On the Trail of Stanisław Majczyk!

It’s probably happened to all of us: you get an email from a DNA match, and your curiosity is piqued to figure out the match. Some may think of this kind of research as pursuit of a BSO (Bright Shiny Object); others may think of it as a serendipitous research prompt. Today, I’m thinking it’s the latter, because it was thanks to this kind of spontaneous, drop-everything-and-go-down-the-rabbit-hole research, that I broke through a brick wall and discovered a new generation of names in my husband’s ancestry.

The Party of the First Part

It all started when Karen Benson (whose name I’m using with her permission) wrote to me regarding DNA matches on Ancestry between her family and my family. Specifically, both Karen and her brother were matches to my husband (Bruce), and two of our sons, and she was hoping I might be interested in collaborating to determine precisely how our two families are related. Since Bruce’s family is of entirely Polish ethnicity, she suspected that the connection was through one of her Polish grandparents, Franciszek/Frank Kondzik or Antonina “Anna” (née Kocot) Kondzik, rather than through the Slovak side of her family.

Karen had obtained good evidence that both Frank and Antonina were from the same part of Poland; namely, the area around the town of Różan. To briefly summarize, Frank’s naturalization petition stated that he was born in “Rozan, Poland” circa 9 July 1883 (Figure 1), and on his World War II draft registration card, his birth was reported as 8 June 1883 in “Roziun, Poland” (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Extract from naturalization petition for Frank Kondzik with date and place of birth boxed in red.1Frank Kondzik declaration

Figure 2: Extract from Frank Kondzik’s World War II draft card with place and date of birth boxed in red.2Frank Kondzik WWII draft card

Those birth dates are reported to a degree of precision that was typical for Polish immigrants of this era, so it’s okay that they don’t match exactly. There’s only one place within the borders of Poland today called Różan (and no places called Rozuin), so the evidence is consistent so far, and we’re off to a good start. Although vital records from Różan are indexed in Geneteka, coverage doesn’t begin until 1897, so it’s not possible to find Franciszek’s birth record to confirm the location. However, this surname does exist in this parish, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Search result from Geneteka for birth records from Różan parish with surname Kondzik. “Inne nazwiska Kondzik” means that the father of the person whose birth record was indexed, Franciszka Kłendzik, was noted to go by an alternate surname, Kondzik, in addition to Kłendzik.

Kondzik in Geneteka

Unfortunately, a search of PRADZIAD (the vital records database of the Polish state archives), accessed through Szukajwarchiwach, indicates that no Roman Catholic civil birth records for Różan prior to 1897 are in the holdings of the Polish state archives. It may be that these early records are available onsite at the parish, or in the diocesan archive in Łomża, but for now, we’re at a standstill. 

Although Frank’s naturalization declaration stated only that his wife’s name was Anna and that she was born in Poland, Karen had other evidence to help us locate Anna’s family in Polish records. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for Anna Kondzik provided her date of birth as 21 November 1890 and her date of death as 4 June 1992 (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Entry from SSDI for Anna Kondzik.3Anna Kondzik SSDI

Her grave marker confirmed that this same “Anna” Kondzik was originally Antonina (Figure 5), and her entry in the Social Security Applications and Claims index provided her parents’ names as “Vincent Kocot” and “Rosalie Kacmarchek” (Figure 6).

Figure 5: Antonina Kondzik in Ancestry‘s Find-a-Grave index.4Antonina Kondzik FAG

Figure 6: Anna Kondzik in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index.5 Anna Kondzik in SSA&C

Anna’s parents’ given names are translated, while her mother’s maiden name is transliterated, so we can expect that their names in Polish records will be Wincenty Kocot and something along the lines of Rozalia Kaczmarczak.

Anna/Antonina’s passenger manifest is the final clue needed to locate her family in Polish records. According to the manifest, 20-year-old Antonina Koczot [sic] was a Polish immigrant from Russia. (If you’re puzzled as to why a Pole might be living in Russia in this era, this might help.) She departed from the port of Hamburg in 1913, leaving behind her father, “Vincenti Kocot” in their home village of “Dusababa,” transcribed by Ancestry as Busababa (Figure 7). There’s no place in Poland today or within Polish borders historically that was called Dusababa or Busababa, but the village of Dyszobaba is a good fit, phonetically—and as a bonus, it’s located just north of the town of Różan, where Anna’s husband Frank was born (Figure 8).

