Party Like It’s 1899, Continued

In my last post, I wrote about an imaginary visit to the year 1899, prompted by a post in the Facebook group, “GAA (Genealogy Addicts Anonymous)” In that group, Admin Claudia D’Souza recently posed the question to the members of the group, “Imagine you wake up and you are in the year 1899! Who are you going to visit, & what are you going to find out?” I had quite a bit of fun thinking about that question—so much fun, in fact, that I decided to break up my musings into two posts. Since I already discussed my game plan for visiting and interviewing my relatives on my paternal side, I’ll move on now to my plan for visiting my maternal relatives, based on hypothetical time travel to August 31st, 1899. I’ve updated the interactive map to include all the new places I’ll be visiting on my journey.

My Maternal Grandmother’s Family

Many of my Mom’s relatives were already in Buffalo by today’s date in 1899, so I’ll start my journey there. I’ll head first to 25 Clark Street, on Buffalo’s East Side. This is where 22-year-old Weronika/Veronica Grzesiak has been living in Buffalo for a little over a year, boarding with the family of Michał/Michael and Marianna/Mary (née Derda) Staszak.

Figure 1: Wedding portrait of Weronika Grzesiak and Jan Zażycki, 5 August 1901, Buffalo, New York. Left to right, Tadeusz Grzesiak (brother of the bride), Jan Zażycki, Józefa Grzesiak (sister of the bride), Weronika Grzesiak.Veronica Grzesiak & John Zazycki wedding

Veronica, who will be my great-grandmother, named Michael Staszak as the relative she was going to join, and her passenger manifest clearly states “brother-in-law and sister,” which suggests that she must be related to his wife. Interestingly, Polish records offer no evidence that Veronica and Mary were related in any way, much less through a relationship as close as sister or half-sister. However, Mary Staszak was from Kowalewo-Opactwo, the same village in which Veronica grew up, so it’s probable that they were good friends. Moreover, Veronica and Mary traveled together on the S.S. Willehad when they made the journey from Kowalewo to Buffalo, along with Michael and Mary’s two children, 9-year-old Józefa and 7-year-old Franciszek.

I know a lot about Veronica’s ancestry, yet I still have questions about her family. I know that at least two of her siblings, Władysław and Konstancja, moved to Warsaw and were married there in August 1898 and June 1898, respectively. What prompted their move? Did any of the other siblings move as well? What happened to Pelagia, the sister who disappears from the records after her birth in Kowalewo in 1869? I know that Veronica is working hard in the kitchen of a restaurant and saving up her money to bring her father and siblings to the U.S. I also know that one year from now, her father, Józef, and siblings Tadeusz, Józefa, Władysław, and Władysław’s wife, Kazimiera, will join her in Buffalo. Why will her mother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak, not come as well? Will she merely choose to stay in Warsaw with her daughter Konstancja and Konstancja’s husband, Julian Cieniewski?

By May of 1900 when most of the family leaves for America, Konstancja will already be pregnant with her daughter Wiktoria, due in December. Will she simply plead for her mother to stay with her and help her through the birth, until Marianna finally relents and allows her husband and other children to go to America without her? Or was something else going on? Why will Józef report on his passenger manifest that he was a widower, and why will three of her children appear not to know their mother’s name, reporting it variously on U.S. records as Anna Nowacka, Mary Cebulska, and Marianna Szafron? Why will the story be handed down that Marianna Grzesiak was already deceased by the time Veronica left for America, when in fact she will not die until 1904? All these facts seem to suggest that Marianna was estranged from her family for some reason. Was this the case, or am I just over-interpreting the data?

More answers might be found by visiting her family in the Old Country, so I’ll book passage to Bremen or Hamburg, and from there, make my way to Warsaw, where I hope to find Weronika’s oldest brother, Władysław Grzesiak, and his new bride, Kazimiera (née Olczak), living in the Koło neighborhood within the Wola district of the city. I’ll want to ask Władysław where his parents are living, and which of his siblings are also living in Warsaw. I expect I’ll find the youngest sister, Józefa, here, since family stories handed down among her descendants suggest that she, too, may have lived in Warsaw just prior to emigration. It may very well be that the entire Grzesiak family has moved here within the past year. Władysław’s marriage record from August 1898 stated that his parents were living in “Borowo,” although the record failed to specify which place was meant, out of nearly two dozen places by that name located within the borders of Poland today. However, Józef Grzesiak was apparently living in Warsaw by 27 March 1899, since he was named as a witness on the birth record for his first grandson, Marian Cieniewski, son of Konstancja Grzesiak and Julian Cieniewski. Sadly, the record notes that baby Marian was born alive and was baptized with water, but died the same day.

Once Władysław gives me his parents’ address, I will be eager to visit the home of Józef and Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak, my great-great-grandparents. They’re a couple shrouded in mystery for me, for reasons already described. It’s speculation, but I’ve often wondered if Marianna might have suffered from some mental illness. In an era when mental illness were poorly understood, it was not uncommon for families to distance themselves from their afflicted loved ones, even going so far as to tell the younger generations that their elder relative was already deceased. It’s difficult to understand precisely why Marianna’s death record from 1904 states that she was a pauper, living in Zagórów, the village of her birth, yet survived by her husband, Józef. Why would she have been a pauper, since she had a husband and at least one adult daughter living in Warsaw, who might presumably be able to care for her? A visit to 1899 won’t tell me where and when Józef will eventually die, and his death record has not yet been discovered. Still, I will enjoy the chance to get to know them a bit, and also to discover whether the unique pierogi recipe handed down in my family—filled with a combination of sauerkraut, potatoes, and onions—originated with Marianna, or was an invention of her daughter Weronika. 

When my visit with the Grzesiaks has ended, I’ll head back to Buffalo, to 44 Lathrop Street to visit Weronika Grzesiak’s future husband and my great-grandfather, Jan/John Zażycki. John is a 33-year-old molder in a factory, who has been living in the U.S. for 4 years and has already declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen. I wonder if he and Veronica have met yet? While I know something of Jan’s paternal ancestry, his mother, Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, has been a stumbling block for me. Maybe he can tell me where she was born, and where his parents were married. Maybe he can tell me something about her siblings and parents. Was he really the only one of the 11 children in his family who immigrated to America, as present data suggest? What prompted that move?

Antonina herself was still alive in 1899, so when I’ve finished my interview with John, I’ll return to Poland (imaginary travel is cheap, after all!) and make my way to the small village of Bronisławy, about 43 miles west of Warsaw. There I’ll find Antonina and her husband, Ignacy Zarzycki. Ignacy is a 71-year-old peasant farmer who owns his own land—a gospodarz, in Polish. His wife is about the same age, and they are the parents of 11 children, although they have already buried four of them, including a son, Roman, who died 8 years ago at the age of 19. Ironically, their son John will also have a son named Roman who will die an untimely death at the age of 23, but they don’t know this yet. I’m sure they’ll be eager for information about John, and how he’s faring in America. I’ll be equally eager for information on the whereabouts of their son, Tomasz, for whom I’ve not yet been able to locate a marriage or death record. Given the difficulty with obtaining records from parishes in this area, it’s likely that he married and settled in another nearby parish, but which one? 

Mostly, however, I’ll want to hear Antonina’s story. Is my current hypothesis correct, that  her parents were Mateusz Naciążęk and Petronella Trawińska? Who were her siblings? It will be fascinating to meet this woman whose origins have been such a mystery to me, my most recent ancestor about whom so little is known. Antonina won’t be able to tell me where she will die, of course, but I will be sure to ascertain the whereabouts of all of her living, adult children, since she may go to live with one of them when her husband Ignacy passes away in two years’ time. I have evidence that two of her children, Leonard and Karol, moved to Warsaw, while two daughters, Aniela Gruberska and Marianna Gruberska, were living in villages within the nearby parish of Młodzieszyn.  A third daughter, Ewa Klejn, was living in the vicinity of Sochaczew in 1880, but at the present time that’s all I know. 

My Maternal Grandfather’s Family

Having concluded my visits with my maternal grandmother’s family, I’ll book passage back to America to meet my maternal grandfather’s relatives. My journey will take me back to Buffalo once again—back to Clark Street, no less—where my great-great-grandparents, Andrzej/Andrew and Marianna/Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, are living at 43 Clark Street, less than a block away from the home of Veronica Grzesiak.

