A Trio of Death Certificates

For a genealogist, any day that brings three new death certificates in the mail is a good day.

Back at the end of April, I wrote about my discovery of my great-great-granduncle, Alexander Dodds, who disappeared from documentary evidence in Canadian records after the 1881 census. Thanks to clues provided by DNA matches, I was able to determine that Alexander migrated to Buffalo, New York where he married Hazel Jean (or Jennie Hazel) McCarroll and had two children, Della and Spencer, prior to his death in 1899. While searching for his death record in the Buffalo, New York Death Index, I serendipitously came across the entry for the death certificate of his brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, who died in 1898. Then, since I was already writing to the Buffalo City Clerk to request those records, I decided to add in a request for the death certificate of their older sister, Isabella (née Dodds) Smith. I’d known previously that Isabella died in Buffalo, but I’d never gotten around to requesting a copy of the record, so this seemed to be a good time to do it. After a long wait, those death certificates finally arrived, so let’s analyze them here, in the context of my existing research into my Dodds family.

Isabella Smith

My burning questions regarding my Dodds family concern the origins of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, whom I’ve written about previously. Evidence points pretty consistently to a birth circa 1817 in England for Robert, and possibly a specific date of 28 January 1817 as was reported (probably by Robert himself) in the 1901 census.1 Less is known about Catherine’s place of birth, however, and there’s even some doubt about her maiden name, since it has been reported as both Irving2 and Grant.3 In that regard, the death certificate for Isabella (née Dodds) Smith was most informative, since it was the only one of the three death certificates to mention a maiden name for Catherine. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Death certificate for Isabell [sic] H. Smith.4

Unpacking the other details from the certificate first, we can see that Isabell [sic] H. Smith of 381 Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, died on 22 September 1917 due to a cerebral hemorrhage which she suffered about 6 weeks previously. A contributing cause of death was chronic myocarditis. Isabella was noted to be a widow, born 4 November 1844 in Canada, and she lived in the U.S. for 24 years prior to her death, spending all of that time in Buffalo. That suggests an arrival in 1893, which is a few years off from the arrival in 1897 which she reported in the 1910 census, but still in the same ballpark.5 No immigration record can be sought to confirm her arrival date since the U.S. did not begin documenting Canadian-born immigrants until 1 October 1906.6 Isabella was laid to rest in the Buffalo Cemetery on 25 September 1917, and the informant on the death certificate was her oldest daughter, Margaret (née Smith) Moorhouse, who lived with her. Margaret reported that Isabella’s parents were Robert Dodds and Catherine Grant, which lends further support to the hypothesis that Catherine’s maiden name was Grant and not Irving. However, Margaret identified both Robert and Catherine as having been born in Canada, and this is almost certainly incorrect in Robert’s case, in light of the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that he was born in England.

Alexander Dodds

Next up, we have the death certificate for Alexander Dodds (Figure 2). The image I received is of rather low quality due to faded ink and darkened paper, but it’s nevertheless possible to read that Alexander Dodds died on 13 April 1899 due to pulmonary phthisis, which is more commonly known as tuberculosis. He was buried at Lakeside Cemetery on a date in April that’s difficult to make out, possibly the 23rd. Alexander was reported to be age 49 years, 1 month, and 25 days at the time of his death. Running that information through a date calculator points to a birth date of 19 February 1850, consistent with the expectation that he was born circa 1849-1850 based on his age reported in census records. He was a married laborer, born in Canada, who had been a resident in the U.S. for 15 years, and living in Buffalo for that entire time period. This suggests that he arrived in the U.S. circa 1884. Alexander’s parents’ names were reported to be Robert and Catherine, but no maiden name was given for his mother. Moreover, both parents were reported to have been born in England—a statement which is unlikely to be true in Catherine’s case. Alexander’s last place of residence was decipherable as Auburn Avenue, although the house number (212, perhaps?) is harder to read.

Figure 2: Death certificate for Alexander Dodds.7

The fact that Alexander was buried at Lakeside Cemetery is new information for me. Lakeside is an old, historic cemetery located in Hamburg, New York, about 10 miles south of Buffalo. Lakeside is managed by the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, and they happen to have a fantastic website where one can search burials and even download cemetery records, such as this burial card for my great-great-grandmother, Martha Dodds Walsh, another sibling of Alexander, Isabella and Gilbert. Unfortunately, the information for Alexander which is offered on the website is much more limited. The service card (Figure 3) barely confirms the information on the death certificate, inasmuch as there is a burial record for an Alexander Dodds, but it offers no details about date of death, or parents’ names.

Figure 3: Service card for Alexander Dodds from Lakeside Cemetery, Hamburg, New York.8

Alexander’s age at the time of death, 40, is also in conflict with the information on the death certificate, which stated that he was 49 years old at the time of death. However, it may have been a transcription error, and in any case, the funeral director, “Geo. J. Altman,” is a match to the George J. Altman who was reported on Alexander’s death certificate as the undertaker.

Gilbert M. Dodds

Last, but not least, we have the death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds.9

The image quality here is only slightly better than that for Alexander’s death certificate, but the record states that Gilbert died on 4 January 1898 of pernicious anemia, a form of anemia caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, with which he had been diagnosed five years previously. He was buried that same month in St. Catharines, Ontario, but the name of the cemetery was not provided, nor is the exact date of burial legible. Gilbert was reported to be age 42 years, 3 months and 25 days at the time of his death, suggesting a birth date of 11 September 1855. Estimates for his year of birth as suggested by census records and other documents ranged between 1855–1860, but the earliest records (e.g. the 1861 census)10 pointed to a birth year of 1855, so this certificate is in excellent agreement. He was married at the time of his death, and employed as a driver. As expected, Gilbert was born in Canada, but had been living in Buffalo for five years prior to his death, which implies an arrival in the U.S. circa 1893, so his arrival coincided with that of his sister, Isabella Smith. His last residence was at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, in close proximity to the final residences reported by his siblings (Figure 5). Finally, the certificate identifies Gilbert’s parents as Robert Dodds, born in England, and Catherine Dodds, born in Canada.

Figure 5: Map showing last residences of Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith on Buffalo’s West Side. Google Maps.

Conclusions

Experienced genealogists know how valuable death records can be, especially when they identify the parents of the deceased. They’re also relatively easy to obtain, with just a letter and a check in the mail, so I’m always amazed by the fact that so many family historians only mention them in their trees when the scans are available online. The most significant drawback is that the information on a death certificate was not provided by the individual himself or herself, but rather by a family member or some other individual who was more or less acquainted with the deceased. Thanks to these death certificates, I was able to discover exact dates of birth for Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith, as well as an exact date of death for Alexander. I identified Alexander’s final resting place as Lakeview Cemetery, which opens up the possibility of further research in cemetery records, in case they might have anything that’s not online. I obtained corroborating evidence for a number of previously-known facts in my family tree. And, although these certificates did nothing to dispel the confusion over Catherine Dodds’ place of birth, the certificate for Isabella Smith added to the growing body of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Catherine was a Grant by birth. All in all, that was a pretty good day, indeed.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

11901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara district no. 85, St. Catharines sub-district K, division no. 6, household no. 117, James Carty household; database with images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 17 August 2021), item no. 2026840, image no. z000079820, citing microfilm T-6480, RG31.

2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, vol. 820, no. 4549, Martha Dodds Walsh, 11 August 1935; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

3 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Hannah Carty, 3 June 1914; Deaths > 1914 > no 19125-22410 > image 370 of 1638; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

4 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1917, vol. 273, no. 6001, Isabell H. Smith, 22 September 1917, Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

5 1910 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 21, Enumeration District 206, Sheet 7A, house no. 18 1/2, family no. 27, William Smith household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 18 August 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 947 of 1,178 rolls, FHL microfilm 1374960.

6 Marian L. Smith, “By Way of Canada,” Prologue Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Fall 2000), National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2000/fall/us-canada-immigration-records-1.html : 18 August 2021).

7 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1899, Vol. 34, no. 258, Alexander Dodds, 13 April 1899; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

8 Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, burial records database, Forest Lawn (https://forest-lawn.com/ : 18 August 2021), service card for Alexander Dodds, buried Lakeside Cemetery, block one, grave 142.

9 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1898, vol. 21, no. 71, Gilbert M. Dodds, 4 January 1898; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

10 1861 Census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, Enumeration District 4, p 80, lines 1-9, Robert Dodds household; digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 19 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.

Goal-Focused Genealogy, or, Connecting to a DNA Match in 20 Minutes

If you’re reading this, you probably know how time-consuming genealogy can be. The supply of historical documents and individuals to research is endless, so before sitting down for a research session, it’s important to always be asking ourselves, “What is it I want to know?” Having a specific question in mind can help drive you toward the sources of information that are most relevant to the problem.

