

11 1920 U.S. Census (population schedule), St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, ED 140, sheet 4A, Stanislaus Gruberski, St. Joseph’s German Catholic Orphan Society (institution),, accessed January 2017.

12 Minnesota Deaths and Burials, 1835-1990, index-only database,, record for Mary Gruberski, 14 Dec 1918; citing St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, reference 1407; FHL microfilm 2,218,025, accessed on 27 January 2017.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017



A Tale of Two Zagóróws

For the past two weeks I’ve been on a hiatus from genealogy due to a family health crisis. Today, I’m celebrating both the end of that crisis, and a new DNA match. The DNA match isn’t that new, actually, but I think I’ve figured out just how my new cousins and I are related.

The story began last August, when I wrote to some new matches that appeared in my list at Ancestry.  The matches were siblings, and Ancestry predicted with high confidence that my match to both of them was in the 4th-6th cousins range, spanning 30 centimorgans (cM) across 2 chromosomes.  Both of my matches responded to my messages and suggested that I get in touch with their sister, Carol, who had not yet tested her DNA but who was the more avid family historian in the family. As can happen with all of us, life can get in the way of genealogy research, so I didn’t hear from Carol until a few days ago, when we began comparing notes to see if we could determine how we might be related.

Carol told me that her family had roots in Prussian, Russian and Austrian Poland, which suggested a match on my mom’s Polish side. This was supported by the fact that her sibings matched me, but not my Dad’s sister. However, there was also no match between Carol’s siblings and either my mom’s maternal first cousin, or my third cousin on my mom’s maternal side. Although there were no surnames in Carol’s family tree that jumped out at me, I noted with interest that her father’s paternal line was from Zagórów. Unfortunately, this appeared to be a red herring:  although I, too, had family from Zagórów, my ancestors were from Zagórów in Słupca County, Wielkpolskie province, while Carol’s tree stated that her ancestors were from Zagórów in Limanowa County, Małopolskie province, nearly 300 miles away.

However, as Carol and I messaged back and forth, she commented that her father had cousins living in Poland in Konin and Poznań, both of which are located in Wielkopolskie County. Moreover, she mentioned that she had found documents for her family at the Słupca Genealogy site, a fantastic resource which contains indexed vital records specifically from Słupca and Kalisz Counties in Wielkopolskie province, but not from anywhere else in Poland. Finally she mentioned that the name of the church that her father’s family attended in Zagórów was Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles, which is definitely the name of the parish for the Zagórów in Wielkopolskie province, and not the one in Małopolskie province. By this point the evidence was clear:  Carol’s family was from the same Zagórów that my ancestors were from, in Wielkopolskie province.  It’s not an uncommon error for a newcomer to Polish genealogy to make, to confuse two locations with the same name, and it makes a big difference

Having cleared up that misconception, the game was now afoot. A common point of geography would be a logical place to begin looking for our connection. I took a closer look at her family tree, paying attention to the surnames that were from Zagórów. It’s been a while since I did any research on my Wielkopolskie lines, and by “a while,” I mean about a decade, so I was a little surprised to find that the answer had been staring me in the face since last August:  Celia Przystańska.

According to her family tree, Carol’s paternal grandparents were Jan Myśliński, and Celia Przystańska, who was born about 1870 in Zagórów.  I had forgotten that I had the Przystański surname in my own family tree — but lo, and behold, my tree includes one Cecylia Przystańska, born 1863 in Zagórów! Cecylia was the daughter of Marcin Przystański and Katarzyna Tuzik. Here’s her birth record (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Birth record from Zagórów for Cecylia Przystańska, 1863:1Cecylia Przystanka 1863 birth crop