Figure 2: Wedding photo of Mary Łącka Klaus and her second husband, Władysław/Walter Olszanowicz, 21 November 1916, North Tonawanda, New York. Back Row, left to right: Apolonia/Pauline Klaus Sobuś (Mary’s daughter), holding her son, Edward Sobuś; Stanisław/Stanley Sobuś (Pauline’s husband); Anna Klaus Gworek (Mary’s daughter); Jacob Gworek (Anna’s husband); Genowefa/Genevieve Klaus Zielinska (Mary’s daughter, my great-grandmother).
Front Row, left to right: Julia Sobuś Ziomek (Cousin Jul, daughter of Pauline Klaus Sobuś); Unknown (most probably the groom’s marriage witness, Mary Jedrychanka); Walter Olszanowicz ; Mary Łącka Klaus; Joseph Zieliński (Genevieve’s husband, my great-grandfather); Marie Gworek Glitta (crouching on floor, Anna’s daughter); Helen Klaus (Mary’s daughter)null_00001

In 1899, Andrew is a 33-year-old day laborer and the father of three daughters, Anna, Pauline, and Genowefa/Genevieve (my great-grandmother, Figure 3). He and his 32-year-old wife Mary have already buried two children, a daughter named Zofia/Sophia, and a son named Bolesław. Andrew is also the step-father to Mary’s two sons, Joseph and John, who were born prior to their marriage. On this date in 1899, Mary is heavily pregnant with the couple’s sixth child, Edward, who will be born on September 11th. I know a great deal about both of their families, but there are still missing details.

Figure 3: Genevieve Klaus on her First Communion day, circa 1907.Genevieve Klaus 1st Communion circa 1907

I’ll want to ask Andrew what happened to his brother Michał, who disappears from the records in Poland. I’m also curious to know why he chose to move on to Buffalo, New York, instead of remaining in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, where his brother John Klaus was already living. I’ll be very interested to ask Mary what happened to her father, Jakub Łącki, and her brother, Józef/Joseph, who immigrated with her. Jakub disappears from the records completely after the passenger manifest documenting his arrival in New York in 1884. There’s a family story about a family member who died on the voyage, but it was supposed to be one of Mary’s and Andrew’s children. There’s no evidence that Mary and Andrew knew each other until he arrived in Buffalo circa 1890; could it be that the story got confused, and it was Mary’s father, Jakub, who died on the voyage? Evidence for Joseph Łącki after emigration is also scant. Where is he now? 

After planting a kiss on the forehead of the toddler who will be my great-grandmother, it’s time to return to Sochaczew County in the Russian Empire, this time for a visit to the village of Mistrzewice. Once in the village, I’m sure the locals will be able to direct me to the farm of Stanisław and Marianna (née Kalota) Zieliński, my great-great-grandparents. Stanisław is a 36-year-old farmer (gospodarz) whose father first moved to Mistrzewice from the nearby village of Bibiampol, just a few miles to the south. Marianna grew up in the village of Budy Stare, about five miles to the east. They are the parents of seven sons, although only five of them are currently living: 13-year-old Franciszek, 7-year-old Józef (my great-grandfather), 4-year-old Szczepan, 2-year-old Władysław, and baby Jan, who was just born in March.

Figure 3: Wedding photo of Joseph Zielinski and Genevieve Klaus, 6 October 1915. The best man, Franciszek/Frank Zielinski, seated on other side of the bride, and the woman seated on the other side of the groom is most likely the maid of honor, Josephine Urbaniak.Genevieve Klaus & Joseph Zielinski wedding party

I have a pretty good handle on the deeper ancestry of both Stanisław and Marianna, for at least a few generations. Due to the difficulty in accessing records, I don’t know the names of Marianna’s maternal great-grandparents, but then again, she may not know them, either. Mostly, I’ll enjoy this opportunity to get to know the two of them, observing their interactions with each other and with their children. There are no family stories whatsoever about what Stanisław was like, but the stories that have survived about Marianna, who will die in 1936, don’t paint a picture of a very kind woman. That said, Marianna will experience a great deal of loss in her life, as she will outlive her husband and nine of her ten children. But right now, that’s mostly in Marianna’s future. Perhaps now, in 1899, she is a more cheerful, hopeful woman—a younger wife and mother, still in the prime of her life.

I have one final stop to make before I leave the year 1899, to the village of Budy Stare, to meet Marianna’s father—my great-great-great-grandfather, Roch Kalota. In his prime, Roch was a farmer, but now he’s about 61, and I wonder if he’s starting to slow down and let his sons do more of the hard work around the farm. My understanding of Roch’s family is somewhat incomplete. I know that he married a 21-year-old widow, Agata (née Kurowska) Orlińska, in 1858, and that they had at least seven children together. There are a few gaps in the chronology of their children’s births, however, due to difficulty in accessing church records from their parish, so hopefully Roch can fill those in for me. Agata passed away in 1895, and most of his children are married and have children of their own. The youngest two (that I’m aware of), Katarzyna and Antoni, are still unmarried and living at home, and I’ll enjoy chatting with them as well.

That will wrap up my time-travel to the year 1899. All in all, this was a pretty enjoyable exercise, imagining the life of each of my ancestors in that particular year in their lives. Pondering what is known about each person also helps me to see how much is still unknown in each family’s story. In some cases, this information may yet be discovered without any time machines, so I don’t mean to suggest that every question raised here is necessarily a “brick wall.” It may be that the answers will be found easily, once I make time to do the research, or once I’m able to gain access to the records. So it’s probably time to get back to the present and start looking for the documents that will lead me to the answers I seek. 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

DNA Testing for the Scientifically Challenged

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

Going Beyond the Ethnicity Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

first three chromosomes showing matching segments

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

Chromosome Mapping with DNA Painter

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

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

dna painter screenshot

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

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

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

dna painter crop

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBD or…Not?

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

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

The Nuts and Bolts of Autosomal DNA Testing

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

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

raw dna data

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

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

The Big Problem of Small Segments

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

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

Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained.

Leah Larkin’s blog, The DNA Geek.

CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist.

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

 

The Many Wives of Józef Grzesiak

Veritatem Temporis filiam esse dixit.” (Truth is the daughter of time.) — Aulus Gellius

Conflicts in documentary evidence happen all the time. The logical resolution of such conflicts is one of the hallmarks of sound genealogical research that separates the professionals and experienced family history researchers from the novices. A perfect illustration of this is the story of my great-great-grandfather, Józef Grzesiak, and his many (?) wives.

Growing up, I used to ask my maternal grandmother to tell me about her mother’s family in Poland, and my desire to document those stories inspired my early family history efforts. Grandma’s mother was Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki, but Grandma never knew the names of her grandparents, because “people didn’t talk about those things back then,” as she told me time and again. Nevertheless, Grandma knew a few details, such as the fact that her mother’s parents owned the grain mill that I wrote about previously. She told the story of how “Veronica’s mother died when Josephine was born, so at age 18, Veronica came to America. She found employment working in the kitchen of a restaurant.  She spoke no English, so her employers called her Mary and they communicated through signs and gestures.  She saved her money and sent it to her two brothers, Władysław (“Walter”) and Tadeusz, (Thaddeus), and her sister Józefa (Josephine), so they could come to America.”1 Grandma also told the story, shared previously, of how Walter married an actress in Poland who didn’t want to leave her career, which ultimately ended their marriage.

When I started my research, I didn’t know whether or not I’d ever be able to document some of these details, but I figured that it should be easy to answer the question, “Who were Veronica Grzesiak’s parents?” And in fact, it was pretty easy. On her marriage record to John Zazycki in 1901, Veronica reported her parents’ names as Joseph Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczynska (Figure 1).2

Figure 1: Marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak, 5 August 1901.2Jan &amp; Weronika Zazyki Marriage 1 marked

This document also told me which partition of Poland Grandma’s parents were from (Russian), and Veronica’s age reported here, 22, allowed me to estimate that she was born circa 1879. So far, so good.  However, when Veronica’s brother Thaddeus was married to Mary Gorski, he reported his parents’ names as Joseph Grzesiak and Mary Cebulska (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: Extract from marriage record for Thaddeus Grzesiak and Mayme (Mary) Gorski, 20 April 1910.3

Tadeusz Gresiak &amp; Marya Gorska marriage record 1 marked

Now this was interesting, and it seemed like just the kind of detail that those family stories were likely to gloss over, since “people never talked about these things back then.” Okay, I concluded, no big deal, apparently Veronica and Thaddeus were half-siblings, sharing a father, but different mothers.