When I’m researching a DNA match, for example, my essential question is, “How am I related to this person?” I’m not interested in fully documenting that person’s family history; I just want to get to the documents that will allow me to connect him or her to my family tree. I think of this method as “quick and dirty genealogy,” but “goal-focused genealogy” might be a more accurate description. During or after the research session, I’m still careful to create source citations for each document I find, extract each piece of information from each document (e.g. name, date and place of birth, place of residence, etc.), and attach those source citations to each fact I create in my family tree. Nonetheless, keeping my focus on the goal permits me to ignore a lot of “low-hanging fruit”documents that turn up quickly in a search of historical records databases (e.g. Ancestry or FamilySearch), but aren’t likely to give me the information I need to solve the problem. For example, if the 1940 census and the 1920 census both turn up in a database search for a given research target, I’m likely to ignore the 1940 census and investigate the 1920 census result. Why? Because the 1940 census didn’t ask questions about year of immigration or year of naturalization, while the 1920 census did ask those questions, and the information provided by that census record about immigration and naturalization is relevant to the process of tracing immigrant ancestors back to the Old Country. Recently, staying goal-focused enabled me to discover, in about 20 minutes, how a DNA match was related to me, and it made me so happy that I want to share that story with you today.

Introducing Fred Kowalski

Since this is a story about our Polish origins, I’ll call my DNA match Fred Kowalski (not his real name). Fred appeared in my list of autosomal DNA matches at 23&Me, and we were reported to share DNA in a single segment consisting of 51 centimorgans (cM, a unit for measuring genetic distance) on Chromosome 15. Shared matches gave me no clues regarding how we might be related; I didn’t recognize a single name in the list. In his profile on 23&Me, Fred reported that all four grandparents were born in Poland, and he gave me six family surnames to work with, including one that was familiar to me: Słoński. Painting the match onto my chromosome map at DNA Painter revealed that the segment shared with Fred falls into a larger segment of DNA which I inherited from my maternal grandmother, consistent with my preliminary hypothesis that our relationship might be through the Słoński family. Fred’s real surname is not especially popular, so a quick internet search turned up an online obituary for his father. From there, I used the subscription database at Newspapers to find an obituary for his grandmother. I’ll begin the story with her.

The Bengier Family of Steubenville, Ohio

Fred’s grandparents were Peter J. and Constance A. Bengier of Steubenville, Ohio. Constance’s obituary was very informative, but for the sake of this narrative, the most important information was that she was born in Poland on 6 April 1889 to Joseph and Anna Kujawa, and that she married Peter Bengier on 4 February 1907.

Figure 1: Newspaper obituary for Constance A. Bengier.1

Constance’s Social Security application (Figure 2) provided somewhat different information about her parents’ names, in that her father’s name was reported to be Stanley, rather than Joseph. Since Constance would have provided the information for this form herself, rather than another family member providing it after her death, we can consider the information from the Social Security Applications and Claims index to be more reliable than the obituary in this regard.

Figure 2: Information from Social Security Applications and Claims Index for Constance Anna Bengier.2

The 1930 census (Figure 3) provided additional details relevant to tracing the family back to Poland. Although the information on the entire family group is important when documenting the family history, my focus was on tracing the family back to Poland, and the data that was most germane to that issue is contained within the red box.

Figure 3: Image extracted from the 1930 census for German township, Harrison County, Ohio, showing the Bengier family.3

According to the census, Constance Bengier was age 41, suggesting a birth year circa 1889, nicely consistent with previous data from the Social Security application and her obituary. The census record offers enough additional evidence (such as names of other family members) for us to be certain that this Constance Bengier is a match to the Constance Bengier in the obituary. Once we establish that fact, then the most important piece of new information found in this record is her year of immigration, 1910, and the fact that her husband and oldest daughter also reported immigrating in that year. We would expect to find all of them on the same passenger manifest, or possibly on two different manifests, if Peter came over first to secure employment and lodging before sending for his wife and child.

The critical pieces of information that are required at minimum in order to locate an immigrant in records from his or her home country are the person’s name, approximate date of birth, parents’ names, and specific place of origin. With Constance Kujawa Bengier, I was nearly ready. The missing piece was evidence for her place of origin.

The Bengier Family of Wola, But Which One?

Since the 1930 census provided information about the year of arrival, I decided to seek a passenger manifest next. The Hamburg emigration manifest popped up first, revealing that Konstancia (or Konstancja, modern Polish spelling) Bengier departed from the port of Hamburg on 29 September 1910 at the age of 21, along with her 3-month-old daughter, Walerya (or Waleria, in modern Polish; Figure 4).

Figure 4: Detail from the Hamburg emigration manifest of the SS Cleveland, departing Hamburg on 29 September 1910, showing passengers Konstancia Bengier and her 3-month-old daughter, Walerya.4

The ages matched well with my expectations based on previous data. Given the propensity of immigrants for adapting their given names to sound more “American,” I was not surprised to find that the original name of the daughter, “Voila” (or Viola) from the 1930 census, was actually Waleria. If additional confirmation were required before concluding that this was the correct passenger manifest, the corresponding Ellis Island arrival manifest could also be located. In those days, it took about 2 weeks for a steamship to cross the Atlantic. Assuming no manifest turned up with a search of indexed records, one could browse the manifests in Ancestry’s database, “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” and look for the arrival of the Cleveland at the port of New York some time in mid-October 1910. However, as it happens, Ancestry’s database is incomplete, and there are instances such as this where the arrival manifest is not found. If this happens, Ellis Island arrivals can be searched directly at the Ellis Island site, or via Steve Morse’s more sophisticated One-Step search form. (Konstancja’s Ellis Island arrival manifest is here. It confirms and extends the information found in the Hamburg emigration manifest, but I won’t discuss it in detail since it was not part of my original research process.)

The key piece of information found in this manifest that permitted me to advance the search was her place of residence, which was recorded as “Wola,” in Russia. (If you’re wondering why a woman who said she was Polish in 1930 might have been coming from Russia in 1910, there’s an overview of those border changes here.) Now, if this were an ordinary research process, and not one guided by DNA, I would have needed a time-out here to fall back and regroup, and seek additional sources of documentation for Konstancja’s place of birth. That’s because “Wola” is one of those Polish place names that’s so common that it strikes fear into the hearts of even seasoned Polish genealogists. Just how common is it? Mapa.szukacz.pl, which is an interactive Polish map site, reveals that there are 848 places called Wola, or containing Wola in the full name, within the borders of Poland today. And that’s not counting all the additional places called Wola that were previously part of Poland, but are outside of Poland’s current borders.

The situation would have been ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Konstancja’s Wola was recorded as being located in the Russian partition, so we could safely ignore all the places called Wola that were within the German and Austrian partitions. Nonetheless, that would still leave us with a lot of places called Wola to check, unless we could find some additional documentation (naturalization records, church records, military records, etc.) that might provide some geographic clues to help us narrow the field. However, this was not an ordinary research process; it’s a genetic genealogy story, and one with a happy ending.

The Missing Link

Since my hypothesis was that I was related to Konstancja Kujawa Bengier through the family of her mother, Anna Słońska, I immediately suspected that “Wola” might be Wola Koszucka, a village belonging to the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo, where I’d found records for my Słoński ancestors. This Wola was in the Russian Empire in 1910, so it would fit the description found in the passenger manifest. Records for this area are indexed in a number of different databases, including Geneteka, BaSIA, the Poznan [marriage] Project and Słupca Genealogy. Each of those databases has its strengths and weaknesses, and there’s a fair amount of overlapping coverage between them. I decided to cut to the chase and search for a marriage record for Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońska first, since that would tell me Anna’s parents’ names, rather than searching for a marriage record for Piotr Bengier and Konstancja Kujawa, or a birth record for Konstancja. I plugged in my search parameters at the Słupca Genealogy site, and there it was, bada boom, bada bing! The marriage record for Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońksa which connected the dots (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Marriage record for Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońska from the parish of Kowalewo Opactwo.5

The record is in Russian, and here’s how I translate it:

“No. 12

Wola Koszutska

This happened in Kowalewo on the first/thirteenth day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred eighty-two at three o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that in the presence of witnesses Antoni Zieliński, age fifty, and Józef Buczkowski, age forty, both owners* of Wola Koszutska, on this day was celebrated a religious marriage between Stanisław Kujawa, bachelor of Wilczna, born in Cienin Kościelny, 27-year-old son of the laborers Łukasz and his deceased wife, Wiktoria née Przybylska Kujawa, and Anna Słońska, single, born and residing with her parents in Wola Koszutska, daughter of Antoni and Marianna Słoński née Kowalska, age twenty-two. The marriage was preceded by three announcements published on the eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second days of October of this year in the local parish churches of Kowalewo and Cienin Kościelny. The newlyweds declared that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. This Act was read to the illiterate newlyweds and witnesses, and was signed by Us only. [Signed] Fr. Rzekanowski.”

*хозяева, a word which can mean hosts, landlords, owners, proprietors, or masters. In my experience, it’s used to describe the same individuals who were described in Polish-language records as gospodarze, peasant farmers who owned their own land.