The record is in Polish and reads,

“#278, Zagórów. This happened in Zagórów on the twenty-second day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred sixty-three at four o’clock in the afternoon.  He appeared, Marcin Przystański, shoemaker residing in Zagórów, having twenty-four years of age, in the presence of Walenty Łukomski, carpenter, age thirty-eight, and Ignacy Michalski, glazier, age twenty-seven, residents of Zagórów, and showed us a child of the female sex, born in Zagórów on the fourteenth day of the current month and year at four o’clock before day of his wife, Katarzyna née Tuzik, age twenty. To this child at Holy Baptism, performed today, was given the name Cecylia, and her godparents were Walenty Łukomski and Balbina Michalska. This document was read to the declarant and witnesses, who are illiterate, and was signed. [signed] Fr. Mikołaj Wadowski, pastor”

Katarzyna Tuzik was married to Marcin Przystański in 1862 in the nearby village of Kowalewo-Opactwo.  Their marriage record is also found online (gotta love Szukajwarchiwach!) and describes the bride as, “Miss Katarzyna Tuzik, having twenty years of age, daughter of Michał and the late Maryanna; born in Wierzbno and living in that same place with her father….” Although Maryanna’s maiden name is not mentioned here, there is substantial evidence available which indicates that she was Marianna Agata Dąbrowska, daughter of Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska. This is where the DNA match comes in — Maciej and Barbara were my own great-great-great-great-grandparents. I’m descended from their daughter, Jadwiga Anna, who married Stanisław Grzesiak.

Here’s the relationship chart (Figure 2), which demonstrates that Carol and I are 5th cousins (her maiden surname is used with permission).

Figure 2:  Relationship chart showing relationship between me and cousin Carol.

Relationship Chart

I’ve discovered that these charts can be a little confusing to the uninitiated.  The couple at the top are our common ancestors, Maciej and Barbara Dąbrowski, but after that, the chart shows our lines of descent, not married couples.  Thus, Carol descends from Maciej and Barbara’s daughter, Marianna Agata, whereas I descend from their daughter Jadwiga Anna.  Marianna Agata married Michał Tuzik (not shown in the chart) and their daughter, Katarzyna Tuzik, carries on the line of descent on Carol’s side. On my side, Jadwiga’s husband Stanisław Grzesiak is not shown, but their son Józef Grzesiak carries on the line of descent. The last generation shown on this chart is my Mom and Carol’s late father — Carol and I would run onto a second page of the chart, but I think the general idea is clear.

So, this is a promising lead to the possible connection between Carol and me.  A couple things still need to be ironed out, of course. We don’t yet have the marriage record for Cecylia Przystańska and Jan Myśliński, which is necessary to verify Cecylia’s parents’ names. However, the marriage has been indexed at Słupca Genealogy, (Zagórów, 1886, #42), and although records from this year are not available online, they’re on microfilm from the Family History Library. If the marriage record shows that Cecylia’s parents were, in fact, Marcin Przystański and Katarzyna Tuzik, then the documentary evidence would fit nicely with the DNA evidence.

None of my new cousins have uploaded their DNA to GEDmatch yet, so it’s unfortunately impossible to get a good sense of which chromosomes and what locations are involved in the match. Moreover, without an upload to GEDmatch, I can’t compare their DNA to that of my late grandmother, whom I tested with FTDNA and not Ancestry. That will be a key comparision to make, because Carol’s siblings, Grandma, and I, will all have to share some overlap in the matching regions. It’s not possible for me to match these cousins according to this pedigree if they do not also match Grandma, because she must be the source of my matching DNA.

The amount of shared DNA itself, as reported by Ancestry, is acceptable for this match and would support the predicted relationships.  According to this chart by Blaine Bettinger (Figure 3), 5th cousins share on average 17 cM, with a range of 0-42 cM.  This relationship — 30 cM across two chromosomes — is at the high end of the range, but still plausible.