However, their sister Josephine named yet a different mother on her marriage record. When she married Joseph Cymerman in 1902, she stated that her parents were Joseph Grzesiak and Anna Nowacka (Figure 3).4

Figure 3: Extract from marriage record for Joseph Cymerman and Josepha Grzesiak, 5 August 1902.4

Jozefa Grzesiak &amp; Jozef Cymermann marriage record 1 marked

Well, okay, maybe Joseph Grzesiak was very unlucky and lost two of his wives, so he married for a third time. It happened. But then there is yet another wife’s name reported on the death record for the oldest Grzesiak sibling, Walter (Figure 4).5

Figure 4: Extract from death record for Walter Grzesiak.5

Walter_Grzesiak_-_death

On this document, Walter was reported to be the son of Joseph Grzesiak and Maryanna Szafron. Now, most genealogists consider death records to be less accurate sources for information about an individual than some other types of records (e.g. marriage records) since the informant is probably grieving, possibly in shock, and may not be well-informed about the early life of the decedent, including parents’ names.  However, in this case, the informant was none other than Thaddeus (signing himself here as Theodore) Grzesiak — Walter’s brother.

So what do we make of this?  We have four siblings, all children of Joseph Grzesiak, but four different mother’s names reported on four different documents by three of the siblings.  Were they all half-siblings, each with the same father but a different mother?  I ran this theory past Grandma while she was still alive, and she didn’t buy it.  She had never heard of Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine being half-siblings to her mother, but she had no explanation for the discrepancies on the documents.  The maiden names reported for the mothers — Marianna Krawczyńska, Marianna Szafron, Marya Cebulska, and Anna Nowacka — weren’t even phonetically similar, apart from the fact that the siblings more or less agreed on a first name of Marianna. And was it grief that caused Thaddeus to change his story, reporting on his own marriage record that his mother was Maria Cebulska but then deciding 36 years later that her name was Marianna Szafron? Was it possible that the Grzesiak siblings did not even know their own mother’s name?  Perhaps there was an explanation:  Grandma said that Veronica’s mother had died (shortly?) after the birth of the youngest sibling, Josephine. Since Thaddeus and Veronica were only 7 and 5 when Josephine was born, maybe none of the children knew her well?

The only way to answer this question was to examine evidence from Polish records. The birth records for Walter, Veronica, Thaddeus and Josephine should tell us who their mothers were. If Joseph had several wives who died in succession, there would be death records for those wives and marriage records to tell the tale.

Polish Records to the Rescue

A very robust paper trail consisting of naturalization records (Figure 5),6 passenger manifests,7,8 and draft registrations,9 in addition to a personal recollection shared with me by Tadeusz Grzesiak’s son, Arthur Gray,10 all pointed to the Grzesiaks’ place of origin as the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County, which was at that time located in the Kalisz gubernia (province) of Russian Poland.

Figure 5: Władysław Grzesiak’s petition for naturalization, 23 January 1917, showing place of birth “Kowalewo, Poland, Russia” on 17 September 1867.Walter Grzesiak Petition

In the church records of Kowalewo, birth records were discovered for each of the immigrant Grzesiak children. Władysław Grzesiak was born 20 September 1867, fairly consistent with the birth date he reported for himself on his naturalization petition (Figure 6).11 

Figure 6: Polish-language birth record for Władysław Grzesiak, born 20 September 1867, with names of parents and child underlined in red.11OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In this document, Władysław’s parents are reported to be Józef Grzesiak, age 26, a farmhand (parobek) residing in Kowalewo, and his wife, Maryanna née Krawczyńska, age 20. Similarly, the birth record for Tadeusz Grzesiak was discovered, and his parents, too, were reported to be Józef Grzesiak and Marianna née Krawczyńska (Figure 7).12

Figure 7: Russian-language Birth record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, born 27 March 1874, with names of parents and child underlined in red.12Tadeusz Grzesiak birth record marked

It’s evident that there’s a language change between these two records. Władysław’s birth record was written in Polish, while Tadeusz’s birth record was written in Russian. This was one of the punitive measures imposed by the Russian Government on Polish territories as a result of the failure of the January Uprising of 1863. Prior to 1867, the use of the Polish language was permitted in official record-keeping, but starting in 1868 (earlier in some areas) official records and even church records were required to be kept only in Russian. Tadeusz’s birth date, 27 March 1874, is a few years off from his date of birth as he reported it on his World War II draft registration — 24 March 1878. However, it was not unusual for people to report their dates of birth inaccurately in an era when there was no reason to know this information precisely, as there is today. In this document, Józef Grzesiak was reported to be a 33-year-old “master of the house” (хозяин), while his wife, Marianna, was age 31. The age difference between Józef and Marianna, which was 6 years in the first record, has magically diminished to 2 years, but again, such discrepancies are very common in these records.

Next, we have the birth record for my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, who was born 27 December 1876 (Figure 8).13 

Figure 8: Russian-language birth record for Weronika Grzesiak, born 27 December 1876, with names of parents and child underlined in red.13Weronika Grzesiak birth marked

Once again, parents were recorded as Józef Grzesiak, “master of the house,” of Kowalewo, age 37, and his wife, Maryanna née Krawczyńska, age 33.

Finally, the birth record of Józefa Grzesiak was discovered.14 Józefa was born 6 March 1881, and yes, her parents were none other than Józef Grzesiak and Marianna née Krawczyńska (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Russian-language birth record for Józefa Grzesiak, born 6 March 1881, with names of parents and child underlined in red.14Jozefa Grzesiak birth record

This time, Józef Grzesiak was recorded as “master of the house,” age 40, while his wife, Marianna, was age 37. Ultimately, Józef’s and Marianna’s dates of birth can only be known accurately when their birth records are discovered — and I discovered those a long time ago, but that’s another story for another day.

As if this weren’t sufficient evidence to put to rest the notion that the immigrant Grzesiak siblings were half-siblings, the icing on the cake was the search in marriage records and death records for any marriages for Józef Grzesiak or death records for previous wives. The only marriage record discovered was his marriage in Kowalewo in 1865 to Marianna Kawczyńska (sic) (Figure 10).15

Figure 10: Polish-language marriage record from Kowalewo for Józef Grzesiak and Maryanna Kawczyńska (sic), 31 October 1865 with names of the groom and bride underlined in red.15Jozef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczynska marriage

The fact that this is the only marriage record found for Józef Grzesiak in Kowalewo is unsurprising, given that all of his children’s birth records name the same mother, Marianna Krawczyńska. The date of the record makes sense — they were married about 2 years before Władysław’s birth in 1867, not an unusually long period of time to be married prior to the birth of an eldest child. Józef was described as a 25-year-old bachelor, born in Cienin Zaborny but residing in Kowalewo with his parents, Stanisław and Jadwiga, at the time of his marriage. Marianna was noted to be age 22, born in Zagórów and residing in Kowalewo, daughter of Antoni and Wiktoria.

So at the end of the day, there is absolutely no evidence in Polish records for any wives of Józef Grzesiak other than Marianna Krawczyńska, whom he married in 1865 and with whom he had 6 children: the four immigrant Grzesiak siblings, as well as two daughters, Konstancja and Pelagia, who remained in Poland, and whose story I touched on a bit previously. There was no Maria Cebulska, no Anna Nowacka, no Marianna Szafron. They didn’t exist. Grandma Veronica was the only one of her siblings who accurately reported her mother’s name on a document in the U.S. So where did Tadeusz and Józefa come up with those names? Maybe Grandma was right all along — “people just didn’t talk about those things back then.” Maybe Tadeusz and Józefa really had no idea what their mother’s name was. One thing is certain, though: Marianna Grzesiak did not die when Józefa was born, or even shortly thereafter. No, Marianna Grzesiak died in Russian Poland in 1904, when her youngest daughter Józefa was 23 years old and married.16 So isn’t it a little odd that at least two of her children didn’t appear to know her name, and that the story was handed down that she died before Veronica and her siblings left Poland for America? I have some speculations about that, but it’s another story for another day.

Genealogists usually find that the best strategy for handling conflicting evidence is to keep gathering data until the truth emerges. Sometimes some analytical skill is required to interpret the data, but at other times, it’s just a question of perseverance to find the right records to settle the question. In this case, one could look at the data from U.S. records and conclude that Józef Grzesiak had three or four wives, or one could dig deeper, find the Grzesiak children’s birth records and Józef and Marianna’s marriage record from Poland, and know the truth.

Sources

1 Helen Zielinski, interviews by Julie Szczepankiewicz, circa 1986-1998; Notes from interviews privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2018.

2 City of Buffalo, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak, 5 August 1901, certificate no. 202, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

3 New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for Thaddeus Grzesiak and Mayme (Mary) Gorski, 20 April 1910, certificate no. 9051, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

City of Buffalo, Bureau of Vital Statistics, marriage record for Joseph Cymerman and Josephine Grzesiak, 5 August 1902, certificate no.198, Buffalo, Erie, New York, Erie County Clerk’s Office, 92 Franklin Street, Buffalo, New York.