The record stated that Anna was the daughter of Antoni Słoński and Marianna Kowalska, and her age at the time of her marriage 22, suggested a birth year circa 1860. I checked my family tree, and there she was, quietly sitting there the whole time, waiting to be rediscovered. Many years ago, I had added Anna to my family tree when I found her birth record, but I had never gone further with seeking a marriage record for her, or birth records for her children. Anna was born on 14 July 1860,6 and she was in my tree because her father, Antoni, was the son of Bonawentura Słoński and his second wife, Marianna Muszyńska, as evidenced by both Antoni’s birth record7 and the record of his marriage to Marianna Kowalska.8 But wait, there’s more! Bonawentura Słoński was the brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Barbara (nee Słońska) Dąbrowska. Barbara and Bonawentura were both children of Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras,9 and it is they who are the most recent shared ancestors between me and this DNA match, whom I can now state is my documented fifth cousin once removed. Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras are the genetic and documentary link that connects me to the Bengier family of Steubenville, Ohio.

I love a happy ending.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

1 “Deaths and Funerals: Mrs. C.A. Bengier,” The Weirton Daily Times (Weirton, West Virginia), 3 August 1970, p. 2, col. 1; Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com/ : 8 August 2021).

2 “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 August 2021), Constance Anna Bengier, born 6 April 1889, SSN 268447885.

3 1930 United States Federal Census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Geman township, E.D. 34-10, Sheet 7B, dwelling no. 174, family no. 175, Pete Bengier household; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 August 2021), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T626, 2,667 rolls, no specific roll cited.

4 Manifest, SS Cleveland, departing 29 September 1910, p 2226, lines 288 and 289, Konstancia Bengier and Walerya Bengier; imaged as “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 August 2021), citing Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 226; Page: 2222; Microfilm No.: K_1815.

5 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1882, marriages, no. 12, Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońska; digital image, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/771/0/-/71, scan 27 of 37.

6 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1860, births, no. 27, Anna Słonska; digital images, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/771/0/-/49, scan 6 of 24.

7 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1823, births, no. 16, Antoni Jan Słoński; digital image, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/771/0/-/13, scan 4 of 25.

8 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1845, marriages, no. 8, Antoni Słoński and Marianna Kowalska; digital image, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/771/0/-/34, scan 17 of 28.

9 “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Ladek,” (Lądek, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Ksiega malzenstw, 1819–1820, 1819, no. 24, Bonawentura Słoński and Jagnieszka Wilczewska; digital images, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/776/0/-/46, scans 13 and 14 of 14; and

“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),” Akta urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1845, deaths, no. 5, Barbara z Slonskich Dabrowska; digital image, Szukajwarchiwach (https://www.szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl/ : 8 August 2021), Sygnatura 54/771/0/-/34, scan 23 of 28.

6 Tips for Selecting DNA Matches to Paint in DNA Painter

DNA Painter is one of the coolest websites out there for genetic genealogy, offering an arsenal of tools to help genealogists visualize and understand their DNA matches through chromosome mapping. Let’s face it, there is tremendous aesthetic appeal in generating chromosome maps with neat little color-coded segments indicating specific chunks of DNA that can be traced back to a particular ancestor. But beyond just the aesthetics, it’s very useful to be able to predict how one must be related to an unknown DNA match, based on the location of the matching segment(s). In order to generate a useful chromosome map, however, there are decisions that must first be made about which matches to paint, so today I’d like to offer a few tips on how to do that, based on my own experience with using DNA Painter.

Getting Started with DNA Painter

DNA Painter is the brain child of Jonny Perl, a web developer and genealogist based in London, UK. He has created a very user-friendly site with a host of linked blog posts, webinars, videos, and instructions right on the site, making it easy for beginners to get started with chromosome mapping. Nonetheless, chromosome mapping isn’t exactly intuitive, and some thought is required to produce a good map. Therefore, there are some questions you should ask yourself before you begin.

What is My Goal?

For many of us, it’s inherently cool to be able to visualize a segment of DNA, lurking in nearly every cell of one’s body, and know that it was inherited from a particular ancestor who lived decades or centuries ago. If you’re content with knowing in a general way that your DNA was inherited from previous generations in your family, and you really don’t care about pinpointing a 46-centiMorgan segment on Chromosome 12 that you inherited from your great-great-great-grandfather, then maybe chromosome mapping isn’t your thing. But if you’d like to use a chromosome map to better understand your DNA match list, then your initial goal should be to create a map that identifies segments you inherited from each of your four grandparents.

On average, 25% of a person’s DNA was inherited from each of the four grandparents, but this number can vary a bit due to the randomness of genetic recombination. If you can identify on each chromosome the specific segments of DNA that were inherited from each grandparent, you can use this as a first step toward understanding unknown DNA matches.

Once you’ve established this goal, then you can decide which of your DNA matches to paint onto your chromosome map, based on the criterion of whether or not painting this match will bring you closer to your goal. The thing is, just because you can paint a match doesn’t mean you should paint it, as some of them will not be especially informative.

For example, if you have DNA test data from a parent, you could paint that on your chromosome map. But there’s no point in doing so, because you already know that you have inherited one of each of your 22 autosomes from your mother, and one from your father. By painting your DNA matches with a parent, all you’ve done is change the color of the canvas on which you’re painting your matches. Not sure what I mean by that? Figure 1 shows the blank canvas you start with, courtesy of DNA Painter.

Figure 1: Top portion of the page of a new, “unpainted” profile at DNA Painter, showing maternal (pink) and paternal (pale blue) copies of Chromosomes 1-10. If you were to scroll down the page, you would see the remaining chromosomes.

Now let’s say I’ve tested my mother, and I want to paint that DNA match onto my chromosome map. Figure 2 shows how that looks.

Figure 2: Top portion of the page showing Chromosomes 1-10 after I “paint” that blank canvas with segments of DNA shared between me and my mom.

You can see that all I’ve done here is to change those pink bars to lavender, which is not very informative. As a side note, you will see some regions on certain chromosomes where the lavender color does not “paint” all the way to the tip of the chromosome. That’s because those tips correspond to regions which exhibit a low density of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, or “snips”). Family Tree DNA does not test those SNP-poor regions, and since the segment data used in this map came from Family Tree DNA, we see those “unpainted” regions.

Similarly, some close matches, such as a full-blooded aunt or uncle, don’t help you identify the segments of DNA you inherited from each of your four grandparents. Why? A full-blooded aunt or uncle, let’s say on the paternal side, will have inherited a mix of DNA from your paternal grandparents, just as your father did. But painting these segments only tells you which bits of DNA were passed down from your grandparents to both the paternal aunt or uncle and to you. It doesn’t bring you any closer to knowing which paternal grandparent provided those segments. Additionally, painting DNA matches from a sibling onto your chromosome map isn’t particularly useful, because it only identifies segments that you both inherited from your parents. It doesn’t help you to assign those segments to either parent, or any grandparents.

Note that there are other great reasons for testing one’s siblings, and the data that comes from those tests can be very useful. For example, if you have data from three siblings, but none of their parents, you can do visual phasing, which will assign segments of DNA to each grandparent. Blaine Bettinger offers a 5-part tutorial on visual phasing here, and Andy and Devon Lee of Family History Fanatics offer a tutorial on visual phasing using only two siblings here. Note that visual phasing as described in these tutorials is not for the faint of heart; DNA Painter is much easier.

The best matches to paint are the ones with whom you share DNA from only one of your four grandparents, or those with whom you share DNA from generations earlier than that. Therefore, second cousins are ideal, as are any half first cousins you might have. Don’t despair, however, if you don’t have a huge selection of “ideal” matches to paint; you’ve just got to go with what you’ve got. My mom’s paternal grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, was the only one of the ten children in his family to marry and have children; all the rest died unmarried, before the age of 32. This means that every single one of Mom’s paternal second cousins is a match on her grandmother’s side. I have to go back at least one generation, to the level of 3C or more distant cousins, before I can hope to find any matches to her paternal grandfather’s family. Similarly, my paternal grandmother had only one sister who died at the age of 14, so my only paternal second cousins are on my grandfather’s side. If you know you come from a small family, it becomes even more important to research your family tree as thoroughly as you can, in the hope of identifying cousins from whom you can beg DNA samples.

Putting it all together, then, here is my list of tips for creating an ancestral chromosome map, focused on mapping your chromosomes to each of your four grandparents.

