A Case of Mistaken Identity

Have you ever known something about your family for a fact, yet discovered through research that it’s just not true after all?  I’ve had this experience very recently, and it came about as a result of this blog post.  Recently, my mother-in-law’s cousin shared with me this photograph (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Konczal Fabiszewski family circa 1906 lower resolution 001He wondered if I might have any insight into who the people were.  I was excited to see the photo, and believed I could tell him exactly who these people were because Grandma Barth showed me this same photo before she died, and filled me in. I thought this photo would be a nice subject for a blog post, so I started to gather a bit of background documentation to provide some insight into the lives of the people shown here.  In the process,  I’ve discovered that things aren’t really what they seemed, and maybe — just maybe — Grandma might have been wrong about a thing or two.

I admit that I haven’t done much research with Grandma’s family.  She had accumulated so much information on her own, including where her family had come from in Poland, and preliminary research showed her information to be pretty accurate.  So it was easy to accept all her information as fact, and put this on the back burner while working on lines that seemed more challenging.  By way of background, Grandma Barth’s parents were Albert Drajem and Mary Kantowska, both born in Buffalo, New York, to Polish immigrants.  Mary Drajem, Grandma’s mother, was the fourth of seven children born to John Kantowski and Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska, who came to Buffalo from Łabiszyn, a small town in what is now Żnin County in the  Kujawsko-Pomorskie province of Poland, but what was at that time part of the Prussian Empire.  According to Grandma Barth, her maternal grandmother, Mary Kantowska, had several siblings who also eventually settled in Buffalo:  a brother, John Kończal, and sisters Katherine and Josephine.  Grandma also reported that Katherine married Constantine Fabiszewski and had seven sons, while Josephine married Teofil Mroziński, and had four children.  It is the Fabiszewski family —  Constantine, Katherine, their children, and an old woman, whom we’ll discuss more closely in a moment — who are shown in this photograph.

The Fabiszewski Family of Buffalo, New York

Figure 2 shows the Fabiszewski family in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census:

Figure 2:  Extract of 1910 U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Constantine Fabiszewski family:

Fabiszewski family 1910 census

Based on their heights in this photograph, it seems logical to infer that the oldest son, Peter, is standing in the back row, behind his father, with his brother Casimir to the left in the photo, and Leon to the left again, behind the old woman.  The fourth-oldest son, Frank, appears to the be boy holding the candle and prayer book, both of which suggest that this portrait was taken on the occasion of his First Communion.  The very youngest son, Stanislaus, is standing between his parents, with Joseph and Anthony to the left in the photo of the old woman.  So who is the old woman?

The Mysterious Anna (née WoźniakKończal

Grandma Barth told me that this woman was her own great-grandmother, that her name was Anna (née WoźniakKończal, and that she was the mother of Katherine Fabiszewski, John Kończal, Josephine (née Kończal) Mroziński, and Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska (Grandma’s grandma).  Grandma remembered her vividly, even though Grandma was only six years old when Anna died in 1922.  She’s buried in St. Stanislaus Cemetery, whose records indicate that she was 60 when she died,conflicting with Grandma’s assertion that her great-grandmother died at the age of 70.  In 1920, per both Grandma and the 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Anna was living with the family of her daughter Mary Kantowski, in the same house as Grandma Barth’s family (Figure 3):

Figure 3:  Extract of 192o U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Kantowski and Drajem families at 221 Clark Street.  Anna Konczal is noted as mother-in-law to head of household, John Kantowski. 1920 Census Kantowski family

Grandma Barth appears in this census as “Jennie,” age 3 years 8 months.  The census indicates that Anna is a 70-year-old widow (Grandma wins on the age question!) and a resident alien who immigrated in 1891.  This immigration year is in contrast to her daughter Mary, who immigrated in 1886 with her husband John.

That 1891 immigration year gave me a good lead in finding her passenger manifest,2 which shows Anna and daughter Josepha Konszal (sic) arriving at the Port of New York on 19 November 1892 (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Passenger manifestfor Anna and Josepha Konszal (sic), 19 November 1892:Konszal passenger manifest 1892

 

Anna is 40 here and Josepha is 16, which is consistent with their dates of birth from other sources.  They’re from “Clotildowo, Germany,” which fits nicely with the village of Klotyldowo, a village which belonged to the Catholic parish, in Łabiszyn.  They’re headed to Buffalo, New York, which makes sense.  So we know that Anna came over with the then-single Józefa, but was living with her daughter Mary in 1920.  Where was Anna during those intervening years?