New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946, no. 2600, Buffalo, Erie, New York.

Wladyslaw Grzesiak, Petition for Naturalization, No. 4950, 23 January 1917, Supreme Court of New York, Buffalo, Erie, New York.

7 Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 (image), Veronika Grzesiak, S.S. Willehad, April 1898, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 25 February 2018.

Maryland, Baltimore Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 (image), Jozef, Kazimira and Jozefa Grzesiak, S.S. Rhein, May 1900, https://www.familysearch.org, accessed 25 February 2018.

World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for New York State, 04/27/1942 – 04/27/1942; NAI Number: 2555973; record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147, record for Tadeusz George Grzesiak, http://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed 25 February 2018.

10Arthur Gray, interview by Julie Szczepankiewicz, circa 1998; Notes from interview privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, 2018.

11 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1867, births, #39, record for Władysław Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczyński, Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78 Konin, Poland.

12 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1874, births, #17, record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl, accessed on 25 February 2018.

13Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),  Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1876, births # 72, record for Weronika Grzesiak, accessed on 25 February 2018.

14 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki) (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1881, births, #15, record for Józefa Grzesiak, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl, accessed on 25 February 2018.

15Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki), Księga urodzeń, małżeństw, i zgonów, 1865, marriages, #10, record for Józef Grzesiak and Maryanna Kawczynska, 31 October 1865, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach, http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl , image 20.jpg, accessed on 25 February 2018.

16 Roman Catholic church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, Akta zgonów 1891-1906, 1904, #52, death record for Marianna Grzesiak, DGS 8018016, Image 383, accessed on 25 February 2018.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

Overview of Vital Records in Poland, Part II: Practical Implications of Historical Practices

In my previous post, I gave an overview of the history of vital records in Poland.  Today I’d like to go into a little more detail about the implications of that history.   Originally I thought I’d offer some examples of vital records from the different partitions as well, but in the interests of keeping these individual blog posts to a reasonable length, I think I’ll break it down a bit further and include those additional examples and observations in a “Part III.”

1.  First, there is no single, centralized repository for vital records in Poland (or in any other country, for that matter).

It sure would be nice if there were, but just as in the U.S., where  you have to go to a town clerk’s office to find a civil marriage record, and a parish to find a church marriage record, the same is true in Poland — more or less. The lines get a bit blurred because of the role that church officials played in acting as civil registrars, so sometimes it’s not immediately apparent whether a given register is the original church register or a civil transcript.  It’s probably safe to say that the state archives have more civil records collections than they do church books, but the state archives do have plenty of original church books nonetheless, as you can see from this collection.  Theoretically, church records more than 100 years old are supposed to be transferred to the appropriate diocesan archive, just as their civil counterparts are supposed to be transferred from the registry office to the appropriate state archive.  However, some parishes choose not to comply with this, so it’s not uncommon to find parish priests with 300 years’ worth of vital records sitting in their office.

Because of this, you may have to get creative in order to get full coverage for your parish of interest, and check a variety of sources.  Some diocesan archives are more forthcoming than others about what their holdings include, and some parishes and diocesan archives aren’t very responsive to requests for records by mail, so I often find it’s most expeditious to hire a local researcher to investigate holdings and obtain records from parishes or archives.  For example, for my ancestral parish of Kołaczyce, records can be found in the parish, in the Archdiocesan Archive in Przemyśl, in the USC (civil registry office), and in the Sanok Branch of the Polish State Archive of Rzeszów (Figure 1):

Figure 1:  Vital Records Coverage Table for Kołaczyce, Podkarpackie province, Poland

Repository Range of Years for Birth Records Range of Years for Marriage Records Range of Years for Death Records
Sanok Branch of the State Archive in Rzeszów

1900-1908

1871-1896

1863-1906

USC in Kołaczyce Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present
Archdiocesan Archive in Przemyśl 1746-1782; 1826-1889 1748-1779; 1826-1889 1762-1779; 1826-1889
St. Anne’s Church in Kołaczyce 1784-present 1784-present 1784-present

As you can see from this table, there’s quite a bit of overlap in the coverage, which is nice, but there are also a few gaps.  The Archdiocesan Archive’s collection only includes births through 1782, which suggests that birth records from 1783 are missing, since the parish collection of birth records begins in 1784.  Similarly, there’s a 4-year gap from 1780-1783 in both marriage records and death records.  It’s not clear why the State Archives have relatively few records and such a disparate range of years for the different vital events, but the fact that there’s so much overlap in coverage means that researchers interested in this parish won’t lack for material.

Coverage differs dramatically in different parts of Poland.  If you’re researching in Galicia, you’re lucky, because coverage there is generally good.  Researchers in Mazovia might have a different experience, however.  Figure 2 shows the coverage table for another one of my ancestral parishes, Młodzieszyn, in Sochaczew County.

Figure 2:  Vital Records Coverage Table for Młodzieszyn, Mazowieckie province, Poland

Repository Range of Years for Birth Records Range of Years for Marriage Records Range of Years for Death Records
Grodzisk Mazowiecki Branch of the State Archive in Warsaw  

1885-1912

 

1889-1911

 

1889-1901

USC in Młodzieszyn Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present Presumably, 1916 to present
Diocesan Archive in Łowicz —- —- —-
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Młodzieszyn 1945 to present 1945 to present 1945 to present

This area suffered a great deal of damage during the Battle of the Bzura in 1939, and all the vital records from before 1885 were destroyed.  All of them.  Gone.  The point here is that your mileage may vary quite a bit when it comes to the availability of records for your ancestral parish of interest.  Records may exist dating back to the 1600s, or the only existing records may be relatively recent.

2.  The existence of separate record books for each village within a parish in Austrian Poland/Galicia means that you can search for individual village names in sites like Baza PRADZIAD and Szukajwarchiwach, rather than searching only under the parish name.

For example, the village of Nawsie, which belonged to the parish in Kołaczyce, has its own collection of birth records here (births from 1859-1900) at the State Archive Branch in Sanok.  As a corollary to this, since I know that my ancestors were from Kołaczyce, the other villages belonging to that parish would be the very next place I would look for records, if I could not find a record of a particular vital event in Kołaczyce itself.  Note that this is only true for villages and parishes that were within Austrian Poland/Galicia.  If I want to find records for the village of Wierzbno in Słupca County, Wielkopolskie province, which was in Russian Poland, I will not find them by searching under “Wierzbno” in Baza PRADZIAD, Szukajwarchiwach, or any other site which indexes or catalogues  Polish vital records.  Instead, I have to use a gazetteer to determine the parish, which is Kowalewo-Opactwo in this case.  Records from Russian Poland and Prussian Poland typically note the home village(s) of the key participants within each record, but all the records are bound in the same book.

3.  The existence of separate record books for each village within a parish in Austrian Poland means that you need to identify the present parish for the village, when requesting records from the parish itself.

As new parishes are created in Poland to serve the evolving needs of the community, parish borders change.  When a village that belonged previously to one parish is reassigned to a new parish, all the old record books for that village are transferred to the new parish.  As an example, my great-great-grandfather Andrzej Klaus was born in the village of Maniów in gmina Szczucin in the Małopolskie province in 1865.  At that time, Maniów belonged to St. Mary Magdalene parish in Szczucin, so that is the church in which he was baptized.  However, in 1981, a new parish  called Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and of the Rosary,was founded in the village of Borki,  and the village of Maniów was assigned to this new parish.  So when I visited Poland last summer, and wanted to see the original record book which contained Andrzej Klaus’s baptismal record, that book was in the shiny new parish in Borki rather than in the centuries-old parish in Szczucin.

Of course, in this case the problem is somewhat academic, because these records are also available on microfilm from the LDS.  However, it does frequently happen that the desired parish records that are not available online or on microfilm, and in that case, it is incumbent upon the researcher to determine the correct parish to write to before making an inquiry.

4. The fact that duplicate copies were created in every partition increases the likelihood that at least one copy survived.

There’s a pervasive myth out there that “all Polish records were destroyed in the wars” that often keeps people from even trying to find those records.  While it’s true that many records were destroyed, there are plenty of records that survived, and in some places, it’s possible to find both the civil and the church record for the same vital event.  As an example, Figure 3 shows the church version of the 1843 baptismal record for my great-great-grandmother, Marianna Krawczyńska,from the parish of Zagórów, in what is now the Wielkopolskie province, but was at the time part of Russian Poland.