Figure 3:  Shared centimorgans (cM) for documented genealogical relationships. Data compiled by Blaine T. Bettinger.2 “C” = cousin and “R” = times removed, so “1C1R” in this chart means “first cousin once removed.”SharedcMProject20March2017

The fact that it’s perfectly possible for 5th cousins to share NO DNA (0 cM) also explains another facet of this puzzle that I mentioned in the beginning. One of the first steps I take when evaluating a DNA match is to check to see what matches exist in common with the new match.  In this case, my Myslinski cousins did NOT match a documented and genetic third cousin to me on our common Grzesiak line, nor did they match my mother’s first cousin on her maternal Zazycki line. How can this be?

Let’s examine each of those situations separately. My cousin Valerie descends from my great-grandmother’s sister, Józefa Grzesiak. Józefa would have inherited half of her DNA from her father, Józef Grzesiak, and a quarter of her DNA from her father’s mother, Jadwiga Dąbrowska.  Jadwiga inherited all her DNA from her own parents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, who are the common ancestors in this puzzle. Remember that these numbers are averages — the amount of DNA that one inherits from such distant relatives can vary a bit, due to the genetic recombination that occurs in each generation. Similarly, my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, would have inherited a quarter of her DNA from Jadwiga Dąbrowska — but although the proportion of inherited DNA is roughly the same as what her sister Józefa would have inherited, the content can be quite different — there’s no guarantee that the same genes from their great-grandparents Maciej and Barbara were inherited by both Weronika and  Józefa.

So it’s perfectly possible for the same bit of DNA to have been passed down from common ancestors Maciej and Barbara to me and to cousin Carol, but not to cousin Valerie. (At this point we don’t know which one of my 4x-great-grandparents, Maciej or Barbara, contributed the matching segment that is carried by me and by my Myslinski cousins.) Similarly, it’s possible for me to have inherited this bit through my maternal Grandmother, even though my mother’s maternal cousin did not inherit it.  Mom’s cousin, Fred, is 4th cousin once removed to cousin Carol. According to the above chart, fourth cousins once removed share an average of 20 cM, with a range from 0- 57 cM. So it’s possible that Grandma inherited that crucial bit of DNA from Maciej or Barbara that her brother (Fred’s father) did not inherit. Therefore she was able to pass it on to me, resulting in a match between me and Carol, that is not shared by Fred.

All of this demonstrates the fact that DNA evidence can support a documented relationship, but when it comes to ancestors as far back as this, a lack of DNA evidence cannot disprove a documented relationship. It’s actually quite remarkable to me to think that the same tiny bit of DNA was passed down from parents Maciej and Barbara to both of their daughters (Jadwiga and Marianna) who in turn managed to pass that bit down through several additional generations, so that cousin Carol and I show up as matches at all. Hopefully this helps to illustrate what a powerful weapon DNA testing can be in your arsenal of genealogy techniques.  If you have any recent discoveries that have come about through DNA testing, please let me know about them in the comments — I’d love to read your stories!  Happy researching!


Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Zagórów (pow. slupecki), Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach, 1863, births, #278, record for Cecylia Przystanska, accessed on 22 March 2017.

SharedcMProject20March2017.png, by Blaine T. Bettinger, is licensed under C.C. BY 4.0.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

Fun With Genetic Genealogy, Revisited

Back in July, I wrote about a recent DNA match whose great-grandmother, Catherine (née Ptaszkiewicz)  Grzebińska of Buffalo, New York, seemed likely to be the double first cousin of my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Łącka) Klaus.  Marianna had a known double first cousin named Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz whose birth record I had obtained from the parish records of their home village in Kołaczyce in what is now the Podkarpackie province of Poland. The DNA evidence was consistent with the relationship I hypothesized, and the birthdate of “my” Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz was fairly close to the estimated birth date of Catherine (née Ptaszkiewicz)  Grzebińska.  However, my newfound cousin did not have a marriage or death record for his Great-Grandmother Grzebińska, so we had no documents indicating her parents’ names or her place of birth.  The year of immigration reported on the 1900, 1920, and 1930 censuses was the same for both John and Catherine Grzebiński, suggesting that they might have married in Poland and emigrated together.  With this in mind, I requested a search of the records of Kołaczyce from the ever-reliable Lucjan Cichocki, whom I frequently work with when I need records from that part of Poland.  He was unable to find a marriage record for Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz, suggesting that the marriage might have taken place in Buffalo.