  1. Don’t paint willy-nilly. Think before you paint, and ask yourself if painting this match will bring you closer to your goal of identifying (at minimum) segments inherited from each of your four grandparents.
  2. Don’t paint matches to parents, full siblings, half siblings, or full aunts or uncles, as these will not help you identify segments inherited from each of your four grandparents. You can, of course, create separate profiles at DNA Painter for each person you test, and keep track of their DNA matches as well as your own. The ability to create multiple profiles for chromosome mapping is a benefit available with a subscription to DNA Painter; you can create one profile for free with a basic membership.
  3. Similarly, matches to first cousins, and first cousins X-times removed, will not help you identify which portions of your chromosomes were inherited from which grandparent. Full first cousins share both grandparents with you on either your maternal or paternal side. Therefore it’s not possible to identify the grandparent who contributed the DNA from any segments you share, so painting those matches is not informative.
  4. Try the Inferred Segment Generator for additional segments to map. This is a really neat tool that uses deductive reasoning to generate segments. I used it to generate segments from my maternal grandfather to paint onto my chromosome map. The principle here is simple: the chromosomes that I inherited from my mother must be a mixture of DNA she inherited from her mother, and DNA she inherited from her father. Since I was able to test my maternal grandmother before she passed away, I know precisely which segments I inherited from her. So, by deduction, I know that the remaining portions of my maternal chromosomes where I do not match Grandma, must have come from Grandpa.
  5. If there’s good evidence (e.g. through triangulation) to suggest that a segment was inherited from an earlier ancestor (great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent, etc.) by all means, paint it.
  6. If you have test data from a particular relative, additional test data from descendants of that relative will be less informative, so you may want to skip painting it. Figure 3 illustrates this. The blue bars represent DNA segments which I share with a documented third cousin (3C), and the red bars represent the DNA that I share with her daughter, my third cousin once removed (3C1R). I’ll definitely want to paint those blue segments onto my chromosome map at DNA Painter, because those segments represent DNA which I inherited from one of the great-great-grandparents that I have in common with that cousin. However, my 3C1R cannot inherit any DNA from our common ancestors unless it came through her parent (my 3C). The only exception to this would be in cases where her parents are related. So, the red bars will necessarily be fewer and shorter than the blue bars, and painting those segments of DNA onto my chromosome map will not provide any new information about regions of my own chromosomes that can be assigned to particular ancestral couples. Of course, you may choose to paint them anyway, if you just want to keep track of all of your DNA segment data this way, and you would definitely want to paint the matches to a 3C1R if you don’t have test data from your 3C.
Figure 3: Chromosome browser from Family Tree DNA, showing segments of DNA I share with one of my third cousins (blue) and her daughter (red).

At the end of the day, how you map your chromosomes is really a personal choice. Maybe you just want to create one heck of a colorful map, including data from your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and all your first cousins, and if that’s the case, then go for it! After some trial and error, I’ve found that this mapping strategy works best for me, because it focuses on quality of information, rather than quantity. Maybe it will help some of you, too. Happy mapping!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Using Gazetteers for Polish Genealogy

Every so often, I get feedback from readers of this blog. Sometimes people have general comments about the blog, or they’re interested in recommendations for onsite researchers in Poland. At other times, people have very specific research questions, or questions about methodology or resources. Recently, I received such a query from researcher Mike Cooper, who gave me permission to mention our discussion in this article. Mike wrote,

“So I feel like I tend to be more of a brute force style where I sort of randomly search until I find something.  I know there has to be a better way.

I know part of my family is from Lednogora which is outside of Gniezno.  I tried searching by place with that village name in FamilySearch and it’s not there.  I sort of looked under Wielkopolskie on Geneteka and don’t see it.  I’m guessing that the church was in a city close by.  I feel like I’m struggling to connect the Places in Poznan Project with the Provinces/Locations in Geneteka or with Places in FamilySearch…. Do any of your past blogs help unravel this mystery of how to more effectively use these tools?  I’ve read a bunch but still seem stuck.”

Mike is correct in thinking that there’s a better way to find records besides “brute force searching,” or guessing at the parish which served a particular village. The key is gazetteers, which I think are the most underutilized resource out there among North American researchers who are trying to trace their Polish ancestry. Gazetteers play an important role in the process of locating records from Poland for one’s family, a process which involves three steps:

  1. Use U.S. records to gather evidence for the name and location of your ancestral village.
  2. Use one or more gazetteers to identify the parish and/or registry office that served that village. This part is key, because records were not created in each individual village, they were created at higher administrative levels, e.g. parish, powiat (county), or province.
  3. Identify the repositories for those records. Vital records from parishes or registry offices are typically found in four places:
    1. the parish archives
    2. the local registry office
    3. the diocesan archive
    4. the regional state archive. 

The first step of this three-step process is described in more detail here, so today I’d like to use Mike’s question as a opportunity to examine Step Two more closely.

Choosing a Gazetteer

There are essentially two types of gazetteers for Polish genealogy: phonetic gazetteers, and period gazetteers. Phonetic gazetteers are those which offer some leeway in terms of spelling, and are useful when attempting to identify a place whose name was more or less mangled in the source document. How do you know if the place name was mangled or not? The Google Test will usually tell you that: do an internet search on the place name as it’s spelled in the source document, and see what turns up. If places with that name exist, then you know it’s a valid spelling. If nothing shows up, then a phonetic gazetteer can help you make educated guesses about what the place name should be.

There are two phonetic gazetteers that I use regularly, the JewishGen Gazetteer and the Baza Miejscowości Kresowych [Database of Towns in the Kresy]. The latter is useful if you suspect that your village was located in the Kresy Wschodnie—the eastern part of the Second Polish Republic (interwar Poland), which was excluded from the borders of Poland after World War II and became part of Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania. (For a brief overview of Polish border changes, see here.) The JewishGen Gazetteer is more generally useful, since it includes locations throughout Central Europe. Both gazetteers will allow you to input a misspelled place name, and will return possible phonetic matches, based on various Soundex options.

Period gazetteers were published in a particular time period, and are useful for determining the administrative assignments of a particular location during that time. Administrative assignments include the gubernia [governorate or province), powiat or kreis (county), smaller administrative divisions such as gmina or gemeinde (an administrative level similar to a township, consisting of a number of small villages), as well as local parishes or religious communities, all of which are important to know because the source documents we need for genealogical research were created at these various administrative levels. Some examples of period gazetteers are the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries], which was published between 1880–1902; the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, Volumes I and II, an index of places in the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Russian Poland), published in 1877; the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, which is useful for Polish places that were previously located in Germany; and the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, [Index of Towns in the Republic of Poland] which was published circa 1933. In addition to these, there are some gazetteer databases such as Kartenmeister (for Eastprussia, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia) and the Gesher Galicia Town Locator, that contain information extracted from historical sources, but which don’t link directly to the original source material for each entry.

You’ll probably find that some gazetteers are easier to use than others, especially if your foreign-language skills are limited. Many of the search engines for the period gazetteers online will require you to know the exact spelling of the place name, including diacritics. It’s also important to realize that no gazetteer is perfect. Errors exist in (probably) all of them, so you may want to use more than one gazetteer to cross-check the information you find, perhaps in conjunction with a good internet search. (When searching the internet, try Wikipedia.pl for information, as you’re more likely to find articles about small Polish villages written in Polish, rather than English. Despite these caveats, gazetteers are an ideal starting point for locating information about a place. A more complete list of useful gazetteers, with a brief explanation of each, can be found here.

Using a Gazetteer

Kartenmeister

Now let’s see how we can use gazetteers to help Mike determine where records would have been kept for villagers living in “Lednogora.” In this case, his place name passes the Google Test, as there is a place in Poland today called Lednogóra. This means that we don’t need to utilize a phonetic gazetteer, so we can move on to identifying the correct parish and registry office for this location. Since Lednogóra was in the Prussian partition, the first gazetteer I’d consult would be Kartenmeister. Searching for “Lednogora” (diacritics not required) in the “Polish City Name/Ortsname” category produces a number of matches, but drilling down in the results reveals that all of these are alternate names or spellings for the same place, which was previously known as Lettberg (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Search result from Kartenmeister for Lednogora.

Mike mentioned that his ancestors from Lednogóra were Catholic, and this fact is also very important. Civil registration began in Prussia in 1874, but prior to that, church records were recognized as legal documents. As good genealogists, we want to leave no stone unturned, so our initial research plan should include examination of both the Catholic church records and the civil records. Kartenmeister informs us that circa 1905, there were two parishes to which parts of this village were assigned, Dziekanowitze, which is presently known as Dziekanowice, and Wenglewo, which is Węglewo. This situation of having two parish assignments is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, and it may be that further research into the history of the village reveals some explanation. The entry also notes that the civil registry office was located in Libau/Łubowo. Therefore, Łubowo, Węglewo, and Dziekanowice, not Lednogóra, are the places that one would seek in Geneteka, BaSIA, the Poznań Project, etc. 

The Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs

You could also check the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs [Meyer’s Gazetteer and Directory of the German Empire] rather than Kartenmeister, in order to identify the parish. A search for “Lednogora” produces a brief entry that directs one to the entry for Lettberg. but it should be noted that this trick does not always work, as this gazetteer typically requires one to search according to the German place names. There are a few different websites that can help with determining former German names of places in Poland today, including this index by Anna Sluszkiewicz, this list, and this additional list, for places in East Prussia, and it might be worthwhile to bookmark them. However, none of these lists are complete, and in this case, none of them are especially helpful since they don’t include Lednogóra. This is where Kartenmeister really shines, since it permits searching according to either the Polish or German place name, depending on what you find in your source documents. The Meyers search results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Search result from Meyers for Lettberg/Lednogora.