Figure 3:  Baptismal record from Zagórów for Marianna Krawczyńska, born 1 February 1843.1film 2162127 item 2 record 31 page 226

The record is in Latin, in paragraph form, and it’s fairly brief.  It’s dated February 2, and in translation, it indicates that the same priest who was named in the preceding record baptized a female child named Marianna, born the previous day at 9:00 in the evening, daughter of Antoni Krawczyński and his lawful wife, Wiktoria Dęboska. (The spelling of Wiktoria’s surname is usually standardized to “Dębowska” in modern Polish.)  Godparents are also named.

In contrast, Marianna’s civil birth record2 includes quite a bit more information (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Civil birth record from Zagórów for Marianna  Krawczyńska, born 1 February 1843.2 maryanna-krawczynska-1843

The translation is as follows:  “It came to pass in the village of Zagórów on the 21st day of January /2nd day of February, at 3:00 in the afternoon.  He appeared: Antoni Krawczyński, shoemaker, of Zagórów residing, having 39 years of age, in the presence of Mikołaj Otto, shoemaker, age thirty, and Sylwester Bogusławski, farmer, age 41, both residing in Zagórów, and showed us a child of the female sex born in Zagórów in house number 113 (?), born yesterday at 9:00 in the evening of his wife, Wiktorya née Dęboska, age 37. To this child at Holy Baptism performed today, was given the name Maryanna, and her godparents were the aforementioned Mikołaj Otto and Antonina Bogusławska. All parties mentioned in this Act were of the Catholic religion. This act was read aloud to the declarant and witnesses, but signed by us only, because they do not know how to write. [signed] Fr. Mikołaj Wadowski, Pastor.”

Although the key facts are identical between these two records, the civil version includes the names, ages, occupations, and places of residence of two adult, male, legal witnesses in addition to the age, occupation, and place of residence of the father.  This particular record provides the address of the house where the child was born, although this information may be omitted, depending on the parish.  The use of double dates for both the date of baptism and the date of birth was required by the Russian authorities, and reflects the fact that Poland and Western Europe had adopted the Gregorian calendar, while Russia and Eastern Europe persisted in using the old Julian calendar.  The second date (Gregorian) is the one we use today.

This brings us to our next point:

5. Whenever both church and civil records exist for the same vital event, get both.  One may be more informative or accurate than the other.

In Russian Poland and Prussian Poland, the civil transcrips were created in parallel, at the same time as the church record.  So a record from the civil transcript (“Kopie księg metrykalnych”) is likely to be as accurate as one from the parish register, (“Księgi metrykalne”) though it might contain additional information, as shown with Figures 1 and 2.  However, one would predict that discrepancies between the church and civil records might occur somewhat more frequently with civil transcripts (“Kopie księg metrykalnych”) from Galicia, where church records were recopied at the end of the year.  If a discrepancy were found between the civil transcript and the parish register for a vital event from Galicia, I would be inclined to trust the parish register over the transcript.  In many cases, only one set of records (church or civil) is available, so you may not have the luxury of comparing the two.

6. If you’re looking for a relatively recent record, and the state archive does not have it, write to the USC for the township where the village is located.

As an example, my great-great-grandmother had a sister, Barbara Mikołajewska, who died in 1926 in Juliopol, gmina Młodzieszyn, Mazowieckie province.  Since her death occurred more than 80 years ago, it is classified as archival, and therefore anyone may request a copy whether or not they are a direct descendant.  However, If you check the holdings of the state archives (e.g. Baza PRADZIAD, as discussed previously) you see that the the local archive for Młodzieszyn, which is the Grodzisk Branch of the State Archive of Warsaw, only has death records for Młodzieszyn going up to 1901. Records from 1926 have not yet been transferred to the local state archive, so this particular record was still found in the USC for Młodzieszyn.  Tip:  USCs can be rather slow to respond to requests for records, especially if you don’t have an exact date for the event.  You may have better luck with hiring a local researcher to visit the USC in person to obtain records for you.

In the next post, I’ll provide some additional examples of vital records from all three partitions, as well as a few additional tips and observations.  In the meantime, happy researching!

Sources:

1Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1592-1964, 1843 #31 birth record for Marianna Krawczyńska, p. 226.; 2161271 Item 5.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Zagórów (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), 1843, #31, birth record for Marianna Krawczyńska, accessed on 18 September 2016.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

Walter Wed Where? Wow! A Genealogical Breakthrough

The sweetest victories are the ones that took the longest time in coming.  A couple days ago, I happened upon some documents that fundamentally changed my understanding of my Grzesiak family history, documents I’ve been seeking for many years.  So there is some major happy dancing going on in the Szczepankiewicz house today, albeit limited to just one of its residents.

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo and Buffalo, New York

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the family of my great-grandmother, Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki.  Veronica immigrated from the little village of Kowalewo-Opactwo in Słupca County to Buffalo, New York, where she was eventually joined by three of her siblings:  Władysław (“Walter”), Tadeusz/Thaddeus, and Józefa/Josephine.  Regarding Veronica’s oldest brother, Grandma told me that Walter had married an actress in Poland, whose name Grandma remembered as “Wanda,” but she didn’t want to leave her career, so he left her and came to the U.S. without her. There were no children from this marriage.

When I began to look for documentation for these family stories, I realized the situation wasn’t exactly as Grandma had portrayed it.  The 1900 census (Figure 1) shows the Grzesiak family all living on Mills Street in Buffalo, consisting of patriarch Joseph, sons Władysław and Thaddeus, daughter Jozefa, and daughter-in-law Casimira — Walter’s wife of two years.  Clearly, Walter’s wife DID come to Buffalo, rather than staying in Poland while he left without her – but her name was Casimira, not Wanda. The census goes on to state that at that time, she was the mother of 0 children, 0 now living, consistent with family reports.

Figure 1:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, showing the Grzesiak family.1900 United States Federal Census - Kazimira Grzesiak

In the 1905 New York State Census (Figure 2), Walter and Casimira were still living in Buffalo, so the marriage lasted at least 7 years.  Subsequent records (e.g. the 1940 Census) do indeed show Walter as divorced or a widower.

Figure 2:  Extract from 1905 New York State Census showing Walter and Casimira Grzesiak.1905 NY State Census for Walter Grzesiak

Walter’s death certificatereports his ex-wife’s name as “Katarzyna Dutkiewicz (Figure 3), and the informant was his brother, Thaddeus.

Figure 3:  Extract from Walter Grzesiak’s death certifcate.Katarzyna Dutkiewicz

Clearly, Thaddeus made a mistake with the first name, reporting it as Katarzyna (Katherine) instead of Kazimiera/Casimira.   So how much faith should we put in his version of her maiden name, Dutkiewicz?  Death records are often viewed with some circumspection, since someone other than the deceased is providing the information, and that person might be grieving or in shock.  However, it was all there was to go on, and it seemed like it should have been a good start:  Name, Kazimiera Dutkiewicz (or similar), born about 1880 (based on those census records), married to Władysław Grzesiak in Poland circa 1898.

The Hunt Is On!

Since Walter Grzesiak was born in Kowalewo-Opactwo, it seemed logical that he would have married somewhere in that vicinity, although not necessarily in that parish.  Things get a little tricky with the records for Kowalewo-Opactwo in that time period.  Records are not online, or on microfilm from the LDS, so one must write to the Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań to request a search.  Moreover, although Walter was baptized in Kowalewo, that parish was temporarily closed from 1891-1910.  Parish operations were transferred to the church in nearby Ląd, but after 1911, the parishes and their records were separated again.   Unfortunately, the archive reported that there was no marriage record in Ląd for Władysław Grzesiak, or for any of his siblings, during this period.

Initially, this finding didn’t concern me too much.  It’s traditional for a couple to marry in the bride’s parish, so this suggested merely that Kazimiera was from some other parish in the area.  So how does one find a marriage in the Poznań region, when one has no idea what parish the couple married in?  The Poznań Marriage Project, of course.   For those who might be unfamiliar with this resource, the Poznań Project is an indexing effort conceived by Łukasz Bielecki, which is intended to include all existing marriage records for the historic Poznań region from 1800-1899.  Currently, the project is estimated to be at least 75% complete, so there was a good chance I’d be able to find Walter and Casimira’s marriage in there. Frustratingly, there were no good matches, so I assumed that their marriage record must be among the 25% of existing records that remain unindexed.  At this point, finding it would be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  I put this on the back burner and went back to more productive research on other family lines.

Until two days ago.

My Breakthrough

It seemed like a perfectly ordinary Wednesday afternoon.  I paid bills, ran some errands, took the cat to the vet, and sat down to check e-mail.   But if you’re like me, some small part of your brain is always thinking about genealogy, and suddenly it dawned on me:  the family story was that Casimira was an actress.  How could she have been an actress in a small village with a couple dozen farms?  She must have been from a big city — Warsaw!