Well, ten years earlier, in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Anna Kończal  seems to be found living with her daughter, Józefa Mrozińska, and family (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Extract from the 1910 U.S. Federal Census for Buffalo, New York, showing the Mroziński family.Teofil Mrozinski family 1910 census

Although we suspect immediately that this is really “our” Anna Kończal and not Teofil’s mother, there are a couple of problems.  Anna’s name is misrendered as “Kończak” instead of “Kończal,” and she is erroneously reported to be Teofil’s mother, and not his mother-in-law.  However, “Kończak” seems pretty close to “Kończal,” and her age and year of immigration match up nicely with the information for “our” Anna that was reported on the 1920 census.  Unfortunately, it can be argued that these latter facts might also be true for Teofil’s mother, so they don’t constitute irrefutable evidence that this Anna is his mother-in-law and not his mother.  Perhaps his mother remarried a man named Kończak after Teofil’s father died, so she was no longer “Mrs. Mrozińska” at the time of the census.  Fair enough.  So how do we resolve this problem?

Next stop, Pennsylvania

Well, Teofil and Josephine’s marriage record should tell us their parents’ names.  Where do well look for that record?  If you’ll notice, the final column on the right in Figure 4 indicates that the oldest two Mroziński children, Stanislaus and Casimir, were born in Pennsylvania, while the younger two were born in New York. Similarly, if you go back to Figure 1, you see that the oldest two Fabiszewski boys, Peter and Casimir, were also born in Pennsylvania.  These data suggest that both the Mrozińskis and the Fabiszewskis might have married in Pennsylvania, prior to the births of their children there.  Sure enough, I found records of marriage for both couples in Shamokin, PA.

The  Mrozińskis’ marriage record  (Figure 6) gave valuable information, but no surprises.

Figure 6:  Marriage certificate for Teofil Mroziński and Józefa Kończal, 1894.Teofil Mrozinski and Jozefa Konczal marriage 1894 crop

Both the bride and groom are from Prussia, consistent with the “German Polish” notation found on census records.  Teofil was living in Shamokin and working as a miner.  His parents were Andreas Mroziński and Rozalia Mrozińska (no maiden name provided).  Josephine was also living in Shamokin, working as a domestic, and her parents’ names are given as Franciszek and Annie Konczal [sic].  Taken together, these facts offer conclusive evidence that the “Anna Kończak” living with the Mroziński family in Buffalo in 1910 really is Teofil’s mother-in-law, and not his mother.

Will the Real Katherine Fabiszewski Please Stand Up?

However, the real surprise came with the marriage record for Josephine’s sister, Katherine, to Constantine (Konstanty, in Polish) Fabiszewski (Figure 7):

Figure 7:  Marriage certificate for Konstanty Fabiszewski and Katarzyna Kubiak, 1894.

Konstanty Fabiszewski and Katherine Konczal 1894 crop marked

Katherine’s name is given as Katarzyna Kubiak, not Kończal, and she’s the daughter of John and Agnieszka Kubiak!  What?  How can that be?  Grandma said that Katherine was sister to John, Mary and Josephine Kończal, and she’s been right about everything else so far!  How could Katherine be a Kubiak?  Could there be two Konstanty Fabiszewskis in Shamokin, both about the same age, both married to women named Katherine?  Well, stranger things have happened, but then where is the marriage record for Katherine Kończal? And didn’t Grandma say that her great-grandmother’s name was Anna (née WoźniakKończal, not Anna (née KubiakKończal?

At this point, I don’t have enough data to resolve this problem.  More work needs to be done. Grandma Barth has proven to be a very reliable source in the past, but this could very well be an instance in which she’s wrong.  I looked back to see where Grandma might have gotten the idea that the surname Woźniak was associated with this family, and found it in Mary Kantowska’s birth certificate, an official copy of which Grandma had carefully preserved (Figure 8):

Figure 8:  Official transcript from 1906 of Mary Kantowska’s 1891 baptismal record from St. Stanislaus Church, Buffalo, New York

Maria Kantowski 1891.jpg

This indicates that Mary Kantowska’s parents were, in fact, John Kantowski and Maria Kończal, and that her godparents were John Kończal and Anna Woźniak. John Kończal is likely to be Mary (née Kończal) Kantowska’s brother, whom Grandma mentioned among the known Kończal siblings. So Woźniaks might indeed be connected to the Kończal-Kantowski family, but this does not explain why Katherine, who was purportedly”née Kończal” Fabiszewska, is actually Katherine, née Kubiak, Fabiszewska.

The Poznań Project Weighs In

Some interesting insight is gained by search results from the Poznań Project. A search for Franciszek Kończal and Anna, no surname specified — which are the names reported for Josephine’s parents on that marriage record — reveals the following (Figure 9):

Figure 9:  Extract of results from Extended Search in the Poznań Project for marriages between grooms with name Franciscus/Franz/Franciszek Konczal and brides named Anna.Franciscus Konczal and Anna Kubiak Poznan Project hit

Here we see Kubiak again, and in Łabiszyn, the home parish of Grandma’s Kończals.  Anna Kubiak’s age in this record suggests a birth year of 1844 –older than what we would expect based on U.S. records, which point to a birth year of 1850-1852, but within the ballpark.  Moreover, a search for Jan Kubiak and Agnieszka, no surname — the names reported for Katherine Fabiszewski’s parents — produces this hit (Figure 10):

Figure 10:  Extract of results from Extended Search in the Poznań Project for marriages between grooms with name Joannes/Jan/Johann Kubiak and brides named Agnes/Agnieszka.