The Meyers gazetteer offers two especially nice features which can be accessed from the menu bar at the top, and are circled in red in this image. The first is the Maps feature, which pinpoints the location on an old historical map (Figure 3). As an added bonus, you can use the “Toggle Historical Map” feature to vary the transparency between the historical map and the modern map. Better still, there’s an option to select administrative jurisdictions, surrounding Standesämter (civil registry offices), Catholic parishes, Protestant parishes, and Jewish synagogues, and any or all of those will be pinpointed on the map for you.

Figure 3: Historical map from the Meyers gazetteer showing Lettburg/Lednogóra and the location of local Catholic parishes (yellow pins marked with “C”) and registry offices (red pin marked with “R”).

Similarly, the “Ecclesiastical” tab will display a list of parishes in tabular form, indicating approximate distance in miles from each parish to the target location (Figure 4). Common sense would suggest that the closest parish was always the one to which a village was assigned, but there are exceptions to every rule, including this present example.

Figure 4: Ecclesiastical assignments for the village of Lettberg/Lednogóra from the Meyers gazetteer.

The Meyers site will often include information about the parish assignment for a village as it’s suggested by the catalog entries in FamilySearch. However, some errors may exist, as in this case, since the Meyers entry correctly states that the Catholic parish for Lednogóra was Wenglewo/Węglewo, but omits the fact that this village was assigned in part to Dziekanowitze/Dziekanowice as well, as evidenced by the “Notes” in the FamilySearch catalog entry for Dziekanowice. (This oversight in the Meyers gazetteer website was probably caused by the historical use of two spellings for the village name, Lednagóra and Lednogóra.)

The Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego

The granddaddy of all Polish gazetteers is the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries], published between 1880–1902. The Słownik geograficzny is renowned for its incredible size—15 volumes— and the wealth of historical information it provides for many of the entries. The entire publication is now searchable online, and you must use Polish spellings with diacritics when you search. In this case, the entry for Lednogóra refers you to the entry for Lednagóra, which suggests that this latter spelling may have been more prevalent in the late 19th century, although the former spelling is the one used today.

Unfortunately, the Słownik may be a bit off-putting for researchers not fluent in Polish, as the entries are filled with abbreviations as well as archaic terms for land measurement, social status, legal arrangements (e.g. krowa żelazna) and more. Fear not, however, because resources are available to assist. The Polish Genealogical Society of America offers a dictionary of unfamiliar terms encountered in the SGKP, a list of commonly-used abbreviations, some translated entries, and more. Similar resources are offered at the Polish Roots website, including a different set of translated entries, located in the drop-down menu under “Geography and Maps.” Armed with these tools, you’ll be able to discover that “krowa żelazna” was an arrangement in which a cow was fed and kept by its owner, while its milk was donated to another designated party. Who knew?

Despite the relatively lengthy entry for Lednagóra provided by the Słownik geograficzny, there is no mention of the reason why the village was divided between two Catholic parishes, nor, in fact, is there any reference to the parish for the village at all. This underscores the importance of checking multiple gazetteers in the course of one’s research: sometimes you just might strike out with the first one you check, but that’s no reason to give up. A more typical entry from the Słownik which indicates the parish is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Entry from the Słownik geograficzny for the village of Kuznocin, which describes two unique places called Kuznocin. The first was located in powiat sochaczewski (Sochaczew County), gmina Kozłów Biskupi, and belonged to the parish in Sochaczew, and the second was in powiat piotrkowski (Piotrków County), gmina Bogusławice, and belonged to the parish in Wolbórz.

The Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej

One final gazetteer I want to mention today is the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z oznaczeniem terytorjalnie im właściwych władz i urzędów oraz urządzeń komunikacyjnych (Index of place names of the Republic of Poland with corresponding governmental agencies and offices, including communication facilities), published circa 1933. This gazetteer is especially useful for identifying places that were located in the Kresy Wschodnie, but are presently located in Belarus, Lithuania, or Ukraine. However, it is also obviously useful for obtaining information about places located anywhere within the borders of Poland between the World Wars, as in this example with Lednogóra (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Entries from the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej for Lednogóra.

One advantage of this gazetteer is its ease of use, thanks to the simple columnar format. The handful of abbreviations which it employs are defined on page 24 of the digital version, within the introduction. From this, we can tell that the “st. kol.” in the top entry for Lednogóra refers to the stacja kolejowa (train station) which was located in Lednogóra, as opposed to the wieś (village) of Lednogóra itself. As one might expect, both the train station and the village of Lednogóra were noted to be located in gmina Lednogóra, the powiat (county) of Gniezno, and the województwo (voivodeship or province) of Poznań. Besides the parish information provided in the last column, these first three columns are the most useful from a genealogical perspective, since it was not uncommon for our immigrant ancestors to reference a larger administrative division (e.g. Gniezno or Poznań) in response to the question, “Where were you born?” In this particular gazetteer, the only Roman Catholic parish (denoted with r) indicated for villagers of Lednogóra is Dziekanowice, suggesting that the village was no longer divided between the parishes of Dziekanowice and Węglewo by 1933. There was a Lutheran parish (denoted with e for ewangielicka) located within the village of Lednogóra itself, which corroborates information found in Kartenmeister and Meyers.

Hopefully this example has illustrated how gazetteers take the guesswork out of finding vital records for your Polish ancestors. With so many great gazetteers readily available online, there’s no need to wonder which local parish might hold the records for your ancestral village, nor will you be puzzled as to why an immigrant from Lednogóra might have said he was from Gniezno or Poznań on various documents. Although this is by no means a complete discussion of every gazetteer that might be useful to Polish research, nor even of every gazetteer that’s useful to those researching Prussian Poles, I hope it’s enough to convince you to add some gazetteers to your genealogical toolbox and use them regularly. In my next post, I’ll walk through Step 3 of the process of finding vital records for one’s Polish ancestors: identifying repositories for records from the parish and registry office which served one’s ancestral village.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

More Translation Tips: Resources for Surnames and Place Names

In my last post, I offered some tried-and-true tips for learning to translate Polish and Russian genealogical documents. Today I’d like to offer a couple additional recommendations for strategies that I’ve found to be extremely helpful for deciphering surnames and place names found in vital records.

As mentioned previously, vital records are very formulaic. There’s a lot of standard language in them, but the parts that frequently give us the most trouble are the names and places. Unfortunately, these are also the most interesting parts, so when it comes to deciphering this information, it’s important to pull out all the stops, and use every resource at your disposal. For research into Polish ancestors, here are a few of my favorites:

The Słownik Nazwisk database

The Słownik nazwisk database is a searchable database of over 800,000 surnames that were in use in Poland in 1990. William F. Hoffman provides a nice explanation of the database and offers instruction on how to use it here. The capacity for using wildcards to search the database makes it a great starting point when  struggling to decipher a particular surname in a record. If, for example, you’re pretty sure that the surname starts with “Cie-,” followed by some letters you can’t make out, and then ends in “-rski,” you can do a wildcard search for “Cie*rski” and see the surnames that were extant circa 1990 that might fit the bill. The only drawback here may be, “extant circa 1990,” since the database will not pick up surnames that might have died out long before then.

Geneteka

Where would we be without Geneteka? Not only is it our go-to finding aid for Polish vital records, but it can also be used to help decipher surnames when translating. Sometimes it happens that the particular record you’re translating is from a parish that is indexed in Geneteka, but falls outside the range of years that is indexed. For example, birth records for the parish of Wyszyny Kościelne are presently indexed in Geneteka from 1826–1909 with a gap from 1898–1900. (Since new indexes are added to Geneteka all the time, this range of years may be extended at some point.) But let’s say you’re translating a birth record from Wyszyny from 1823, online here. The indexed records are nonetheless useful to you because they can inform you of the surnames that were found in that parish. As with the Słownik Nazwisk, wildcard searches (“exact search”) are your friend when using Geneteka this way. If a surname clearly starts with “Wa-,” you can search within that parish for “Wa*” and use the resulting list of surnames to help decipher the name in the record. Remember, too, that you can broaden the search by adding in indexed parishes within a 15-km radius, or even search indexed parishes within a whole province, to pick up individuals who might have been from another parish originally. Using Geneteka in this manner gets you around the problem of the Słownik Nazwisk being limited to surnames that were in use in Poland circa 1990.

When it comes to deciphering place names, it’s helpful to fall back on both maps and gazetteers, to wit:

Magnificent Maps

This is probably Step 1 in your problem-solving process. When translating a vital record, you presumably know the location of the parish in which the record was created. Pull up a map of that location, and use it to identify other villages in the area. However, you may find that very small villages which were mentioned in vital records no longer appear on modern maps, possibly because they were absorbed by larger towns in the area. In such cases, it’s helpful to check an older map, preferably one from the same period (more or less) in which the record was created. Here are some good online sources for period maps of Poland and historically Polish lands.

Gazetteers are also incredibly helpful when translating vital records because they typically provide information on the administrative hierarchy for a location, as well as parish assignment. It was common for priests to provide some descriptive details, such as the parish or district in which the place was located, when identifying the birthplaces of key individuals in a vital record, and gazetteers can help you make sense of those details.