Immediately, I went to Geneteka, my favorite database for indexed vital records from all over Poland.  Normally, I advise people to use documentation from U.S. sources to determine where their ancestors came from before they start randomly searching records in Geneteka, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and I had a pretty specific idea of what I was looking for.  But would the record be there?  Geneteka is not complete — it’s a brilliant, ambitious idea, and new indexes for different parishes and different time periods are constantly being added, but it still represents only a fraction of the vital records available in the tens of thousands of parishes and civil registries across Poland.  In this case, my hunch paid off, and Geneteka came through for me. I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I saw what had to be their marriage record (Figure 4):

Figure 4:  Geneteka search results for Grzesiak marriages in Warszawa between 1897 and 1899.

Geneteka

I hit “skan” to get a copy of the record itself (isn’t Geneteka great?!) and here it is, in all its glory:Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Olczyk 1898 crop

The record is in Russian, because Warsaw was in the Russian Empire in 1898 when the event took place, so here’s my translation:

“223. Koło. It happened in Wola parish on the eighteenth/thirtieth day of August in the year one thousand eight hundred ninety-eight at five o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that, in the presence of witnesses Adam Franczak and Wincenty Płocikiewicz, both ecclesiastical servants of Wola, on this day was contracted a religious marriage between Władysław Grzesiak, age thirty-seven, miller of Koło residing, born in Ląd, Słupca district, son of Józef Grzesiak, owner, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing, and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, age eighteen, single, with her mother residing, born in Warsaw, daughter of an unknown father and mother Paulina Olczak, seamstress, in Koło residing.  The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns on the 2nd/14th, 9th/21st, and 16th/28th days of August of the present year.  The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them.  Permission was given orally by those present at the ceremony.  The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by the Reverend Jan Kowalski.  This document, after being read aloud, was signed by us and by the groom because the witnesses state that they do not know how to write.”2

Let’s break this down a bit.  First, the double dates are often confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the format of Polish civil records, but they’re a result of the fact that Poland and Western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar  while Russia and the Eastern Europe continued to use the old Julian calendar.  In order to have these records be clear to everyone, both dates were included on legal documents like this.  The second, later date is the date according to the Gregorian calendar, which we would go by.

Second, Kazimiera’s name isn’t Dutkiewicz, as expected — but we’ll worry about that in a minute.  The date of the marriage (1898) is correct, as is the groom’s name, and parents’ names.  His age is a bit off (he should only be 30, not 37), but it’s not unusual for ages reported in these records to be very much “ballpark estimates.”  Walter was actually born in Kowalewo, not Ląd, but if you recall, the parish functions had been transferred from Kowalewo to Ląd at this time, so perhaps this can be interpretted as a reference to that.

Getting back to Kazimiera, her age (18) matches with what we expected based on U.S. records.  The priest doesn’t mention her budding theatrical career, but perhaps her star had not yet risen very far (if it ever really rose at all).  So this is clearly the right marriage record.  But how did we get from Olczak to Dutkiewicz?

The answer lies again in the indexed records of Geneteka (Figure 5):

Figure 5:  Geneteka search results for marriage records with surnames Olczak and Dutkiewicz between 1880 and 1900:

Olczak

It appears that shortly after Kazimiera’s birth in 1880, her mother Paulina married Tomasz Dutkiewicz.  Whether Tomasz Dutkiewicz ever legally adopted Kazimiera is doubtful, but this certainly explains why she might have at least informally used the name of her step-father as her own.

But Wait, There’s More!

So all this is nice, right?  But why is a marriage record for a great-granduncle really THAT exciting?  As I mentioned, my great-grandmother Veronica emigrated along with three siblings, Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine.  What we didn’t know until I began researching records from Poland, was that there were two additional siblings — Konstancja3 and Pelagia4 — who did not emigrate.  No descendant of the Grzesiak family in the U.S. that I interviewed was aware that these sisters existed.  The Konin Branch of the State Archive in Poznań had no record of marriage for either of them, and I was planning to write again to request a search for their death records, assuming they might have died before reaching a marriageable age.  However, I noticed that there was a marriage record for a Konstancja Grzesiak on the same page of Geneteka search results (Figure 4, result 2) that gave me Walter’s marriage record!  Sure enough, the marriage record5 reveals that Konstancja is the daughter of Józef Grzesiak and his wife, Marianna née Krawczyńska, residing in the village of Ląd.

Unfortunately, I still can’t find a birth record for Pelagia, and it’s still possible that she died before reaching a marriageable age.  But the implications of these new data are tremendous for me.  My great-grandmother arrived in the U.S. in March of 1898,6 and in June and August of that same year, her sister and brother each married in Warsaw, prior to most of her family joining her in Buffalo in 1900, while the one married sister stayed behind in Poland with her family in Warsaw.  Wow!   A little further digging confirmed that Konstancja also had children (Figure 6):

Figure 6:  Geneteka search results for birth records in Warszawa mentioning surnames Cieniewski and Grzesiak:

Cieniewski

So I might have cousins in Poland from this Cieniewski line!  However, it’s interesting that there are only two births.  Birth records for this parish, St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr, and St. Adalbert, in the Wola district of Warsaw, are indexed from 1886 to 1908 without any gaps.  Therefore one might expect to see more than two children born between their marriage in 1898 and 1908 when the records end.  There is no evidence that they immigrated to Buffalo, no good matches in U.S. census records for this family in Buffalo or anywhere else.  So where did they go?

The Grzesiaks of Kowalewo-Opactwo, Warsaw, Buffalo, and Borowo

One clue, in Walter’s marriage record, might point the way.  It stated that he was the son of “Józef Grzesiak, farmer, and his wife Maryanna née Krawczyńska, in the village of Borowo residing”  Borowo is new to me.  This is the first time this place has been mentioned in connection with my family.  And unfortunately, there are at least 20 places in Poland today by that name.  But if Borowo was where her parents were living at the time of Konstancja’s marriage, maybe that’s where she and her young family eventually went to live.  So which Borowo is correct?

Well, Konstancja’s marriage record, from just two months earlier, states that her parents were residing in Ląd.  That, and the fact that there were no good matches for a place called Borowo that’s very close to Warszawa, suggests that this may be the correct place, Borowo in Konin County, about 22 miles east of the Grzesiak’s previous home in Kowalewo-Opactwo:

map

According to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, a nice period gazetteer of Russian Poland published in 1877, the village of Borowo belongs to the Roman Catholic parish in Krzymów, so that’s where we can look for records.  Records are online and on microfilm, but only from 1808-1884, which doesn’t help us any with finding additional births to Konstancja and Julian Cieniewski after 1900.  However, the Branch Archive in Konin has birth records up to 1911,  so this is an obvious next step to take.

The Old Mill, Revisited

There’s one other really cool connection I’d like to make before I sum things up.  In my previous post about my Grzesiak family, I mentioned my grandmother’s recollection that her mother Veronica’s family owned a grain mill near the parish church.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find any reference to Veronica’s father being a miller.  However, when I visited Veronica’s birthplace of Kowalewo-Opactwo on a trip to Poland last year, I was amazed to see this old windmill, missing its vanes, in close proximity to the church, exactly as Grandma described.  So I found it fascinating that Walter’s marriage record described him clearly as a miller, even though a more general term (“хозяин,” meaning “owner,” but seemingly used as a non-specific synonym for “farmer” or “peasant”) was again used to describe his father, Józef.  This makes me more convinced that the mill in the photo actually was a place associated with Veronica’s family.  Maybe her father didn’t own the mill, maybe he just worked for the miller — but between the existence of this mill where it should be, based on Grandma’s story, and the fact that her uncle Walter was described as a miller, I think there’s good reason to believe that this was the mill that Grandma’s story referred to.  IMG_4542

That’s a Wrap

So what general research insights can be gained from this?

  1.  Once again, my ancestors were more mobile than I expected them to be — and yours might be, too.

When I began my research, I really thought I’d find “the” ancestral village for each surname line and be able to go back for many generations in that same village.  Time and time again, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.  I was so blinded by my expectation that Walter would have met his bride some place near to where he was born, that I overlooked obvious resources, like indexed records for Warsaw on Geneteka, because it seemed too improbable.  Logic requires us to search in the obvious places first — those associated with the family.  But when searching in the obvious places doesn’t pan out, it’s time to think outside the box.