This past weekend, I was in Buffalo giving a talk for the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State, and I planned an extra day into my trip for some research at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  The Library has a fine collection of Buffalo church records on microfilm, and it was there that I hoped to find the marriage record for John and Catherine Grzebiński.  Sure enough, there it was, in the collection of marriage records from St. Stanislaus Parish (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Record of marriage of Jan Grzebiński and Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz on 24 July 1884 at St. Stanislaus Church in Buffalo, New York.1jan-grzebinski-and-katarzyna-ptaszkiewicz-1884-closeup

The record states that Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz was the daughter of “Franc. P.” (i.e. Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz) and Anna Łącka, and that she was born in Kołaczyce, exactly as the earlier evidence predicted.  What a nice, tidy way to wrap up a little genetic genealogy puzzle!

As I thought about this, I wondered if my great-great-grandmother Mary Klaus was close with the family of her cousin.  Surely she would have known that her first cousin (double first cousin, no less!) was also living in Buffalo.  But did the families socialize together much?  Amazingly, I found the answer to my question in those very same records from St. Stanislaus Church.  While searching baptismal records for children of Katarzyna and Jan Grzebiński, I stumbled across a baptismal record I’d somehow missed before. Apparently, my great-great-grandparents Andrzej and Marianna Klaus had a child that must have died young, a child unknown to subsequent generations of the family, until now.  In 1895, there was a baptismal record for a Bolesław Klaus, son of Andrzej Klaus and Marianna Łącka (Figure 2)!2

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Bolesław Klaus, born 24 October 1895 in Buffalo, New York.boleslaw-klaus-1895-crop

The godfather’s name, underlined in red, is a bit hard to make out in that version of the record, but this expanded version (Figure 2a) reveals that he was none other than Jan Grzebiński.

Figure 2a:  Close-up of baptismal record for Bolesław Klaus, showing godfather’s name as “Grzebiński Jan.”jan-grzebinski

The fact that Marianna Klaus asked her cousin’s husband to be godfather to her child suggests that the two families were on good terms.

This record was also an interesting find for me because it helps me to date the arrival of my Klaus ancestors in Buffalo.  Prior to this, I knew only that they were in Buffalo by September 1897 when my great-grandmother Genevieve (Genowefa in Polish) was born there.3  Before that time, the family was living in St. Louis, Missouri, where their daughters  Anna and Pauline were born in 18924 and 1894,5 respectively.  So until now, I knew only that they arrived in Buffalo some time after January 1894 and before September 1897. This baptismal record for Bolesław demonstrates that they were already in Buffalo by October 1895.  All in all, it was a very successful research trip to Buffalo.  It’s such a thrill when all the puzzle pieces fall into place!

Seeing as how I’m stoked about the wonderful discoveries that can be made via genetic genealogy, I’d love to win a copy of Blaine Bettinger’s new book, The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy.  Geneabloggers is giving away a free copy, and if you check out this link, you can enter the giveaway, too.  Good luck, and happy researching!


1Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, New York), Marriages, 1874-1917, 1884, #42, record for Jan Grzebiński and Katarzyna Ptaszkiewicz.

2Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1895, #757, record for Bolesław Klaus.

3Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA), Baptisms, 1874-1903, 1897, #620, baptismal record for Genowefa Klaus.

4Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), “Church records, 1880-1993,” Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1892, #127, record for Anna Klaus.; 1872178.

5Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), “Church records, 1880-1993,” Baptisms, 1880-1923, 1894, #2,  record for Apolonia Klaus.; 1872178

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016