A good example of this is shown below in Figure 1. This is an extract from the marriage record for Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, who were married in Wyszyny Kościelne on 28 January 1877. Tadeusz and Marianna were my husband’s great-great-grandparents, and my further research depended on my ability to correctly identify the birthplaces of the bride and groom.

Figure 1: Extract from marriage record of Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, Wyszyny Kościelne, 28 January 1877, with details about the groom underlined in red.1Tadeusz Skolimowski marriage extract marked

The text underlined in red starts with the groom’s name in Polish instrumental case, “Skolimowskim Tadeuszem,” and then continues in Russian, “тридцати шести лҍтъ отъ роду холостымъ садовникомъ и жителемъ деревни Косинки Капличне уроженцемъ деревни Болешинъ тогожѣ прихода въ прусскомъ королествҍ,” which means, “age thirty-six, a single gardener and a resident of Kosinki Kapliczne, born in the village and also parish of Boleszyn in the Kingdom of Prussia.”

There are two places to identify here, Tadeusz’s place of residence at the time of his marriage, and his place of birth. Although his place of residence looks to me like Косинки Капличне (Kosinki Kapliczne), a quick look at the map tells me it’s got to be Kosiny Kapiczne, a few kilometers west of Wyszyny Kościelne (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Map of Wyszyny Kościelne and surrounding villages, Google Maps.Map of Wyszyny area

Although certain that this is the correct location, I ran my transcription past William F. “Fred” Hoffman, co-author of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume II: Russian, to see if he agreed that the place was spelled “Капличне [Kapliczne],” or if perhaps I was just misreading the handwriting and seeing an л where none was intended. Fred gave me permission to quote his reply, in which he wrote,

“I clearly read the name of the village as Kosinki Kapliczne. I’m guessing that may be a local variant of the name. The Kosiny vs. Kosinki is no big deal, that kind of thing goes on all the time with Polish names. But KapLiczne vs. Kapiczne appears to be a mistake, or, maybe, a regional form. I looked this place up in a series on the history of place names, and that name was consistently -picz-, not -plicz-. Russian does sometimes insert an -л- in palatalized situations where we wouldn’t expect it: for instance, the verb for “to love” is любить, but “I love” is я люблю. So perhaps the priest thought Капличне might be a proper Russified form. But I suspect I’m being too clever here. Maybe it’s a simple mistake. For a priest, confusion with kaplica, “chapel,” might explain how that -l- snuck in there where it doesn’t belong. It seems certain Kosiny Kapiczne is the right place. Scholars say the Kapic- part comes from association with a local fellow named Piotr Kapica — no -L-.”

Great Gazetteers

For kicks, I also looked up this location in the Skorowidz Królewstwa Polskiego (T. 1), which is a gazetteer of places in the Kingdom of Poland (i.e. Russian Poland), published in 1877. The Skorowidz tells me that Kosiny Kapiczne, village and folwark (manorial farm), was located in the Płock gubernia (province), Mława powiat (county), and Kosiny gmina (community, consisting of several villages), and that it belonged to the parish in Bogurzyn (Figure 3). The village of Bogurzyn can be seen just to the west of Kosiny Kapiczne on the map in Figure 2.

Figure 3: Entry for Kosiny Kapiczne in the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego.2

Kosiny in SKP

The parish assignment is an important detail, from the standpoint of translations. In situations where the bride and groom were living in different parishes, it was customary for the banns to be read in both parishes, so that anyone with any objections to the marriage might come forward. If we were in any doubt at this point about whether or not we had read the name of Tadeusz’s place of residence correctly, we could use the name of the parish to test our hypothetical identification of the village. In this case, we can predict that the parish of Bogurzyn will be named further down in the record when the banns are mentioned. Sure enough, Figure 4 shows that it is.

Figure 4: Extract from marriage record of Tadeusz Skolimowski and Marianna Kessling, Wyszyny Kościelne, 28 January 1877, with details about the marriage banns underlined in red.Bogurzyn in record

This section states, “Браку зтому предшествовали три оглашенія публикованнъл въ Вышинскоемъ и Богурзинскоем приходскихъ костелахъ,” which means, “This marriage was preceded by three announcements published in the parish churches of Wyszyny and Bogurzyn.” Bingo.

Moving on to Tadeusz’s birthplace, the record tells us that he was born in Boleszyn in the Kingdom of Prussia. An internet search informs us that this is not a unique place name in Poland: there is a village called Boleszyn that’s presently in the Świętokrzyszkie voivodeship, and another village by that name in the Warmińsko-mazurskie voivodeship. A quick look at a rough map of the borders between Russia and Prussia in the late 19th century is enough to suggest that the latter village is the one we want. Nonetheless, this is still a hypothetical identification until we find a record of Tadeusz’s birth in the parish of Boleszyn. In this case, it’s simple to do that. Records for Boleszyn are freely available on FamilySearch, and Tadeusz’s marriage record informs us that he was 36 years old in 1877, suggesting a date of birth circa 1841. A few minutes of searching results in his birth record, shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Birth record from the parish in Boleszyn for Tadeusz Skolimowski, born 17 September 1841.3Tadeusz Skolimowski birth 1841

This record confirms that Thaddeus/Tadeusz was born 17 September 1841 in Słup, baptized on September 26, and that he was the son of Laurentius (Wawrzyniec, in Polish) Skolimowski and Marianna née Zwolińska. Godparents were Mateusz Kalinoski (sic) and Franciszka Winter, wife of the church organist. Although not included in the underlined text in Figure 1, the next section of his marriage record identified Tadeusz’s parents as Wawrzyniec Skolimowski and Marianna (née Zwolińska) Skolimowska, both of whom were already deceased. Since the child’s name, parents’ names, year of birth and the baptismal parish all line up with the body of evidence accumulated for Tadeusz, we can overlook the fact that he was actually born in the village of Słup rather than in the village of Boleszyn as stated on the marriage record.

If this record were not so easy to find—if perhaps these records were only available onsite at the parish, and we’d need to hire an onsite researcher to get a copy of Tadeusz’s birth record—then we might want to take an extra step to confirm the location of Boleszyn before sending someone off on a wild-goose chase. The marriage record provided a small but important detail about the village of Boleszyn with the statement, “деревни Болешинъ тогожѣ прихода,” which indicates that the particular Boleszyn we’re looking for had a Catholic church located right in the village. We can therefore predict that if we look up the village of Boleszyn in a gazetteer of places in the German Empire, the correct village will be the seat of a parish. So what gazetteer should we use? Well, the Meyers Gazetteer is always good, except it requires us to know what the village of Boleszyn would be called in German, and we only have the Polish name (transliterated from Russian) available. We could transliterate again, guess that the village name might be something like Bolleschin, and do a search for that name in the Meyers Gazetteer, and in this case, we’d be right. Even if that weren’t exactly correct, we could do a wild-card search for “Bol*” which will produce all villages starting with “Bol-” and we can sift through the results. But sometimes the German names for places in Poland aren’t simple transliterations (e.g. the German name for the Polish town of Zagórów is Hinterberg), so this method might not pan out.

For these reasons, my first-choice gazetteer in this case would be Kartenmeister, since that gazetteer allows the input of Polish place names. Kartenmeister quickly informs us that the village of Boleszyn was also known as Bolleschin or Bolleßyn, and was the seat of both a Catholic parish and a German Standesamt (civil registry office). Moreover, both gazetteers confirm that there was only one village by this name in the German Empire, so we can be confident that this is the place mentioned in the marriage record.

As you can see, the various surname databases, maps, and gazetteers can be valuable resources to tap into when translating vital records pertaining to your Polish ancestors. Even situations in which village names are misspelled, such as Tadeusz Skolimowski’s place of residence, or misidentified, such as his place of birth, present only minor obstacles when armed with the correct tools for understanding the problem. Hopefully some of these tools will be useful to you, and if they are, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Happy researching!

Sources:

1 Roman Catholic Church (Wyszyny Koscielne, Mlawa, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej Wyszyny powiat mlawski, 1826-1909,” 1877, Małżeństwa, no. 3, marriage record for Tadeusz Skolimowski and Maryanna Kessling, accessed as browsable images, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (https://metryki.genealodzy.pl/metryka.php?ar=13&zs=0629d&sy=1877&kt=2&plik=003.jpg#zoom=1&x=1976&y=126: 24 June 2020)

2 I. Zinberg, Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego, Volume 1 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), “Kosiny kapiczne w. i fol.,” page 286.