2.  Family stories can sometimes hold the key.

If you are among the oldest generation in your family, it’s not too late to write down everything you remember from older relatives, for the next generation.  But if you still have any older relatives remaining, talk to them!  My third cousin and research collaborator, Valerie Baginski, told me that her grandmother always said that the family came from Warsaw, rather than Poznań, which was my family’s version of the story.  Once we figured out that our Grzesiaks’ ancestral village was Kowalewo-Opactwo, closer to Poznań than Warsaw, we dismissed that mention of Warsaw.  Since Warsaw was a bigger city than Poznań, we chalked up this discrepancy to our ancestors’ tendency to paint their place of origin with a broad brush, referencing the closest big city.  Now we realize that it’s quite possible her great-grandmother mentioned Warsaw because she was one of the younger siblings who may have lived there for a time, while my great-grandmother mentioned Poznań because she was the first one to leave Poland, and may never have gone to Warsaw with the others.

3.  Pay your dues.

This last “insight” is a shameless plug for Geneteka, the database for indexed Polish vital records that enabled me to find my Grzesiaks in Warsaw.  For those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, Geneteka is a project sponsored entirely by volunteers from the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne (PTG, or Polish Genealogical Society), in Poland.  Although all the indexing and photographing of vital records (for Geneteka’s sister site, Metryki, which I wrote about previously) is done by volunteers, funds are still required to pay for servers to host the websites.  If you’ve used Geneteka and found it helpful to you, please consider making a donation to the PTG.  Let’s help them to help us find our ancestors!

Walter’s marriage record was a puzzle piece that’s been missing for a long, long time.  It just goes to show you that you never know when that great idea will hit, or when serendipity will strike, so keep chipping away at those brick walls.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

Sources:

1New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, #2600, Death certificate for Walter Grzesiak, 25 April 1946.

2“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie,” Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #223, record for Wladyslaw Grzesiak and Kazimiera Marianna Olczak, accessed on 17 August 2016.

3Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016.

5“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej sw. Stanislawa i Wawrzynca w Warszawie “, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl:  Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/), 1898, Malzenstwa, #142, record for Julian Aleksander Cieniewski and Konstancja Grzesiak, accessed on 18 August 2016.

6Ancestry.com, Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1948 and 1954-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Records of the US Customs Service, RG36; NAI Number: 2655153; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85, record for Veronika Gresiak, accessed on 21 July 2016.

Featured Image:

Wodzinowski, Wincenty. Wesele. Digital image.Http://muzeuminstrumentow.pl/. Muzeum Ludowych Instrumentów Muzycznych W Szydłowcu, 18 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.  This painting from 1896 seemed very fitting for my cover photo, since it depicts a wedding celebration very close to the time when Walter and Casimira married.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016

 

The Old Mill

My son Daniel left for Poland yesterday.  I’ve been helping him prepare for his trip, and thinking a lot about my own amazing journey through Poland last summer, which included visits to all my ancestral villages that were known at that time.  And after my recent post about the 1791 purchase of a home in Zagórów by my ancestors, Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński, I’ve been thinking more about that line in particular.

My most recent ancestor with the Krawczyński surname is my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak.  It was Marianna’s daughter, Veronica, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl, married John Zazycki, and eventually gave birth to my grandmother, Helen (née Zazycki) Zielinski.  My grandmother died a year ago, but I vividly remember sitting in Grandma’s immaculate kitchen as a young teenager, asking her about her mother’s life in Poland before she came to this country.  I wrote down Grandma’s comments and kept them in mind as I began to document my family’s history.

Among the tidbits of family history that Grandma shared with me was the fact that her mother’s parents owned a grain mill.  They lived near the church and rectory, and Veronica’s mother sewed all the vestments for the parish priests.  Grandma never knew the names of her mother’s parents — it was up to me to find those, by following the paper trail.  And unfortunately, the paper trail didn’t exactly corroborate the story about owning a grain mill.  Polish vital records typically mention the occupation of the father in child’s baptismal record.  In Veronica’s baptismal record, shown below, her father, Józef Grzesiak, is described as, “‘master of the house,’ of Kowalewo, age thirty-seven.”1  The Russian word used to describe Józef’s occupation, “хозяин,” is unfortunately rather non-specific.  Shea and Hoffman  define it as “master of the house, owner; husband, man”2 although they add that, “сельскій хозяинъ” can be used to mean, “farmer.”  Weronika Grzesiak birth marked

 

Baptismal records for Veronica’s siblings describe Józef Grzesiak as a “parobek,”3 (farmhand), again with the Russian word “хозяин,”4,7,8 and with the Russian word, “наёмщик,”which Shea and Hoffman define as,”hirer, lessee, tenant, lodger.”6  But nowhere do we see the word for “miller,” in Polish or in Russian.  I had pretty much decided that this was one of those inaccuracies in family stories, something that had gotten slightly distorted in the oral history as it was handed down over four generations.  Until I got to Poland.

On August 3rd, 2015, my husband and I and our tour guide, Łukasz Bielecki, visited the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo, where my great-grandmother Veronica was born.  After stopping by the church of Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles and the parish cemetery, we stopped at the rectory to see if the pastor was home, and inquire if he knew of any parishioners with the Grzesiak surname.  That was when I saw it, right across the street from the rectory, and just down the street from the church and cemetery (on the left side of the street in this photo):IMG_4542

An old windmill, missing its vanes, long abandoned, from the look of it.  Could it possibly date back to Veronica’s youth in Poland in the 1880s and 1890s?  The location was striking — so close to the church and rectory, exactly as Grandma had described it to me.  And yet Veronica’s father was clearly not a miller, based on the available records, nor were her grandparents described that way.  Veronica’s paternal grandfather, Stanisław Grzesiak, was a shepherd from Cienin Zaborny9 and her maternal grandfather, Antoni Krawczyński, was a shoemaker from Zagórów.10  

So how do we reconcile this?  Perhaps Veronica’s family didn’t own the mill — perhaps she only mentioned that they lived near the mill, and my grandmother misremembered the story?  Or perhaps the records which describe Veronica’s father as a “tenant” or “farmhand” could be construed to mean that he was a hired hand, working for the miller?   The village miller held a position of some stature , so perhaps the priest recording the baptismal records would have been reluctant to describe Józef Grzesiak that way if he was only employed by the miller but did not own the mill.  I have no doubt about the truth of the story that Veronica’s mother, Marianna, sewed vestments for the parish priest.   Veronica supported her family as a seamstress after her husband died, and was known for her strong Catholic faith.  So it’s tempting to believe that somehow, that old mill near the church in Kowalewo might really be the one from Grandma’s stories, and might be connected with my family in some way.  What do you think?

Sources:

1“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1876, # 72, birth record for Weronika Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/65/skan/full/9J-ASKf3S2mu9O7J_5zYew.

2Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents:  Volume II:  Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 430.

3″Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki),” Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1867, births, #39, record for Władysław Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78, Konin, Poland.

4“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw i zgonów, 1869, births, #48, record for Pelagia Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016 http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/58/skan/full/ntP5qVh00anymNp2qgDJRw

5Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Kowalewo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1879, 1872, births, #5, record for Konstancja Grzesiak.; FHL #1191028 Items 1-4.

6Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents:  Volume II:  Russian. New Britain, CT: Language & Lineage Press, 2002, p. 392.

7“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowego Archiwum Cyfrowego, Naczelnej Dyrekcji Archiwów Panstwowych, Szukajwarchiwach (Szukajwarchiwach.pl), Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów, 1874, births, #17, record for Tadeusz Grzesiak, accessed on 21 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/771/0/6.1/63/skan/full/yD_N2CH4hl_7FF3PNvsoAg.

8“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Kowalewo-Opactwo” (Kowalewo-Opactwo, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), “Ksiega urodzen, malzenstw, zgonów”, 1881, births, #15, record for Józefa Grzesiak, accessed in person at the archive by Zbigniew Krawczynski.; Archiwum Państwowe w Poznaniu. Oddział w Koninie, 3 Maja 78 Konin, Poland.

9“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Cienin Koscielny (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), Ksiega urodzonych, malzenstw i zgonów, 1839, births, #4, record for Józef Grzesiak, accessed on 22 June 2016. http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/54/740/0/6.1/30/skan/full/hSeZeC8-TYbTYBA3GioEiA.