Jan Kubiak and Agnes Konczal

Curiouser and curiouser!  Same parish, and it would seem that Katherine Fabiszewski’s mother was a Kończal.  Taken together, this might suggest a case of siblings marrying siblings — perhaps Joannes Kubiak and Anna Kubiak were siblings, and they married siblings Agnes Kończal and Franciscus Kończal.  The records from Łabiszyn and Buffalo will tell us for sure.

The Mysterious Anna (née Woźniak) (née Kubiak) Kończal

So where does this leave us?  Who IS the woman in the photo, after all?  Is she Grandma Barth’s great-grandmother, Anna (née Kubiak) Kończal?  If so, why is she in a portrait with the family of her probable niece, and not her daughter?  Was Grandma mistaken, and this photo shows Katherine Fabiszewski and her family with her own mother, Agnes (née Kończal) Kubiak?  It appears that Grandma was misinformed about Katherine Fabiszewski being a sister to her own mother, Mary — present data suggest that they were cousins, or perhaps double cousins, but not siblings.  Yet one wonders if it’s even possible that Grandma would misidentify her own great-grandmother in a family photo.  Like Grandma Barth, I was six when one of my great-grandmothers died, and I can easily pick her out in old family photos.  The very fact that this photograph was handed down in Grandma’s family, and not just in the Fabiszewski family, suggests that it was significant to both families, possibly due to the image of a shared great-grandmother.  Moreover, when Anna Kończal died in 1922, her daughter Mary Kantowska was 54, and her granddaughter Mary Drajem (Grandma Barth’s mother) was 31.  Surely they were the ones to pass this photo down to Grandma Barth, and they would have been able to correctly identify their own mother and grandmother.

There are two final bits of information that we can wring out of that 1910 census listing for Anna Kończal in Figure 4.  The “M1” in the column after age tells us that Anna Kończal was married once, and that she’s been married for twenty years.  The next two numbers tell us that she was the mother of six children, three of whom were still living at the time of the census. Starting with those numbers about Anna’s children, the fact that is says three children still living at the time of the census is significant — not four, Katherine, John, Mary and Josephine — as Grandma Barth recollected.  This would make sense if Grandma was wrong about Katherine Fabiszewska being one of the Kończal siblings.   The next bit, about the “M1/20” only adds to the confusion, however.  Josephine Mrozińska is reported to be 36 years old at the time of this 1910 census — making her 16 at the time of her mother’s wedding, if her mother’s only been married 20 years.  So the census-taker appears to have erred with at least some part of that story.  Either this is a second marriage for Anna, or she’s only been married once, but Josephine was born 16 years out of wedlock.

It’s hard to think of a single hypothetical scenario that would resolve all these conflicts in the data. I considered the fact that perhaps Anna Woźniak was married twice — first to a man named Kubiak, with whom she had Katherine, and then to Franciszek Kończal, with whom she had Josephine, John and Mary.  But if that were the case,then the mother’s name reported on Katherine Fabiszewska’s marriage record should be Anna, and not Agnieszka, and we would expect to see two marriage records for Anna in the Poznań Project.  It’s possible that mistakes were made in recording the census, and also possible (though it seems less likely) that a mistake was made in the marriage record.  Further research should be able to resolve these conflicts and reveal the full story.  In the meantime, we’re left with something of a mystery, and questions today where I thought I had answers yesterday.

Sources:

Note:  Where possible, links are provided to sources online.  Other sources are summarized below.  

1St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Cemetery (Buffalo, Erie, New York, USA) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Phone Call, Inquired about a burial for Anna Konczal.  Was informed that she died on April 23, 1922 at age 60 and was buried April 26, 1922  in Sec. K, Lot 79, Grave 7.  Her funeral was at Corpus Christi Church and Urban Funeral Home.

2Anna Konszal, 19 Nov 1892; citing departure port Rotterdam, arrival port New York, ship name Werkendam, NARA microfilm publication T715 and M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), accessed on 30 August 2016.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

Grandma Barth’s Box of Genealogical Treasures

My husband’s grandmother, Joanna “Jean” (née Drajem) Barth was the family historian for her generation, and I loved her for it.  I loved her for other reasons, too, of course, but listening to her stories about Buffalo’s East Side in her childhood and youth gave me such a vivid impression of Buffalo’s pious, hard-working Polish immigrants who brought with them their language, culture, faith, and traditions and created a microcosm of Poland in their new homeland.  Grandma Barth was my Grandma-in-law for seventeen years before she passed away in 2008 at the age of 92, but she was mentally sharp as a tack until she died and an incredible font of family knowledge.  She could tell me names, birth, marriage and death dates from memory for the entire extended family for several generations, with stories about each person, all in her East-Side Polish accent that was somehow comforting to hear.

Grandma Barth’s stories laid the foundation for my research into my mother-in-law’s family.  In the spring of 1999, she traveled from Buffalo to our home in Illinois for our third son’s christening.  I remember spending as much time as possible during that visit, cradling my baby in one arm while typing with my free hand, inputting all the family data from Grandma’s memory into Family Tree Maker.  A few years later, she was back for another christening, this time for my daughter, in 2003.  And this time, she brought with her a plastic shoebox that I came to refer to as, “Grandma Barth’s Box of Genealogical Treasures.”

This plastic box contained newspaper clippings, funeral home prayer cards (my family always called them “obrazki,” which means, “pictures” in Polish), and assorted scraps of paper on which Grandma had jotted down bits and pieces of family history.  Never one to waste paper, most of these notes were written in Grandma’s neat, careful penmanship on the backs of junk-mail coupons for pizza and car washes.  What she preserved was amazing.  There were obrazki in there from the 1930s  through the early 2000s. Her parents’ marriage certificate was there, along with other vital records.  There were newspaper articles about her home parish, Corpus Christi, a collection of articles about Fr. Justin Figas (founder of the Father Justin Rosary Hour, a Polish-language radio program) and a series of “Anniversary Books” from Corpus Christi, arranged according to month. Each monthly book covers the years 1898 through 1997, and lists the names of all those who died in the parish during that month in each year.

I tried to photocopy as much of it as I could during her visit, but I recognized that care needed to be taken with this project.  Some of these newspaper death notices had been trimmed into tiny, yellowed bits of paper not more than two inches square.  Moreover, there was clearly an organizational system in place that must be respected. Grandma paper-clipped the scraps of paper together in batches, and put these individual batches into plastic storage bags according to the branch of the family tree to which they belonged. Grandma admitted that in some cases, she didn’t know exactly how some of these people fit into the family, she only knew that they were cousins, which made it all the more important to maintain the associations between the documents which she created through her organizational scheme.

As much as I wanted to photocopy all of it, there was only so much that I could do, given that I had a houseful of out-of-town guests visiting for my fourth child’s christening and only a few days’ time.  Grandma told me there was no rush — she wanted me to have the box when she passed away.  In the meantime, though, she wanted to share it with a cousin.  I thanked Grandma wholeheartedly, congratulated myself on getting as much scanned as I did, and went back to raising my family and researching my family tree.

After Grandma passed away in 2008, we discovered that the box was missing.  The cousin who was supposed to have it didn’t remember anything about it.  My mother-in-law asked around the family, but no one seemed to know what happened to it.  It was presumed to have been thrown out with the trash.  It was an inestimable loss — I was sick at heart over the thought of so much family history, Grandma’s legacy, rotting in a landfill somewhere.

But as you can tell from the photo at the top, the story has a happy ending, and my worst fears never materialized.  One day last spring, my Mom-in-law got a phone call from this cousin, saying he’d found a box of her mother’s things, and he’d like to return it to her.  She called me immediately, and said, “I have some good news for you!  Are you sitting down?  My cousin found the box!”  So this past weekend, several of us got together for breakfast, including Mom, her cousin, Grandma’s youngest sister, and me, and the box found its way back to me at last, looking exactly as I’d remembered it.  Mom’s cousin also kindly shared with me some additional family history treasures from his personal collection.  The poor man was so apologetic — Grandma never mentioned to him about her intentions for the box, and he had no idea what kind of treasure trove he was sitting on.  I’m sure that my discoveries based on the contents of this box will fill quite a number of future blog posts, but it’s going to take some time to process and analyze all of this.  In the meantime, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few of the “goodies” from the box.

Figure 1:  Obrazek from the funeral of Agnieszka (née Jamrozik) Drajem, Grandma Barth’s paternal grandmother, who died 13 February 1946.

Agnieszka Drajem obrazek 1946

 

Figure 2:  Notes from Grandma’s notebook regarding the family history on her mother’s side (Kantowski and Kończal).

Grandma Barth notebook p 1

 

Figure 3:  Photocopy of newspaper interview with John and Mary Kantowski (Grandma Barth’s maternal grandparents), published circa 1934.

Streets of the East John & Mary Kantowski interview

So you can see why I’m pretty excited!  So far I’ve scanned 27 “batches” of clippings, and there’s still more to go.  Here’s to you, Grandma Barth, with love and gratitude for all your love and diligence in preserving the family history for future generations to enjoy.