3 Roman Catholic Church, St. Martin’s parish (Boleszyn, Nowe-Miasto, Warminsko-mazurskie, Poland), Taufen 1761-1852, 1841, no. 29, baptismal record for Thadeeus Skolimowski, accessed as browsable images, “Kirchenbuch, 1644-1938,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSZY-H425?i=302&cat=310222 : 24 June 2020), path: Taufen 1701-1759, 1761-1852 Heiraten 1644-1862 Tote 1761-1787, 1789-1845 (DGS no. 7948735) > image 303 of 635.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

A Perfect Storm

Many of us who engage in genealogical research are motivated in part by the intellectual thrill of the research process itself. While it can be satisfying to help people with any research question, I find it especially enjoyable to help people make the leap from the U.S. to Poland by finding documentary evidence in Polish records for their immigrant ancestors for whom they only have evidence from U.S. records. Many Polish vital records are now available online, so if an immigrant’s place of origin is known, it may just be a matter of identifying the parish or registry office that served that village, and then checking the appropriate databases to locate a vital record. If all the steps are followed logically, the hunt is successful. Yet every now and then, something goes awry, and things don’t fall into place the way they should. Such setbacks can be great learning experiences, however, so I want to share one of those stories here today, since it illustrates so nicely some of the pitfalls that can be encountered with Polish genealogy, even when those logical steps are followed.

This particular story unfolded in the Poland & Genealogy group on Facebook, where I currently volunteer as administrator, and group member Josh Wilberger gave me his permission to share the details. Josh came to the group, eager to begin research in Polish records on his great-grandfather, Jan Pudło, but unsure of where to start. Josh had already done significant research in U.S. records, so he was well-prepared for the jump across the ocean. Most importantly, he knew his great-grandfather’s date and place of birth and parents’ names, which are the critical pieces of information required for definitive identification of one’s ancestor in foreign documents. From Jan’s petition for naturalization, Josh knew that Jan/John Pudło was born 17 April 1891 in “Stara Wies, Lublin, Russia.” Similarly, the record of Jan’s marriage to Anna Gil in Perry, New York, in 1912, stated that Jan was the son of Paul (Paweł in Polish) Pudło and Agnes (Agnieszka) Ciesliak.

From this point on, one might expect the process of finding Jan Pudło’s birth record to be pretty straightforward. Knowing the birthplace, it’s necessary to determine the parish that served that village. Knowing the parish, it’s just a matter of checking various repositories to see if records from that parish are readily available from a state or diocesan archive, or if onsite research is required to find the baptismal record. Since the research target, Jan Pudło, was born in the Lublin region, it should be even easier to track down the birth record since this area is so thoroughly indexed in the Lubgens database, and many scans are online (e.g. at FamilySearch, Szukajwarchiwach, etc.). Piece of cake, right?

Which Old Village is Which?

The situation was complicated somewhat by the fact that “Stara Wieś, ” which means “Old Village,” is a very popular place name found throughout Poland today, as well as in territories that were historically Polish. Just how popular is it? Mapa.szukacz (“Map Searcher”) identifies 639 places called Stara Wieś that are within the borders of Poland today. It’s one of those place names like “Wola” (848 places by that name) and “Dąbrowa” (420 places) that makes even experienced researchers cringe, knowing how many parishes might have to be checked before the right location is finally determined. The fact that the particular Stara Wieś in question was known to be in the Lublin region helped to narrow the field somewhat. However, there were still seven unique places called Stara Wieś located in the Lublin gubernia (province) of the Russian Empire, according to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego (Index of the Kingdom of Poland, fondly abbreviated by me as the SKP), published in 1877.[1]

As the name suggests, this two-volume gazetteer provides an index to places that were located within the former Kingdom of Poland, also known informally as Congress Poland or Russian Poland. My decision to consult this gazetteer was part of my modus operandi for tackling research questions like this. Whenever I’m faced with the task of identifying a village in Poland with a very common name, I usually begin by selecting a gazetteer that focuses on the particular partition of Poland (Prussian, Russian, or Austrian) in which the village was located circa 1900. (This assumes, of course, that the documents which provided the place name are from that era.) For Russian Poland, the SKP is my top choice, although the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, which identifies places in the second Polish Republic (interwar Poland) is also useful for eastern borderlands locations that were in the Russian Empire in the 19th century, but were not located within the Kingdom of Poland. For the Prussian partition, I like Kartenmeister, which is currently down due to server problems, but will be back up soon, according to site owner Uwe-Karsten Krickhahn. For the Austrian partition, Brian J. Lenius’s Genealogical Gazetteer of Galicia is a great resource, although it’s not online, while several editions of Jan Bigo’s Galicia gazetteer (e.g. this one from 1904) can be found in the holdings of one or more Polish digital libraries. All of these gazetteers require the correct spelling of the location. Additional gazetteers, as well as phonetic gazetteers that can be used for place names that were misspelled in U.S. documents, can be found here.

Getting back to Stara Wieś and the search for Jan Pudło, Figure 1 shows the seven options (boxed in red) for places called Stara Wieś that were located in the Lublin gubernia.

Figure 1: Entries for Stara Wieś in the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego. Places within the Lublin province are boxed in red. Each entry provides the administrative assignments for that place; column headings (left to right) are place name, followed by the gubernia (province), powiat (county), gmina (community or township), and Roman Catholic parish to which each village belonged. Where two parishes are indicated, the place designated as “r.l.” was the location of the Roman Catholic parish, while “r.g.” was the location of the Greek Catholic parish.Stara Wies in the SKP

Although two of the villages in that list were noted to have Greek Catholic residents as well as Roman Catholic, Josh knew that his family was Roman Catholic, so the focus was on the Roman Catholic parishes. That meant seven unique parishes to check for the birth of Josh’s great-grandfather, circa 17 April 1891.

I say, “circa,” because it’s not at all uncommon to discover that a Polish immigrant was actually born on a different day than the one reported as his date of birth on U.S. records. People often believe that their ancestors lied about their dates of birth, but I think it’s dangerous to ascribe motives to people who lived in another time, place and culture. Moreover, it’s not necessary to assume an intent to deceive if we merely wish to reconcile a discrepancy in the dates of birth reported on two different documents. It seems more generous—and equally plausible—to attribute the discrepancy to something more innocuous, such as the fact that many immigrants did not know their birth dates precisely. They might know that they were born during the potato harvest, for example, or near the feast of Corpus Christi, but that’s it. Errors in reporting may also result from the Polish preference for celebrating imieniny, the feast day of one’s baptismal patron saint, rather than celebrating birthdays. In some cases, a child might be named after the saint on whose feast day he or she was born, but adherence to this practice was not always strict.

The net effect of these cultural differences is that I tend to take 19th-century birth dates reported by Polish immigrants on U.S. records with a grain of salt. In my research experience, both the date and the year of birth may be off by as much as 5–6 years, but if all the other evidence is consistent (place of birth, parents’ names, known siblings’ names and approximate dates of birth) then the birth record can safely be considered a match. It was from this perspective that I approached the search for Jan Pudło’s birth record. Sure, the petition for naturalization might state that Jan was born 17 April 1891, but I was very open to the possibility—or likelihood, even—that a birth record might be found which indicated that he was born on some other date in that ballpark.

The search for a birth record was greatly facilitated by the fact that Lublin-area vital records are so thoroughly indexed in the Lubgens database. A broad search for Jan Pudło’s birth between 1885 and 1897 in all indexed parishes produced 15 hits (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Results of search in Lubgens database for birth records for Jan Pudło, born between 1885 and 1897.Jan Pudlo birth results in Lubge3ns

The parish in which each of these births was recorded is stated in the “Parafia” column. Since we know that Josh’s great-grandfather was born in the village of Stara Wieś, and we know from the gazetteer that the seven Lublin-area villages called Stara Wieś belonged to the parishes of Łęczna, Końskowola, Frampol, Surhów, Targowisko, Puchaczew, and Nabróż, we can quickly scan this list for those parish names and eliminate any search hits that were not from one of these parishes. The result? There was exactly one birth for a Jan Pudło who was baptized in Targowisko, one of those seven parishes, and it just so happens that he was born precisely in 1891! Time for a Genealogical Happy Dance? Not so fast. The matching birth record is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Birth record for Jan Pudło from the parish of Targowisko.[2]Wrong Jan Pudlo birth

The record is in Russian, as expected, but the underlined text was not expected. The text underlined in blue in the margin is the village in which the birth occurred, and it reads “Тарнавка” (Tarnawka), rather than mentioning the expected village of Stara Wieś. I took a look at the map, which shows two villages called Tarnawka—Tarnawka Pierwsza and Tarnawka Druga—that are adjacent to each other and just north of the parish of Targowisko. The villages of Stara Wieś Pierwsza and Stara Wieś Druga (“Old Village One” and “Old Village Two”) can be seen just north of the pair of Tarnawkas (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Position of the village(s) of Tarnawka relative to the parish of Targowisko and the target village(s) of Stara Wieś.Targowisko map

The text underlined in blue in the record itself (Figure 3) goes on to state (in translation) that the child “was born in Tarnawka on the 9th/21st day of May.” The second date, 21 May, is the date of birth according to the Gregorian calendar that we use, and it’s certainly not problematic, given how close it is to the expected date of 17 April 1891. It’s entirely reasonable to think that a Polish immigrant of this era might report his date of birth as 17 April 1891 if in fact he was born 21 May 1891. But more problematic is the fact that the father’s name was recorded as Piotr Pudło, while the mother’s name was recorded as Marianna Milanoska. Based on our evidence from Jan’s marriage record, the parents’ names ought to be Paweł Pudło and Agnieszka Cieślak or Cieslak (the two most probable surnames suggested by “Ciesliak”—a surname which exists in Polish records in that form, but is very rare).

So, what’s going on here? Could this still be the right birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather? In cases like this, it can be difficult to be certain, since there’s such a limited amount of data. As improbable as it may seem, I’ve seen cases where a Polish immigrant reported his own mother’s name incorrectly on documents in the U.S. (see here). Could it be that Jan Pudło did not know his own mother’s name, and the priest happened to record his father’s name incorrectly as well? Maybe, but the odds of both names being in error, as well as the village name being different from expected, made this scenario seem highly implausible, despite the fact that the date of birth was approximately correct. But if this record was not the birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather, Jan Pudło, then where was that birth record?

Back to the Drawing Board

Searching for scraps of information that might help explain this situation, I noticed that on the map shown in Figure 4, the villages of Stara Wieś Pierwsza and Stara Wieś Druga are approximately equidistant between Targowisko to the south and another village, Bychawa, to the north. Bychawa was also mentioned in the search results in Figure 2. Moreover, I noticed that the Lubgens database includes indexed vital records from a parish called Stara Wieś in gmina Bychawa that was not mentioned in the SKP (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Information on the parish of St. Stanisław, Bishop and Martyr, found in the Lubgens database.Stara Wies parish page on Lubgens

The fact that the earliest records indexed in the database are from 1930 explains why this parish was not mentioned in the SKP—it didn’t exist in 1877. A quick internet search revealed that the parish of Stara Wieś was erected in 1932 and included villages that formerly belonged to the parishes of Bychawa and Boże Wola.[3]

Right Church, Wrong Pew

At this point, it dawned on me: the information in the SKP must be incorrect. Much as I love gazetteers and rely on them to be guideposts in my genealogical journey, pointing the way to the correct parish for each village, it’s important to remember that no gazetteer is 100% accurate—or at least, I have yet to find one that is. When things don’t add up, it’s advisable to check a second gazetteer, so in this case, I checked the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, published circa 1933.[4] Lo, and behold, the parish for the Stara Wieś that was located in Krasnystaw county and gmina Zakrzew—the same Stara Wieś that was noted in the SKP as belonging to Targowisko parish—was noted in this gazetteer to be in Bychawa (Figure 6)!

Figure 6: Entry for Stara Wieś in gmina Zakrzew, Krasnystaw county from the Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej.Stara Wies in Second Polish Republic Gazetteer

If further confirmation is desired from a gazetteer more contemporaneous with the birth of Jan Pudło, the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Countries) can be checked. This gazetteer, published between 1880 and 1902, contains five pages of entries for villages named Stara Wieś that were located in all three of the Polish partitions (Russian, Prussian and Austrian). Although entries are organized in a logical fashion (explained on pages 5-6 of Volume 1), it can still be a lot to wade through, which is why I didn’t check this gazetteer immediately. Nonetheless, our Stara Wieś is cataloged in entry 27 on page 226 of Volume 11, which clearly states that this village belonged to the parish in Bychawa (Figure 7).[5]

Figure 7: Beginning of entry for Stara Wieś in gmina Zakrzew, Krasnystaw county, in the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich, underlined in red.Stara Wies from SGKP

Once the correct parish was firmly established, it was a simple matter of using the links in the Lubgens database (Figure 2) to check the scans from the parish in Bychawa and find the correct birth record. As luck would have it, my concerns about potential inaccuracy in Jan’s reporting of his date of birth were completely unfounded, as the record indicates that he was born on 29 April 1891, pretty darn close to when he thought he was born. The correct birth record is shown in Figure 8.[6]

Figure 8: Birth record for Jan Pudło, born 29 April 1891 in Stara Wieś.Jan Pudlo 1891

In translation, the record states,

“No. 121, Stara Wieś. This happened in the suburb of Bychawa on the 17th/29th day of April in the year 1891 at 5:00 in the afternoon. Paweł Pudło appeared, a peasant residing in the village of Stara Wieś, age 52, in the presence of Tomasz Makowski of Stara Wieś, age 37, and Józef Janczarek of Bychawa, age 27, peasants; and showed us a child of the male sex, stating that it was born in Stara Wieś on the 17th/29th day of April of the current year at 3:00 in the morning of his wife, Agnieszka née Cieśla, age 35. At Holy Baptism, performed today, the name Jan was given, and his godparents were Tomasz Makowski and Antonina Josikowa. This document was read to the declarant and witnesses, and because of their illiteracy it was signed only by Us. [signed] Fr. Wojciech Makara, Acting Civil Registrar”

That’s a Wrap

The matching parents’ names, place of birth, and date of birth confirm that this, at last, is the correct birth record for Josh’s great-grandfather. The irony in this situation is that the process of “doing it right” created obstacles to the research because the information in the SKP was incorrect. If no attempt had been made to identify the parish for the village of Stara Wieś, this birth record might have been discovered more quickly by using the “brute force” method of reading through all the search hits in the Lubgens database one by one. Even despite the broad search range (1885-1897), which was employed based on previous research experience, there were only 15 birth records to check, and if only the births from 1891 were considered, there were only three records to check. The correct birth record would have been found in any case, but as it played out, this was a perfect storm, a Murphy’s Law scenario in which everything converged to create research havoc. Really, what were the chances that the SKP would misidentify the parish, but that there just happened to be another Jan Pudło born in that incorrect parish in the same year as the target Jan Pudło?

I’m also amused by the multiplication of villages called Stara Wieś in the area where Jan Pudło was born. All the gazetteers mentioned only one Stara Wieś that belonged to the parish in Bychawa, yet the modern map indicates four such villages: Stara Wieś, Stara Wieś Pierwsza, Stara Wieś Druga, and Stara Wieś Trzecia—Old Village, Old Village One, Old Village Two and Old Village Three (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Four Old Villages, courtesy of Google Maps.Four Old Villages

In fact, an advanced search of Mapa.szukacz reveals 103 places called Stara Wieś that are within the borders of the Lublin province today. This is a considerable increase from the seven villages called Stara Wieś that existed in the Lublin gubernia in 1877 according to the SKP, an increase which is surprising even despite the fact that the current Lublin province covers a larger area than the former Lublin gubernia (9712 square miles vs. 6499 square miles).[7] Couldn’t they make the lives of genealogists a little easier by coming up with more creative names for the villages, at least?

So what take-home lessons can be gained from all of this?

  1. Despite occasional inaccuracies, gazetteers are still an invaluable asset for your research. In absence of any gazetteers or indexed records to fall back on, one would have to approach this project by locating an old map of the Lublin gubernia with sufficient scale to show tiny villages, looking for every village called Stara Wieś, and then investigating all the surrounding villages to see which ones had Catholic parishes that were in existence in the time period in question. After that, one would have to check the records from each of those parishes for the target baptismal record. Who has time for that?
  2. You may need to check more than one gazetteer before proceeding with the research. In this case, indexed records with linked scans made the research simple. But if records were not available online and it was necessary to hire an onsite researcher to visit the parish in person to obtain records, I would definitely check two or three gazetteers before proceeding with the research.
  3. Evaluate each new piece of evidence in light of the total. Historical research is messy at times, and names and dates might be recorded somewhat differently in different records. But if you have to work really hard to argue that the individual described in a given record is a match for someone in your family tree, consider the possibility that you may be wrong, and keep looking for the right record.

All’s well that ends well. Jan Pudło has been successfully identified in Polish records, and Josh’s research can proceed apace. But it certainly was an interesting journey back to Stara Wieś through a perfect storm.

Sources:

[1] Zinberg, I. Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego. T. 2, p. 174, “Stara wieś,” Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/dlibra : 24 October 2019).

[2] “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Targowisku, 1876-1917,” 1891, Akta urodzeń, małżeństw, zgonów, births, no. 70, record for Jan Pudło, Szukajwarchiwach (https://szukajwarchiwach.pl : 28 October 2019), image 17 out of 67.

[3]Parafia św. Stanisława w Starej Wsi,” Wikipedia PL (https://pl.wikipedia.org : 28 October 2019).

[4] Tadeusz Bystrzycki, Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z oznaczeniem terytorjalnie im właściwych władz i urzędów oraz urządzeń komunikacyjnych [Index of place names of the Republic of Poland with corresponding govermental agencies and offices, including communication facilities] (Przemyśl, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Książnicy Naukowej, circa 1933), 1607, “Stara Wieś,” Wielkopolska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (http://www.wbc.poznan.pl : 28 October 2019).

[5] Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom XI, 226, “Stara Wieś,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 28 October 2019).

[6] “Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Bychawie, 1826-1916,” 1891, Księga urodzeń, małżeństw i zgonów, births, no. 121, record for Jan Pudło, Szukajwarchiwach (https://szukajwarchiwach.pl : 28 October 2019), image 20 out of 75.

[7]Lublin Voivodeship,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : 28 October 2019); and    “Gubernia lubelska,” (https://pl.wikipedia.org/ : 28 October 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019