10Roman Catholic Church, Zagórów parish (Zagórów (Słupca), Poznań, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, 1843, Births, #31, record for Marianna Krawczyńska.; 2162128 Item 1.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

 

 

The Krawczyńskis’ New Home

This past week was pretty exciting for me in terms of genealogy.  My 6th cousin in Poland, Zbyszek Krawczyński, visited the State Archive in Poznań and found this deed from Zagórów in 1791, when our mutual 5x-great-grandparents, Andrzej and Marianna (nee Paczkowska) Krawczyński purchased their home from the original owners, Grzegorz and Agata Orczykowski1:

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My Polish is sufficient to allow a general understanding of the text, but a dear friend (and distant cousin of my husband’s), Anna Smith, provided the following clear translation:

“Having presented themselves in person to the Council Records Office of the town of Zagórów, the spouses Grzegorz and Agatha Orczykowski, residents and citizens of the town of Zagórów together with Izydor and Artoni Orczykowski, their natural heirs, declare voluntarily that, having a house standing in Rynek Nowy on the corner with Wodna Street, [indeed] with [?obonami] and the whole plot which belongs to it, they have agreed on the sum of 900 Polish Złoty in figures 900 with Andrzej and Maryanna Krawczyński, former citizens of Żerków and now residents and citizens of Zagórów, who, after coming to an agreement on the sum promised by themselves, nine hundred Polish Złoty in figures 900, counted this out and handed it to the sellers. Therefore Mr.Orczykowski and the purchaser Mr. Krawczyński confirm this immediately in writing, confirming that by the transaction entered into today, the Orczykowskis and their heirs give the aforementioned house to the Krawczyńskis in perpetuity, they renounce [their rights] and leave no property [whether] of their own or anyone else’s in the house. Indeed the informants freely allow themselves to sign in their own hand (illiterate, led by the hand). [signatures, each ‘with the hand held’]”1

This document places us in medias res regarding the Krawczyńskis and their story.  It’s better to begin at the beginning, but unfortunately, we don’t know where Andrzej and Marianna were born, or where they married.  However, we do know a few details about their lives, thanks to the research carried out by my third cousin, friend, and genealogical collaborator, Valerie Baginski.   Andrzej was born about 1745, based on his age at the time of his death,and Marianna was probably about four years younger than he.3  The first location mentioned in reference to them in the records is the town of Kościan in the Grand Duchy of Poznan (Wielkie Księstwo Poznańskie), where their oldest son, Marcin, was born circa 1773, as indicated by the record for his second marriage to Marianna (née Dymkoska) Stężalska,4 shown here:

film 2162131 item 2 record 11 page 66

We don’t know precisely how long Andrzej and Marianna might have stayed in Kościan, or if they had any additional children there who perhaps died in infancy.  Records for Kościan are available, and are on our research agenda, and perhaps these will give us further insights into Andrzej and Marianna’s earlier years.   But the next time they appear in the records is in the town of Żerków, where their son Sylwester was born on the Feast of St. Sylvester, 31 December 17795:

film 1981505 item 10

 

The town of Żerków is a little more than 45 miles from Kościan.  These distances always seem to beg the question of why people might have moved.  When I began my genealogical journey, I had visions of pinpointing tiny villages in Europe where people lived in quiet contentment for centuries, until the day when one brave, adventurous, or perhaps foolhardy soul — my immigrant ancestor! — ventured out to the New World.  So it came as something of a shock when I realized just how mobile my ancestors were.  I’m sure they probably moved for many of the same reasons we do today — seeking better economic opportunities, and a better standard of living for their families.  Andrzej’s mobility suggests that he wasn’t tied to the land as a farmer, so what did he do to earn his living?

The only document found to date which provides an answer is the marriage record for this same son, Sylwester, to Agnieszka Olęcka in 1813.  This document describes the groom as, “a bachelor, having thirty-four years of age, residing in Zagórów, begotten son of Andrzej Krawczyński, of the brewing craft, residing in Zagórów…”:6

Sylwester Krawczynski marriage crop

So what makes a brewer from Kościan pack up his family and move to a village 45 miles away?  By 1772, both those locations (Kościan and Żerków) would have been under Prussian control, so political motivations for the move seem unlikely.  We may never know their reasons, but the records of Żerków tell us that Andrzej and Marianna went on to have five more children there before moving once again, this time settling in Zagórów, another 20 miles east of Żerków.

The youngest of their seven children, Teresa, was not quite 7 months old7 when Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński purchased the house on Rynek Nowy on the corner with Wodna Street on 20 May 1791.  The translation of the record indicates that, after agreeing upon the sum of 900 zlotys, Andrzej and Marianna “counted this out and handed it to the sellers.” One wonders how much money this represented in those times, and how long it would take for a brewer and his wife, with 7 children, to save that money in cash in order to purchase a home.  I can imagine Andrzej’s hands might have trembled a bit as he counted it all out.  Or perhaps he inherited some or all of this money?  In any case, I attempted to determine how much this might represent in modern currency, by comparing it with the price of silver, on the basis of this article, which describes monetary reforms stipulated by King Stanisław August Poniatowski.  The system he instituted, which was in place until 1787, set the value of the zloty relative to value of silver as follows:

1 Cologne mark = 233.855 grams pure silver

1 mark = 10 thaler, so 1 thaler = 23.3855 grams silver

1 thaler = 8 zloty, so 1 zloty = 2.92 grams silver

Therefore 900 zloty = 2,630.87 grams silver

Today’s price per gram = $0.56, meaning they bought their house for $1,473.

Unfortunately, that extrapolation doesn’t work very well.  Another way to go about it might be to determine the price for a pint of beer in a pub in zlotys, and extrapolate based on that, as my friend Mente Pongratz did with success with old German currencies. However, I’m still trying to find some reference that indicates what a pint of beer might have cost in 1791, and if I’m successful, I’ll revisit this issue in another blog post.

Another question which comes to mind is where this house would have been located, and if perhaps any part of it remains.  To answer that, we need to look carefully at the modern map of Zagórów.  The house was described as, “standing in Rynek Nowy on the corner with Wodna Street.”  “Rynek Nowy” means, “New Market,” and a “rynek” in Poland is the market square that one typically finds in or near the center of most towns in Poland.  If one zooms out from this map of present-day Wodna Street, it’s not anywhere close to a market square.  Moreover, there’s no place called “Rynek Nowy,” in Zagórów today, so one must assume that a square which was considered “new” in 1791 has since been renamed.  With that in mind, the present-day “Duży Rynek,” shown here, seems to be a good candidate for that “Rynek Nowy”:Zagorow map

To the west of Duży Rynek, ending at the square, is a street called Kościuszko which merits further consideration.  Kościuszko Street was clearly named after Tadeusz Kościuszko, the military hero honored in both Poland and the U.S. He died in 1817, so in 1791, while he was still alive, it seems unlikely that he would have had any streets named after him.  Therefore, this seems to be a good candidate for the original Wodna Street.  Based on all of this, it would seem that the red brick shop shown here at 1 Duży Rynek, stands more or less on the site of the Krawczyńskis’ home in Zagórów.

It would be nice to confirm that hypothesis with cadastral maps.  A quick check of resources available from the various Polish State Archives doesn’t turn up anything promising here.  However, it should be noted that complete inventories are not available online for the State Archive in Poznań, so perhaps some such maps have survived.  In any case, I like thinking about Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński, raising their family in that house on the corner of the square.  I hope their years there were happy ones.

Sources:

1Zbygniew Krawczyński, Zagórów, Wielkopolskie, Poland to Julie Szczepankiewicz, e-mail, “Rok 1791,” 15 June 2016, with attached images of the deed of purchase and sale of the house on the corner of Wodna Street and Nowy Rynek, from Grzegorz and Agatha Orczykowski to Andrzej and Marianna Krawczyński, dated 20 May 1791.

2Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Zagórów, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1592-1964, 1819, Deaths, p. 206.; 2162126 item 1.  Andrzej was 74 at the time of his death.

3Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Zagórów, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1592-1964, 1821, Deaths,  p. 218, #17.; 2162126 item 1. Marianna was 72 at the time of her death.

4Roman Catholic Church, Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish (Zagórów, Słupca, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Kopie księg metrykalnych, 1808-1947, Akta małżeństw 1826-1833, 1828, #11, record for Marcin Krawczyński and Maryanna Dymkoska Stężalska.; FHL# 2162131 item 2.

5Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Żerków, Jarocin, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1683-1923, Akta urodzeń 1780-1781, 1780, baptismal record for Sylwester Krawczyński.; FHL# 1981505 item 10.

6“Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej Zagórów (pow. slupecki)”, Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Szukajwarchiwach (http://www.szukajwarchiwach.pl/), Akta malzenstw 1812-1813, 1813, #34, record for Sylwester Krawczyński and Agnieszka nee Olęcka Jabczyńska.

7Roman Catholic Church, St. Stanislaus Parish (Żerków, Jarocin, Wielkopolskie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne, 1683-1923, Akta urodzeń 1778-1830, 1790, record for Teresa Krawczyńska.; FHL# 1981505 item 10.  Teresa was born on 14 October 1790.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz