Gazetteers for Polish Genealogy

Gazetteers are geographical dictionaries, and as such, they’re valuable tools for genealogists. Gazetteers can provide useful and interesting historical information about the places where our ancestors lived, and identify the parish and registry office assignments for those ancestral villages. Since different types of documents were created at different administrative levels, it’s important to know the complete administrative assignments for your ancestral village over time, so that you can locate records relevant to your research. Gazetteers will provide that information. Finally, gazetteers can help you reconcile “conflicting evidence” for ancestral place of origin. By “conflicting evidence,” I mean that some apparent conflicts in evidence are not actual conflicts: frequently, immigrants would refer to the county or province they were from, rather than the specific village, under the assumption that those place names might be more recognizable and meaningful to their audience. So, it might seem confusing at first, if immigrant members of my great-grandmother’s family cited Poland, Russia, Kalisz, Słupca, and Kowalewo as their place of origin on historical records from the late 19th- and early 20th centuries. However, gazetteers will reveal that Kowalewo was a village and parish seat located in Słupca County, in what is now Poland, but was formerly the Kalisz province of the Russian Empire. Problem solved!

Since Poland did not exist as an independent nation for 123 years, the gazetteers we select for Polish genealogy will depend on the partition in which our ancestors lived (Russian, Prussian, or Austrian). Additional considerations for use include the style of the gazetteer (phonetic, e-book, or database), time period, language, and format (paragraph-style entries, or simple tabular layout). There’s overlap between those styles, as well, thanks to the existence of gazetteer databases created from historical sources, such as the Meyers Gazetteer, Kartenmeister, and the Baza Miejscowości Kresowych (Eastern Borderlands Places). Phonetic gazetteers are especially useful for identifying place names that were misspelled on source documents, but you may need to consult additional gazetteers in order to identify the parish or determine administrative assignments for the village.

Here, then, is an annotated list of useful gazetteers for Polish genealogy. I’ve mentioned some of them before in this post about my favorite internet resources, and this article also walks you through the process of choosing and using them, but this table includes some new ones and is hopefully organized in a way to make it easy to select the best gazetteers for your needs. Please note that the table is best viewed on a computer, rather than a tablet or mobile device. Happy researching!

NameCoverage AreaCoverage AreaPublication DateLanguageLinks & Remarks
JewishGen GazetteerIncludes 1,000,000 localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, & Central Asiaphoneticpresent dayEnglishGazetteer is here. Beider-Morse searching is more precise but offers limited hits; Daitch-Mokotoff gives more search hits. Locations with Jewish communities are searched separately, here.

Baza Miejscowości Kresowych
Database of 54,962 places in the kresy wschodnie (Poland’s eastern borderlands region); includes places presently located in Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, & Ukrainephonetic1920–1938Polish, EnglishGazetteer is here. “Direct” searching requires use of proper diacritics, but search options include Soundex & Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex.
Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskichAll localities in the former Polish provinces of Russia, most localities in the former Austrian province of Galicia (now divided between Poland & Ukraine), Belorussian provinces of the Russian Empire (now in Belarus), & also contains significant localities in Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria & Romania. Places from Prussian provinces of Poznan, West Prussia, East Prussia, Silesia, & Pomerania are also covered, though info may be less comprehensive.paragraph1880-1902, 15 volumesPolishGazetteer is here. Wildcard searching:  “%” replaces any string of characters, “_” can be used to replace a single character. Assistance with unfamiliar terminology is available here. Assistance with deciphering abbreviations is here. Some translated Słownik entries are available from Polish Roots. To access translated entries, hover cursor over “Geography & Maps” option in menu bar at the top of the page, then select a letter of the alphabet to view entries for places beginning with that letter. Additional translated entries are available here as a members-only benefit of the Polish Genealogical Society of America.
Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, T. 1 & 2Królestwo Polskie (Kingdom of Poland, i.e. Congress Poland or Russian Poland)tabular1877Polish, Russian column headingsTom (Volume) 1, A–N
Tom (Volume) 2, O–Z
Tabella miast, wsi, osad Królestwa Polskiego, T. 1 & 2Kingdom of Polandtabular1827PolishTom (Volume) 1, A–Ł
Tom (Volume) 2, M–Z
Списки населенных мест Российской Имперіи (List of Populated Places in Imperial Russia)Russian Empiretabular1861–1885, 62 volumesRussianSome volumes available online, click here for links.
Brian Lenius’ Genealogical Gazetteer of GaliciaGalicia (Austrian Empire, presently southeastern Poland/western Ukraine)tabular, print book, not online1994, but covers period from 1896–1914EnglishCan be ordered here from the author.
Gemeindelexikon der im Reichsrate vertretenen Königreiche und Länder, Bd. 12 GalizienGaliciatabular1907GermanGazetteer is here. Tips for using are here (David Gorz) and here (Matthew Bielawa).
Galician Town LocatorGaliciatabularc. 1900Place names in German or PolishGazetteer is here.
Najnowszy skorowidz wszystkich miejscowości z przysiółkami w Królestwie Galicyi… by Jan BigoGaliciatabular1886–1918PolishGazetteer from 1914 is here. Similar content from different publication years can be found here.
Skorowidz miejscowości Rzeczypospolitej PolskiejSecond Polish Republic (1918–1939)tabularc. 1933PolishGazetteer is here.
Nazwy miejscowe Polski : historia, pochodzenie, zmianyPresent-day Polandparagraph1997–2019PolishTom (Volume) 1, A–B
Tom 2, C–D
Tom 3, E–I
Tom 4, J–Kn
Tom 5, Ko–Ky
Tom 6, L–Ma
Some additional volumes available in print only; series remains unfinished.

Słownik historyczno-geograficzny ziem polskich w średniowieczuMedieval PolandparagraphMiddle Ages up to 1530Polish Gazetteer is here.
Genealogische Orts-Verzeichnis (GOV), The Historic GazetteerWorldwidedatabasePresent dayGerman website, can be used in EnglishGazetteer is here.
KartenmeisterEastprussia, including Memel, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, & Silesia. All locations are east of the Oder and Neisse rivers.databaseBased on province borders as of Spring 1918English; place names can be searched in German or PolishGazetteer is here.
Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen : auf Grund der Materialen der Volkszählung vom 1. Dezember 1905 und anderer amtlicher QuellenKingdom of Prussia, Germany (includes Polish territories in East Prussia, West Prussia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, Posen, & Silesia).tabular1907–1909German
15 Volumes; can be accessed here. Also available on Ancestry (with a subscription), here.
Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen ReichsGerman Empireparagraph, database1871–1918German (print), English (database)Gazetteer is here.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Manifest Mayhem! Identifying Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik’s Place of Origin

One of the greatest challenges for genealogists who are attempting to make the leap from historical documents in the U.S., to historical documents in the Old Country (wherever that may be), is accurate identification of the immigrant’s place of origin. All too often, place names are badly butchered in source documents, which can be frustrating and perplexing for novice researchers. Recently, I found a passenger manifest that exemplified a classic place-name butchering, which I’d like to discuss today, along with some tips for identifying the correct, “unbutchered” place name.

Introducing Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik

I’ve been researching a family of immigrants to North Tonawanda, New York, on behalf of a distant cousin and DNA match who lives in Poland. This cousin had a great-grandfather, Jan Łukasik, who came to the U.S. and lived here for a few years, along with his brothers, Andrzej and Franciszek. Jan Łukasik eventually returned to Poland, while Andrzej and Franciszek remained here, and my cousin was hoping to obtain a more complete picture of the history of this family in the U.S.

In 1915, all three of the Lukasik brothers were found to be living at 124 Center Avenue in North Tonawanda, as shown in Figure 1.1

Figure 1: Andrew Lukasik household in the 1915 New York State Census. Click image to enlarge.

Per the 1915 New York State census, the household included 30-year-old Andrew Lukasik, his 28-year-old wife, Josephine, and a 12-year-old daughter, Sophia, as well as two brothers—28-year-old John and 26-year-old Frank—and a boarder, Anthony Orlinski, age 25. All were recorded as having been born in Russia, but all arrived at different times. The length of U.S. residency reported for John, Frank and Anthony, 5 years, suggests an arrival circa 1910, while Andrew was reported as having arrived just a year earlier, circa 1914. Josephine was reported to have been living in the U.S. for four years, suggesting an arrival in 1911. Sophia is a bit of a mystery, in light of other evidence found for this family, but we’ll ignore that for now and focus on the primary research subjects, Andrew, Frank, and John Lukasik.

My Polish cousin informed me that the Łukasiks were from the parish of Młodzieszyn in Sochaczew County—information which was unsurprising to me, since I’ve found that many of the Polish immigrants who settled in North Tonawanda were from Sochaczew County, including two of my great-grandfathers, John Zazycki and Joseph Zielinski. In fact, thanks to chain migration, census records from “the Avenues” (North Tonawanda’s Polish enclave) read very much like a roll call of the families found in church books from Sochaczew County: Zieliński, Pałka, Kalisiak, Kalota, Szymański, Duplicki, Zażycki, Sikora, Orliński, Wieczorek, Pisarek, Koszelak, Rokicki, Włodarczyk, Adamczyk, Dąbrowski, Wilczek, and more. To be clear, I have not traced the origins of every Polish family in North Tonawanda with one of those surnames, and some of those names (e.g. Zieliński, Dąbrowski, Sikora) are so popular that the bearers might have originated anywhere in Poland. Nonetheless, I’d be willing to bet that many of the folks with those surnames who settled in North Tonawanda were originally from Sochaczew County.

So, when I discovered a record of marriage for Andrzej Lukasik and Josephine “Winicka” [sic] on 3 November 1914 in Buffalo, New York, my first thought was that Andrew married a girl from his hometown.2 I, too, have Winnicki ancestors from the parish of Młodzieszyn, and Winnicki is a popular surname in Sochaczew County. A quick way to test that hypothesis would be to find evidence for Józefa Winnicka’s place of origin from an online document such as her passenger manifest.

Finding the Manifest

Józefa Winnicka’s passenger manifest proved to be a tad elusive. From census and cemetery records, I knew that she was born between 1882 and 1887, and that she was from the Russian partition of Poland, consistent with the location of Sochaczew County.3 The 1915 and 1925 New York State censuses reported lengths of U.S. residency consistent with an arrival in 1911, and 1911 was also recorded as her year of arrival in the 1920 and 1930 U.S. censuses. I assumed that she would be traveling under her maiden name, Winnicka, since she did not marry Andrew Lukasik until 1914, and that her destination was probably Buffalo, where she married, rather than North Tonawanda. Nonetheless, there were no promising search hits. Not to worry, though; persistence usually wins the day, and there are a number of strategies that can be tried when an initial search fails to turn up the right passenger manifest, so I kept searching.

In this case, the use of wildcards ultimately proved to be effective. Ancestry had her indexed as “Jozefa Minnicka,” although she was clearly the right person. The two-page manifest is shown in Figures 2a and b.4

Figure 2a: First page of the passenger manifest from the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, showing Józefa Winnicka, traveling to Buffalo, New York, arriving in the port of New York on 31 October 1910. Click image to enlarge.
Figure 2b: Second page of the passenger manifest from the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, showing Józefa Winnicka, traveling to Buffalo, New York, arriving in the port of New York on 31 October 1910. Click image to enlarge.

Józefa Winnicka appears on line 16 of the manifest for the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, which departed from the port of Rotterdam on 22 October 1910, and arrived in New York on 31 October. She was identified as a single, female, farmhand, age 26, able to read and write. Her age suggests a birth circa 1884, and this date and her arrival date are both within the expected ballpark based on the accumulated body of evidence. She was an ethnic Pole and a Russian citizen, consistent with the fact that Poland was not an independent nation in 1910. (If that statement is confusing, here is a brief summary of Poland’s changing borders.) So far, so good.

Suchatzew, Suchatzin, Sawacew and Sawasew

The smoking-gun evidence needed for Józefa’s place of origin was found in the next columns. Her last permanent residence was recorded as “Suchatzew, Russia.” Her nearest relative in the country from whence she came was her father, Ludwig Winnicka [sic] from “Suchatzew.” We’ll come back to that place name in a moment. Józefa was traveling to Buffalo, New York, and on the second page, the record further specified that Józefa’s contact in the U.S. was her brother-in-law, Roch Dolak, residing at 152 Rother Avenue in Buffalo. Following details regarding her physical and mental condition and her philosophical disposition, the final column identified her place of birth as “Suchatzin, Russia.”

I was willing to bet that both of these spellings, “Suchatzew” and “Suchatzin,” were intended to refer to either the town of Sochaczew, or the county of Sochaczew, so I believed this was good evidence that my assumption was correct about Andrew Lukasik marrying a girl from his hometown. However, this manifest offered further confirmation of her place of origin, because Józefa was not traveling alone. Although it was not immediately obvious from the first page of the manifest, the second page of the manifest shows Józefa on line 16, bracketed together with three other passengers who were recorded on lines 18, 19, and 20 (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Detail from page 2 of the manifest from the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, showing Józefa Winnicka on line 16, bracketed together with a group of three other passengers from lines 18, 19 and 20.

The first page of that manifest identified these passengers as 25-year-old Bronisława Dolak and her children, 3-year-old Zofia, and 10-month-old Jan. Like Józefa, Bronisława named her father as her nearest relative in the Old Country, but this time his name was spelled “Ludwik Winitzky,” rather than “Ludwig Winnicka,” and his place of residence was spelled, “Sawasew, Warschau.” Similarly, Bronisława’s last place of residence was spelled, “Sawacew” (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Detail from page 1 of the manifest from the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, showing the last place of residence of Józefa Winnicka, “Suchatzew,” and her father’s place of residence, “Suchatzew.” Two lines below, her sister’s last place of residence was recorded as, “Sawacew,” and their father’s place of residence was recorded as “Sawasew, Warschau.”

Despite such wildly disparate spellings, it’s clear that “Sawacew” and Sawasew” must also refer to the town of Sochaczew or the county of Sochaczew, since Józefa and Bronisława had the same father, Ludwik Winnicki. At that time, Sochaczew was located in the Warsaw (Warschau, in German) gubernia, or province, which explains the reference to Warsaw in the entry on line 18. The use of such different spellings for both the place name and the father’s name, on the same manifest, nicely illustrates the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to evaluating spellings found in historical documents.

The final column on the second page of the manifest is also enlightening (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Final column on page 2 of the manifest from the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, showing the places of birth of Józefa Winnicka, Bronisława (Winnicka) Dolak, and Zofia and Jan Dolak.

While Józefa Winnicka was reported to have been born in “Suchatzin,” (or Suchatzew?), her sister Bronisława’s birthplace looks like “Riwano,” while both children were born in “Modjesin.” Although “Modjesin” is a rough phonetic match to the actual village of Młodzieszyn, it took me a minute to realize that “Riwano” must be referring to the village of Rybno, another village in Sochaczew County, located 11 km/7 miles from Młodzieszyn.

Confirming Place Identification Using Geneteka

Of course, all of these place-name identifications can only be considered as speculative, until evidence for the target immigrant is found in historical records from that location. In this case, confirmation can be found in indexed Polish vital records from the Geneteka database. A search in all indexed parishes in Mazowieckie province for birth records containing surnames Dolek and Winnicki predictably turned up the births of Zofia and Jan Dolak, in or near Młodzieszyn parish (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Geneteka search result for all indexed births in Mazowieckie province containing surnames Dolak and Winnicka. Click image for interactive search page.

Although it was stated on the manifest that both children were born in Młodzieszyn, Geneteka informs us that only Zofia was born in Młodzieszyn, while Jan was born in the nearby village of Ruszki, which belonged to the parish in Giżyce, where he was baptized. (Clicking the “skan” button reveals that Jan’s birth record was, in fact, number 39 for 1909, not number 38, so the middle entry in Figure 6 is an error in the database.)

A public member tree online at Ancestry suggested that Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik’s parents were “Ludwik Winicka” [sic] and “Agnieszka Bralun.”5 Although no source was cited for that information, I suspect it came from Josephine’s marriage record, or perhaps her death certificate, neither of which is available online. A search at Geneteka for records pertaining to Ludwik Winnicki and wife’s name Agnieszka (no maiden name specified) in indexed parishes within 15 km of Młodzieszyn, produced birth records for four children of Ludwiki Winnicki and Agnieszka Braun, all of whom were born in the village of Cyprianki and baptized in the parish of Rybno between 1870 and 1878 (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Geneteka search result for birth records mentioning Ludwik Winnick and Agnieszka (no maiden name specified) in indexed parishes within 15 km of Młodzieszyn. Click image for interactive search page.

Although birth records for Józefa and Bronisława are not included in this search result, limiting the search to Rybno parish provides the explanation: there’s a gap in indexed birth records for Rybno from 1879 through 1887, which would encompass their births circa 1884 and 1885. All of these locations can be found on the map in Figure 8 except Cyprianki, which may be too small a place to be included in this Google Map, but which can be found on the map here, a little to the north of Cypriany, and about halfway between Cypriany and Rybno.

Figure 8: Map showing locations of Młodzieszyn, Ruszki, Rybno, and Giżyce, relative to the county seat, Sochaczew, to the southeast.

Tips for Deciphering Mangled Place Names

I had a bit of an unfair advantage when it came to deciphering Józefa Winnicka’s place of origin from the manifest, since I already had a hunch about where she was from. But what if that weren’t the case? How would a person know that Suchatzew and Sawasew were supposed to be Sochaczew? The following strategies might help:

  1. Obtain more than one piece of evidence for place of origin. Passenger manifests, naturalization records, church records, and draft registrations are all common sources for this information, but place of origin might be found on a variety of other documents. Don’t limit your search to the research target, but look at the big picture and consider all known relatives of that person who also immigrated.
  2. Don’t overlook the second page of a passenger manifest, in cases where one exists. It’s a common rookie mistake to think that a document is limited to only one page, since the search engines at Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc., link to only one image. However, some passenger manifests, WWII draft cards, passport applications, and most naturalization files, consist of multiple pages. Be sure to use the arrow keys to browse through the additional images that come before and after the linked image, to ensure that you’ve seen all there is to see. Had I not done this, I would not have found the references to Rybno and Młodzieszyn.
  3. Consider that immigrants may have approximated their place of origin to the county or province seat, rather than referring to the specific, small village. Although Józefa Winnicka claimed to have been born in Sochaczew, birth records for the parish of Sochaczew are indexed in Geneteka from 1849 through 1884 without gaps, yet her birth record is not there. It’s probable that she was, in fact, baptized in Rybno, like her siblings who appear in Figure 7, but that she mentioned the county seat instead, as a larger (and presumably more recognizable) place.
  4. Use a phonetic gazetteer to decode place names that were recorded phonetically by the clerk. There are two that I use regularly, the JewishGen Gazetteer and the Baza Miejscowości Kresowych (Eastern Borderlands Places). The scope of the former is quite broad, and it can be used to identify places located in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, while the latter is specific to places in the Kresy Wschodnie, or eastern borderlands region (places that were within the borders of Poland during the era of the Second Republic, but are now located in western Ukraine, western Belarus, and southeastern Lithuania). The JewishGen Gazetteer offers quite a few search options for Soundex and fuzzy searches, and a search for “Suchatzew” using Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching quickly zeroed in on the town and county of Sochaczew (Figure 9).
Figure 9: JewishGen Gazetteer search result for “Suchatzew” using Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching. Click image to enlarge.

Although Beider-Morse did the trick here, I tend to use the second search option, Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex, more frequently, because it gives me more search hits. However, some trial-and-error will likely be involved in the process either way. The resulting list of search hits can be whittled down through consultation with the map; for example, the first candidate in the list shown in Figure 8, Sukhachëva, turns out to be located in Russia’s Oryol Oblast, a good 650 miles from the eastern border of Poland today, and well outside of Poland’s borders at any point in history. If all the evidence points to Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik’s birthplace being in Poland (albeit the Russian partition of Poland), Sukhachëva can be safely ruled out.

5. Use a period gazetteer to reconcile “conflicting evidence.” While Młodzieszyn and Sochaczew are unique place names in Poland, there are 26 places in Poland today called Rybno, according to Mapa.szukacz.pl. If one were researching Bronisława Dolak and came across a reference to Rybno on one document, but to Sochaczew on another, a quick check in a gazetteer can shed some light on the confusion and aid in identifying the correct Rybno (Figure 10).6 An annotated list of useful gazetteers for Polish genealogy can be found here.

Figure 10: Entries for Rybno found in the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego (Index of the Kingdom of Poland).

6. Use Geneteka (or another indexed vital records database) to quickly test hypotheses about an immigrant’s place of origin. This may not work every time, but Geneteka is such a substantial database, that you stand a good chance of finding some trace of your family there, even if your target immigrant is not included. In this case, Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik was not found in Geneteka, but evidence for her parents and for her sister’s family was sufficient to confirm accurate identification of several parishes which can be searched for records pertaining to the Winnicki family.

Deciphering place names on historical records can be pretty challenging at times, and manifests like this one for Józefa Winnicka may leave you wondering whether to laugh or to cry at the awful misspellings. However, the right tools and strategies, combined with some patience and persistence, will usually win the day. Happy researching!

Sources:

1 1915 New York State Census, Niagara County population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 03, Assembly District 01, Enumeration District 01, p 33, lines 6-11, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022).

2 “New York State, Marriage Index, 1881-1967,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), Andrzej Lukasik and Jozefa Winicka, 3 November 1914, Buffalo, New York, certificate no. 35186.

3 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Niagara County population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 03, Enumeration District 38, Sheet 4B, house no. 72, family no. 63, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 21 March 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1240 of 2076 rolls; and

1925 census of New York State, Niagara County population schedule, 3rd Ward North Tonawanda, Election District 01, Assembly District 01, p 43, Andrew Lukasik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 22 April 2022); and

1930 U.S Federal Census, Niagara County population schedule, 3rd Ward North Tonawanda, Enumeration District 32-87, Sheet 25B, house no. 26, family no. 539, Andy Lukassik household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration publication T626, 2,667 rolls, Family History Library microfilm 2341353; and

1940 U.S. Federal census, Niagara County, New York, population schedule, North Tonawanda Ward 3, Enumeration District 32-130, Sheet 8B, house no. 26, visitation no. 135, Andrew and Chester Lukasik households; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 22 April 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T627, roll 2,698 of 4,643 rolls; and

Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/228947128/jozefa-lukasik : accessed 22 March 2022), memorial page for Jozefa “Josephine” Winnicka Lukasik (1884–13 Aug 1968), Find a Grave Memorial ID 228947128, citing Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kenmore, Erie County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Bonnie O’Brien (contributor 50514324).

4 Manifest, SS Nieuw Amsterdam, arriving 31 October 1910, p 167, lines 16, 18, 19 and 20, Jozefa Winnicka [indexed as Minnicka] and Dolak family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com : 21 April 2022); citing Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36, National Archives at Washington, D.C. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, Microfilm Publication T715, 8892 rolls, NAI: 300346, no specific roll cited.

5 Ancestry user “GiacomoKennedy,” public member tree, “Imogene Pasel – October 10, 2018,” Ancestry Public Member Trees database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 21 April 2022).

6 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, Tom 2 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), pp 125-126, “Rybno,” digital images, Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/ : 24 April 2022).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Researching Marianna Drajem

I’ve been writing a lot about my Hodgkinson research lately, but today I’m going to shift gears and write about some new discoveries on my husband’s Drajem line.

Recently, I was contacted by Debbie, a fellow family historian who’s researching her granddaughter’s ancestry. That granddaughter is my husband’s fourth cousin once removed, and their most recent common ancestors were Józef and Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem. Prior to Debbie’s phone call, I knew nothing of earlier generations of the Drajem family; Józef and Marianna were the end of the line, and I knew only the outlines of their lives. However, after talking with her, I was inspired to dig a little deeper, and learn more about Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem’s story.

Marya Drajem

I was first introduced to Marianna back in November 2001, thanks to information contained in a life insurance application filed by her son, Wojciech Drajem. This was not an heirloom document, handed down in my husband’s family. Rather, this piece of genealogical gold was mined from the database, “Polish Roman Catholic Union of America (PRCUA} Insurance Claim File Index,” where I discovered that a death claim packet was available for Wojciech Drajem. This database is maintained by the Polish Genealogical Society of America, which will provide copies of death claim packets for a very nominal fee. When my packet arrived, I was thrilled to discover that it contained Wojciech’s original life insurance application, medical examiner’s certificate, beneficiary certificate, death certificate, insurance claim, and letter of payment. Wojciech’s application, dated 6 February 1915, provided information about his parents and family of origin (Figure 1).1

Figure 1: Application for life insurance from the PRCUA for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915.

This document identifies Wojciech’s mother as Marya (__) Drajem, and tells us that she died at the age of 83 of senility. Her husband was Józef Drajem, who died at the age of 50 of unknown causes. Wojciech stated that he had no brothers who were deceased, but one 44-year-old brother who was alive at that time and in good health. He had two living sisters, aged 51–60 years, and one sister who died in childbirth (the certificate states, “in labor”) at the age of 28.

Maryanna Drajem of Buffalo, New York

Back in 2001, as a baby genealogist, I assumed that Marya Drajem died in Poland. It wasn’t until I started researching the family of her daughter, Apolonia (Drajem) Samulski, that I discovered that Marya also immigrated to Buffalo, New York (Figure 2).2

Figure 2: Detail from 1900 census showing Maryanna Drajem in the household of Ignatz Samulski. Click to view larger image.

In 1900, Maryanna Drajem was living at 33 Loepere Street with her son-in-law, Ignatz Samulski, daughter Apolonia, and their two children, Pelagia (“Pearl”) and Stanislaus (“Stanley”). She was recorded as a 78-year-old widow, born in February 1822 in “Poland Ger.,” which implies the Prussian partition of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (For a brief summary of Poland’s changing borders, see here.) Her immigration year was not recorded, but her son-in-law arrived in the U.S. in 1880, so it’s likely that she traveled with him and her daughter, or perhaps arrived a few years after they had settled in the U.S. A passenger record has not been found for her to date. Interestingly, this record states that Marianna was the mother of eleven children, seven of whom were still living at the time of the census, which is a bit different from the total of five children reported by Wojciech Drajem in his life insurance application.

Marie (Kaszyńska) Draheim of Buffalo, New York, and Mielno, Posen, Prussia

The first glimpse of Marianna in records from Poland came in this entry from the Poznań Project, which is a database of marriages that took place between 1800–1899 in the Prussian province of Posen and surrounding districts (Figure 3). (A complete list of covered parishes and civil registry offices is found here.)

Figure 3: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik in Kucharki in 1890.

If you’re new to the variations in surname spelling that are part and parcel of genealogical research, you may be alarmed by the degree to which “Drajem” differs from “Draheim.” Usually, the variants bear some phonetic resemblance to each other, so one way to check whether or not you’re on the right track is to hear the surnames pronounced in Polish using Google Translate. If you click on the “sound” icon in the Polish “input” box on the left, you’ll hear the surname pronounced by a Polish speaker. Similarly, it’s important not to be thrown off by the variety of given names we might find in the records pertaining to the same ancestor. In this case, Mary, Marya, Maria, Marie, Maryanna, and Marianna are all equivalent.

August Drajem was my husband’s great-great-grandfather, and was the brother of Wojciech, whose insurance application was discussed previously. This index entry from the Poznań Project is helpful because it confirms their parents’ names as Józef and Marianna, and further identifies Marianna Drajem’s maiden name as Kaszyńska, in addition to the other information it provides. It also tells us that the original record came from the civil registry office in Kucharki, Wielkopolski, Poland, and fortunately, those records can be found online at Szukajwarchiwach, the online catalog for the Polish state archives. August and Agnes’s marriage record (which was also shared in a previous post) is shown below. (Figures 4a and b).3

Figure 4a: First page of the civil marriage record from Kucharki for Augustyn Draheim and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890.
Figure 4b: Second page of the civil marriage record from Kucharki for August Draheim and Agnieszka Jamrozik, 1 February 1890.

The record is in German, and Johann Kargl provided the following translation in the now-defunct Facebook group “Genealogy Translations,” whose successor is the Genealogical Translations group.4

“Kucharki 1st February 1890
1. Before the undersigned registrar appeared the farm servant August Draheim, personally known, Catholic, born on 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno, living in Kucharki, son of the deceased master tailor Josef Draheim and his wife Marianne, nee Kaszynska, living in America
2. the unmarried maiden Agnes Jamrozik, personally known, Catholic, born on 9 January 1865 in Kucharki, county Kleschen, living in Kucharki, daughter of the innkeeper Johann Jamrozik and his wife Rosalie, nee Juszczak, living in Kucharki.
As witnesses appeared:
3. The innkeeper Jakob Tomalak, personally known, 60 yers old, living in Kucharki
4. the innkeeper Adalbert (Wojciech) Szlachetka, personally known, 48 years old, living in Kucharki

read, approved and signed
August Draheim Agnieszka Draheim, nee Jamrozik
Jakob Tomalak
Wojciech Szlachetka
The registrar
signed Grzegorzewski

Kucharki, 8 February 1890
(signature)”

This document goes well beyond the information in the index entry from the Poznań Project, providing August Drajem’s exact date and place of birth as 25 July 1866 in Mielno, county Mogilno. The marriage record also tells us that Marianna Drajem was already a widow by the time of August’s marriage in 1890 and living in “Amerika.” Although the Meyers Gazetteer indicates a number of places called “Amerika” that were located within the German Empire, we already have evidence from the census that Marianna had children living in Buffalo as early as 1880. Therefore, it’s quite plausible that the obvious “Amerika”—the United States of America—is really the one that was intended here.

In contrast, the obvious choice was not the correct one when it came to identifying the Mielno where the Drajem family was living when August was born. Although Mapa Szukacz identifies 17 places within the borders of Poland today that are called Mielno, the marriage record specifies that August was born in Mielno in Mogilno County. The Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego has a number of entries for places called Mielno, but the only one described as being in Mogilno County (“pow. mogilnicki”) was the one belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. Kartenmeister similarly offers 23 search results for places called Mielno, but only three entries mention Mogilno County. The three entries correspond to variant place names (Mielno, Moelno, Mölno) for the same village, belonging to the Roman Catholic parish in Pakość. However, August’s birth record was not found in church records from Pakość in July 1866, nor was it recorded in this parish anywhere within the period from 1864–1867. This suggests that the Mielno located just north of Pakość is not the right place, after all, although other interpretations (i.e. August was born outside the range of years checked, or baptized as a Protestant who subsequently converted to Catholicism) are also possible.

Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłoska Draheim of Buffalo, New York and Mielno, Posen, Prussia

Despite this setback, the Poznań Project came through again with the marriage record for Józef Drajem/Draheim and Marianna Kaszyńska, which offered further insight (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of Joseph Drahem and Marianna Radłoska nee Kaszyńska in Niestronno in 1850.

This index entry was the only result in the database for a groom with the given name of Joseph/Józef/Josef and a surname phonetically similar to Draheim, and a bride named Marianna Kaszyńska, and her age is exactly what we would expect, given our previous evidence that points to a birth year circa 1822. The index entry informs us that Marianna and Józef married in Niestronno, that Marianna had been married previously to a man with the surname Radłoski, that her father was deceased, and that her mother’s name was Rosalia Kaszyńska.

Records from the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno are also online, this time at FamilySearch, which permits at-home access to these images (as opposed to viewing only at a Family History Center or Affiliate Library) after logging into a free FamilySearch account. Józef and Marianna’s marriage record is shown in Figure 6.5

Figure 6: Marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish in Niestronno for Józef Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850. Click to view larger image.

Due to the faded ink, the bleed-through from the reverse pages, the cramped handwriting, and my rudimentary ability to read Latin, this one took some time to decipher, and I ran into a bit of trouble in some spots. So, I ran it past my friend, Marcel Elias, for corrections and insights, and with thanks to Marcel, the transcription is as follows:

“[Numerus] 8

[Annus Dies et Mensis Copulationis] 1850. 7 Julii

[Nomen sacerdotis benedicicensis matrimonium] Bartholem. Cieśliński, Commen’us (“commendarius”) ac Decanus

[Nomen et cognomen Copulatorum, denominatio, domicili, status artis vel Conditionis vitae, et atrum in Ecclesia art privato loco consecrati sunt] Joseph Drahim, ferrifeber, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonisca. Uterque ex Mielno. Copulati in Ecclesia.

[Num copulati vel una pars eorum vinculo matrimonii obstricti vel obstricta fuit. Num sub potestate parentum vel faterum existunt] Juvenis sub potestale parentium. Vidua

[Aetas sponsi]28 [sponsae] 28

[Religio sponsi] Cath. [sponsae] Cath.

[Nomen et cognomen parentum: Sponsi] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Sponsae] Pater mortuus, mater Rosalie Kaszyńska

[Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii… atetaris matrimonium contractum sit] Sponsus cum consenca parentum Sponsa Judi ???? 14 Juni 1850 II 4633

[Dies promulgati onum] 16, 23 et 30 Juni

[Nomen et cognomen, Ors et Conditio vitae adstantium testiam] Adalb. Kaszyński agran (?), Joan Berunt agran., Adalb. Kraczo (?) agran (?)

[Annotatio] Mielno.”

Translated, this states,

[Number] 8

[Year, Day, and Month of Marriage] 7 July 1850

[Name of the priest who blessed the marriage] Bartłomiej Cieśliński, pastor and dean

[Given and surname of those married, denomination, domicile, state or condition of life, and whether the marriage took place in church or in a private location] Joseph Drahim, blacksmith, Marianna Radłoska /: Liebener :/, Colonist, both of Mielno. Married in church.

[Whether one of them was bound by matrimony. Whether they are under parental control, or in control of their own fates] Young man under parental control. Widow.

[Age of the groom] 28 [of the bride] 28

[Religion of the groom] Cath. [of the bride] Cath. (Catholic)       

[Given name and surname of the parents: Groom] Adalbert, Anna Drahim [Bride] father deceased, mother Rosalie Kaszyńska

[Whether the marriage was contracted with parental consent, or with judicial (?) permission] The groom with parental consent, the bride, with permission from 14 June 1850, II 4633 (?)

[Dates on which the banns were published] 16, 23 and 30 June

[Given name and surname, origin and condition of life of present witnesses] Adalbert Kaszyński, farmer, Jan Berunt, farmer, Adalbert Kraczo?

[Remarks] Mielno.”

This record is packed with both information and mysteries. Consistent with the index entry from the Poznań Project, the record states that 28-year-old Joseph Drahim, a blacksmith, married 28-year-old widow, Marianna Radłoska on 7 July 1850 in the Roman Catholic church in Niestronno. (I would argue that Joseph’s surname is spelled Drahim, rather than Drahem, in the two places in which it was recorded in this document, but that’s a minor point.) Marianna has a curious notation after her name, “/: Liebener :/,” and the way that it’s written seems to suggest that Liebener was her maiden name, rather than Kaszyńska. Her parents’ names don’t shed much light on the situation, since her father’s name was not provided, and her mother’s name was recorded as Rosalie Kaszyńska, which could be interpreted as a maiden name. However, the other entries on this page do not provide mother’s maiden names; mothers were referred to by their married names, as was the case with Joseph’s parents, Adalbert and Anna Drahim. Moreover, the priest had a pattern of not recording names of deceased parents of the brides and grooms, from which we might infer that any parents whose names were recorded were still alive at the time of the wedding. So, the evidence does seem to favor Kaszyńska as Marianna’s maiden name, and it suggests that her mother, Rozalia (__) Kaszyńska, was still alive in 1850. For now, the “Liebener” notation remains a mystery, and its significance will depend on further research.

The record indicates that Marianna needed some sort of judicial permission in order to remarry, but it’s not entirely clear whether this was from a religious or civil authority. Marcel noted that the phrasing, “Num cum Consensu parentum vel luterum Judicii…” could suggest that in some cases, the parish was the legal guardian of a person, if the father or both parents of a minor groom/bride were deceased, since luterum is a medieval Latin term for a baptismal font. It may be that the document referenced as granting permission for the remarriage, “14 Juni 1850 II 4633,” can be found in the parish archive.

In addition to providing an introduction to three “new” ancestors for my husband and children—Adalbert and Anna Draheim and Rozalia (__) Kaszyska—this marriage record states that both the bride and groom were from Mielno, which helps us to identify the specific Mielno where August Drajem was born. The village of Mielno that belongs to the parish in Niestronno is, in fact, located in present-day Mogilno County, gmina Mogilno, and I’m still baffled as to why it was not showing up in either of the two gazetteers I checked. These locations are shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Map showing locations of Mielno, where Marianna Drajem was living when her son August was born; Niestronno, where she married Józef Drajem, and Kucharki, where her son August was married, courtesy of Google Maps. Click to view larger map.

Marianna (Kaszyńska) Radłowska of Popielewo, Mielno, and Buffalo

Although the record of Marianna Kaszyńska’s marriage to Józef Draheim made no mention of her father’s name, it seemed possible that this information was included in the record of her first marriage to (__) Radłoski. I searched the Poznań Project again for brides named Marianna Kaszyńska and grooms with the surnames that were at least 60% phonetically similar to Radłoski. There were no good matches. However, when I repeated the search, leaving off the groom’s surname entirely, a probable match was obtained (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Search result from the Poznań Project showing the marriage of Stephanus Racławski and Marianna Kaszyńska in Trzemeszno in 1838.

The bride’s age suggests a birth in 1820, which would be a couple years off from prior evidence that she was born in 1822; however, this is still within a reasonable ballpark. Records for the Roman Catholic parish in Trzemeszno are online at FamilySearch, so the original image was retrieved and is shown in Figure 9.6

Figure 9: Marriage record from the Roman Catholic parish in Trzemeszno for Stephan Radłowski and Maria Kaszyńska, 11 November 1838. Click to view larger image.

Although this record, too, was a bit disappointing in that it omitted the names of the couple’s parents, it is almost certainly the correct marriage record for our Marianna Kaszyńska. If you look closely, it’s clear that the groom’s name was actually Stephan Radłowski, and was mistranscribed as Racławski. A death record for Stephan dated prior to 1850 would provide further evidence that this interpretation is correct. The record identifies Popielewo as the village where the marriage took place, and since it was traditional to hold the wedding in the bride’s parish, this suggests that Marianna (Kaszyńska) Drajem was living in Popielewo in 1838 (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Map showing locations of Popielewo, where Marianna Kaszyńska was living when she married Stephan Radłowski; Trzemeszno, where that marriage was recorded; Niestronno, where she married Józef Drajem, and Mielno, where Marianna Drajem was living at the time of her second marriage. Google Maps. Click to view larger map.

The existence of a previous marriage for Marianna, and the likelihood that she had children with her first husband in those years prior to her marriage to Józef Drajem, may also help to reconcile the discrepancy between Wojciech’s statement that he had one brother and three sisters, with Marianna’s statement in the 1900 census that she was the mother of 11 children. Perhaps Wojciech was considering only his full siblings, neglecting to mention his six half-siblings from his mother’s previous marriage? Further research is required to find the answer.

While this research is far from finished, we have at least opened the door to further discovery in records from Poland. At the outset, we knew little more than Mary Drajem’s name. Now we have evidence that Marianna Kaszyńska was born circa 1820–1822 to a mother named Rozalia (__) and an unknown Kaszyński father, who was deceased by 1850. Marianna was married in Popielewo, Posen, Prussia (Trzemeszno parish) to Stephen Radłowski on 11 November 1838. There is some evidence to suggest that she might have had six children with Stephen Radłowski, and a focus of further research will be the identification of all of her children.

At some point, she moved from Popielewo to Mielno, where she was living when she married Józef Drajem in 1850, following the death of her first husband. She had four children with Józef who have been identified thus far, in research not discussed here: Antonina (b. 1851), Apolonia (b. May 1859), Augustyn (b. 25 July 1866), and Wojciech (b. 12 April 1867). We can infer that Józef died circa 1872, since his marriage record suggests a date of birth circa 1822, and Wojciech’s life insurance application stated that his father died at the age of 50. At some point between 1880 and 1890, Marianna Drajem migrated to Buffalo, New York, where she was living with her daughter, Apolonia Samulska, in 1900. Since Wojciech Drajem reported that his mother died at the age of 83, we can infer that she died circa 1905, and seek death and burial records for confirmation.

In my next post, I hope to discuss some further discoveries I’ve made for the Drajem family. Stay tuned.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Selected Sources:

1 Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, Applicant’s Certificate (Zeznania Kandydata) for Wojciech Drajem, 6 February 1915, claim no. 22169, certificate no. 112904.

2 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 14, Enumeration District 110, sheet 29B, house no. 33, family no. 533, lines 59-63, Ignatz Samulski household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 23 January 2022), citing National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.

3 “Urzad Stanu Cywilnego Kucharki, 1874 – 1935,” Akta malzenstw 1874-1909, 1890, no. 13, marriage record for August Draheim and Agnes Jamrozik; digital images, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/ : 23 January 2022), Sygnatura 11/711/0/2/50, scans 29-30 of 75.

4 Johann Kargl, reply to post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Genealogy Translations (Facebook group), 27 March 2016.

5 Roman Catholic Church (Niestronno, Mogilno, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland), “Księgi metrykalne, 1722-1952,” Akta małżeństw 1815-1865, 1850, no. 8, Joseph Drahim and Marianna Radłoska, 7 July 1850; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/: 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2151453, Item 3/DGS no. 8120936, image 593 of 1037.

6 Roman Catholic Church, Trzemeszno parish (Trzemeszno, Gniezno, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1874,” Copulatorum, 1837 – 1842, 1838, no. 22, Stephen Radłowski and Maria Kaszyńska, 11 November 1838; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 23 January 2022), Family History Library film no. 2004406, item 20/DGS no.8020665, image 847 of 873.

Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve: Lessons Learned from the Search for Magdalena Causin

In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.

1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key

Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.

2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees

Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.

Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.

Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.

3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom

Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.

Figure 1: Detail from Collins-Leeds analysis of Aunt Betty’s Ancestry DNA matches ranging from 20–300 cM showing Cluster 7. The pink/green shaded squares to the right are part of a supercluster between this group and the adjacent Cluster 8 (colored in green, not shown in this image), indicating matches in common between these two clusters, which implies related lines of descent.

The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: The “View Cluster” and “View Chromo Browser” options that appear for viewing more information about a particular cluster identified via autocluster analysis at DNAGedcom.

The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.

Figure 3: Details about Cluster 7, obtained by selecting “View Cluster” option in autocluster matrix generated at DNAGedcom.

Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Ancestors mentioned in family trees linked to autosomal DNA tests for individuals from Cluster 7, as identified by DNAGedcom.

The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Dennis (Dionisy) Hanzi in ancestor list generated by DNAGedcom for ancestors identified in family trees of DNA matches in Cluster 7.

Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.

4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record

The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1

Figure 6: Index entry from Ancestry’s database, “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995” for Mary M. Roberts.

However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 2: Detail of death record for Mary M. Roberts, showing age at time of death as 61 years, 6 months, 10 days (boxed in green).

When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.

Facepalm.

Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.

Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.

2 “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995,” database and image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FHH5-3XW : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, 27 February 1894, citing Wayne, Michigan, Deaths, v. 13-17 1893-1897, no. 3598.

From Curzon to Gosÿ: Finding Maria Magdalena Roberts

Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.

Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts

Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from St. Joseph’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2

Figure 1: Marriage record for Magdalena Causin and Michael Rupert from St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church (Detroit, Michigan) 12 May 1857.

The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4

Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5

Figure 3a: Left page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church showing baptismal record for Franc. Henricus Rupert boxed in red.

In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”

Figure 3b.

Figure 3b: Right page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church, showing baptismal record of Franc. Henricus Rupert boxed in red.

The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.

Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6

Figure 4a: Left page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit, showing baptism of Franz Georg Rupert, boxed in red. The mother’s name, Magdalena Casin, appears in the column on the far right.
Figure 4b: Right page of baptismal register from Old St. Mary’s Church in Detroit, showing baptism of Franz Georg Rupert, boxed in red.

The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.

To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7

Figure 5: Death certificate for Katherine “Kitty” Hecker, reporting mother’s name as Mary Couzens.

Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8

Figure 6: Detail from entry for Frank M. Roberts in the Buffalo Artists’ Register.

The Search for Causins in Buffalo

With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.

Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12

Figure 7: Baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, New York, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.

According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?

I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from St. Joseph’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.

I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?

Clues from the Causins’ Cluster

Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.

DNA to the Rescue

Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.

And that’s when it happened.

I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agatha (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!

A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.

In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.

Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17

Figure 8a: First page of the marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ from the civil registry office in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, 8 September 1829.
Figure 8b: Second page of marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy, showing signatures of groom and witnesses.

My transcription is as follows, with thanks to Margaret Fortier, CG, of the Genealogical Translations Facebook group who volunteered a bit of editing.18

“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829

L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”

I’ve translated the record below:

“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”

The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.

Figure 9: Detail from marriage record for Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy showing Joseph’s name written with a long s.

Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.

The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.

Figure 10: Locations of Pfetterhouse and Seppois-le-Bas within France. Google Maps.

The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,

“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19

So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.

On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.

While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Selected Sources:

Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.

11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and

1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and

Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.

2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

3 “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800-1995,” database and image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FHH5-3XW : 31 October 2021), Mary M. Roberts, 27 February 1894, citing Wayne, Michigan, Deaths, v. 13-17 1893-1897, no. 3598.

4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.

5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.

7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.

8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.

9 “St. Louis Roman Catholic Church,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis_Roman_Catholic_Church : 1 November 2021).

10History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York (Buffalo, New York: Verlag und Druck von Reinecke & Zesch, 1898), p. 38; e-book, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 November 2021).

11 “Western New York Genealogical Society (WNYGS) Discussion Group,” discussion thread from post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 23 November 2013, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/WNYGS/posts/10152032075711041 : 1 November 2021).

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.

13Andrew P. Yox, “The Parochial Context of Trusteeism: Buffalo’s St. Louis Church, 1828-1855,” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 4, Catholic University of America Press, 1990, pp. 712–33; JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/25023400 : 1 November 2021).

14 “Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy,” Facebook Group, Facebook, discussion thread from post on 26 October 2014, poster’s name omitted for privacy, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/alsace.genealogy/posts/10152755337639754 : 4 November 2021).

15 Ibid., discussion thread from post on 28 October 2014, poster’s name omitted for privacy, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/alsace.genealogy/posts/10152760909764754/ : 4 November 2021).

16 Officier de l’état civil (Pfetterhouse, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France), “Naissances, 1793-1862,” 1814, no. 6, birth record for Maria Anna Hensÿ, 29 April 1814, accessed as browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin, (https://archives.haut-rhin.fr/ark:/naan/a011455803237L7WIvz/e408e21f4f : 4 November 2021), image 194 out of 391.

17 Officier de l’état civil, Pfetterhouse, Altkirch, Haut-Rhin, France, “Mariages, 1793-1862,” 1829, no. 6, Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzÿ, 8 September 1829; browsable images, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin (https://archives.haut-rhin.fr/ark:/naan/a0114558031560HCYzb/5e563166a7 : 4 November 2021), image 192 of 338.

18 Genealogical Translations Group, Facebook, discussion thread from post by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, 29 October 2021 (https://www.facebook.com/groups/GenealogicalTranslations/posts/908406220105478/ : 3 November 2021).

19 “French Civil Code, Book 1: Of Persons, Title 5: Of Marriage,” The Napoleon Series (https://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/code/book1/c_title05.html : 4 November 2021).

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.

© 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