Figure 7: Extract from passenger manifest for Antonina Koczot.6Antonina Kocot manifest

Figure 8: Map courtesy of Google Maps, showing relative locations of Dyszobaba and Różan, presently located in the Mazowieckie province of Poland. Dyszobaba

The Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] informs us that the village of Dyszobaba belonged to the Roman Catholic parish in Sieluń, which appears north of Dyszobaba on the map in Figure 8, so we’ll need to start with parish records from Sieluń in order to find records of Antonina’s family.7

Birth records from Sieluń circa 1890 when Antonina Kocot was born are not indexed in Geneteka. Nonetheless, a quick search in the database reveals a number of marriage records for children of Wincenty Kocot and Rozalia Kaczmarczyk (Figure 9).

Figure 9: Results of a search in Geneteka for marriage records from Sieluń with parents’ names Kocot and Kacz*, searching as a pair.Wincenty and Rozalia's kids

The Party of the Second Part

Now that we’ve got a good handle on the region in Poland where both of Karen’s Polish grandparents were from, the question remains as to how they might be connected to Bruce’s family. Since this part of Poland was under Russian control throughout most of the 19th century, my first thought was that the connection must lie within one of Bruce’s family lines which also originated in Russian Poland. The majority of his immigrant Polish ancestors were from Prussian Poland, leaving only three immigrants from the Russian partition for us to consider: Michał Szczepankiewicz, Stanisław Skolimowski, and Helena Majczyk. Michał’s family was from Kleczew and other parishes in what is now Konin County, Wielkopolska—not especially close to the Różan area. Helena Majczyk was born in Rostowa, a village belonging to the parish in Gradzanowo Kościelne, and Stanisław Skolimowski was born in Garlino-Komunino, a village belonging to the parish in Grudusk. These places are shown on the map in Figure 10.

Figure 10: Map courtesy of Google Maps, showing locations of Bruce’s ancestral parishes relative to Karen’s. Map of Bruce's villages relative to Rozan

Since Grudusk is a little less than 40 miles from Sieluń, I thought perhaps the Skolimowski family was the key. However, as I wrote recently, the deeper roots of Stanisław Skolimowski’s father, Tadeusz, lay in Boleszyn, a village located in Prussian Poland, rather than in the Grudusk area. Maybe then the match was through Stanley Skolimowski’s mother, Marianna Kessling? Could be, but what about those Majczyk lines? It occurred to me that, if the shared DNA came from the Majczyk side, I’d never know, because my research into Bruce’s Majczyk ancestors was fairly shallow. I’d only gotten as far as the marriage record for his great-great-grandparents, Stanisław Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka, who were the parents of his immigrant great-grandmother, Helena (née Majczyk) Skolimowska, when I hit a snag. The marriage record is shown in Figure 11. 

Figure 11: Marriage record from the parish of Gradzanowo Kościelne for Stanisław Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka, 17 September 1888.8Stanislaw Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka

The record is in Russian, and states in translation,

“Rostowa and Bojanowo. It happened in the village of Gradzanowo on the fifth/seventeenth day of  September in the year one thousand eight hundred eighty eight at seven o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Jan Woźniak, homeowner [хозяин], age forty-four years, of the village of Bojanowo, and Paweł Krogulski, homeowner, age forty-five years, of the village of Gradzanowo Kościelne—on this day a religious marriage was performed between Stanisław Majczyk, bachelor, reserve soldier, twenty-seven years of age, born in the village of Bronisze and residing in the village of Rostowa as a homeowner; son of Józef and the late Katarina née Smiadzinska, the spouses Majczyk; and Aniela Nowicka, single, nineteen years of age, born in the village of Bojanowo and residing there with her parents, homeowners; daughter of Antoni and his wife Jadwiga, née Krogulska, the spouses Nowicki. This marriage was preceded by three announcements before the assembled people on Sundays here in the parish on the seventh/nineteenth [and] fourteenth/twenty-sixth days of August, and the twenty-first day of August/ second day of September of the current year. The newlyweds stated that they contracted a prenuptial agreement with the notary of the town of Sierpc, Domagalski, on the twenty-second day of August/third day of September of the current year, [document] number six hundred sixty-fourth. Permission of the father of the bride, present in person at the marriage ceremony, was given orally. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Us. This document was read to the illiterate newlyweds and witnesses and was signed by Us only. [signed] Civil Registrar, Administrator of Gradzanowo Parish, Fr. Julian Kaczyński.”

The Snag

The part underlined in red states, “урожденномъ въ деревни Бронишъ,” and a bit further down, his mother’s maiden name is written as “Смядзинской.” We’ll revisit that maiden name later, but the first bit translates as “born in the village of Bronisz.” That’s all we get, “born in the village of Bronisz,” before the priest continues by telling us where Stanisław was residing at the time of his marriage, and who his parents were. Normally when the bride or groom was born in a village that was in a different parish from the one in which the marriage was being conducted, the priest would note the parish that the birthplace was in. Similarly, if the birthplace was in a different partition (e.g. Kingdom of Prussia or Kingdom of Austria) that would also be noted. No such clues were provided in this record, however, so we’re left to fend for ourselves when it comes to figuring out where Stanisław Majczyk was born. 

Since there’s no place in Poland called Bronisz, it’s probable that the village of Bronisze was meant. The Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego, a gazetteer of places in Russian Poland published in 1877, informs us that there were two such places in Russian Poland (Figure 12). 

Figure 12: Extract from the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego showing entries for Bronisze.9 Column headings are place name, gubernia (province), powiat (county), gmina (administrative level comparable to a township), and parish. Bronisze in SKP

The two candidates for the parish in which Stanisław Majczyk’s baptismal record might be found are Żbików and Karniewo, and neither one is especially close to Gradzanowo. Could I have mistranslated the place name? Figuring that a second pair of eyes couldn’t hurt, I ran my translation of the place name past a Polish genealogy colleague, and he read it as Bronisze as well.

I set off to find a birth record for Stanisław Majczyk circa 1861 in records from one of these parishes. I first discovered that marriage record back in August 2014, and at that time, according to my research notes, Karniewo records were online at Metryki GenBaza, but only for a very limited range of years (1884; 1890-1912). Zbików, however, had records online from 1808-1912. I checked birth records from Zbików between 1857–1864 for a baptismal record for Stanisław Majczyk, to no avail. Not only was there no record of Stanisław’s birth, the Majczyk surname did not even appear in the parish records. There were some Maciaks and Marczaks in the parish, but no Majczyks. I took this to mean that he was probably born in Karniewo, and I commented in my research notes that records for Karniewo from 1775-1890 were at the diocesan archive in Płock, along with some earlier records from the 1600s. I wrote to that archive back in September 2014 and never received a reply. (Presently, those records from the diocesan archive in Płock are digitized and available at FamilySearch.) In the meantime, I busied myself with other research, and pretty much forgot about poor Stanisław Majczyk—until Karen wrote to me about that DNA match.

Geneteka to the Rescue, Again!

As I pondered the match, I realized that six years is a long time in the world of internet genealogy, and there are many more scans and indexed records online now, than there were back in 2014, when I first discovered Stanisław Majczyk’s marriage record and hit the snag with Bronisze. Birth records for Żbików are now indexed in Geneteka from 1808–1914, with just a few gaps, and a quick search confirmed my earlier findings: no Majczyks in general, and no Stanisław in particular. That left Karniewo, which also happens to be in Maków County—the same county in which Różan and Dyszobaba are located! That seemed to be a promising sign that things were moving in the right direction toward figuring out this DNA match. Karniewo is also indexed now, with an uninterrupted chunk of birth records from 1843–1875, so I eagerly repeated the search for Stanisław in that parish and found…nada. What the heck? I opened up the search to all indexed parishes in the Mazowieckie province and searched for Stanisław Majczyk, born between 1857–1866…and there it was, in all its glory, the birth record for my husband’s great-great-grandfather! (Figure 13)

Figure 13: Search result from Geneteka for a birth record for Stanisław Majczyk, born in any indexed parish in Mazowieckie province between 1857–1866. Geneteka search result for Stanislaw Majczyk

Quite honestly, this one would have been tough to find using old-school methodology, but the index entry states that he was born in 1860, father’s name Józef, and mother’s name Katarzyna, as expected. The mother’s maiden name, Radzińska, is in the same phonetic ballpark as Smiadzinska, if we assume that Fr. Julian Kaczyński was a little hard of hearing. The hypothesis that Fr. Kaczyński was either hard of hearing, or a bit careless, or perhaps tired and overworked, is supported by the fact that Stanisław was actually born in Bromierz, not Bronisze.  And apparently this problem plagued the parish priest in Rogotwórsk, as well, because another search for additional children born to Józef and Katarzyna, no maiden name specified, produced yet another variation of her maiden name (Figure 14).

Figure 14: Search result from Geneteka for children of Józef and Katarzyna Majczyk baptized in Rogotwórsk parish. Majczyk siblings

Birth records for two of Stanisław’s siblings, Jan Majczyk and Marianna Majczyk, report their mother’s maiden name as Śledzieńska, rather than Radzińska, which is somewhat closer to the “Smiadzinska” version recorded on the marriage record. The best part is that when we click over to the “Marriages” tab, Józef and Katarzyna’s own marriage record has been indexed, which provides the names of their parents—another generation back in the family tree! (Figure 15)

Figure 15: Search results in Geneteka for marriage records mentioning Józef Majczyk and Katarzyna in Rogotwórsk parish. Jozef and Katarzyna Majczyk marriage

Coming Full Circle

I’ll have a lot of fun researching all these new Majczyks in a brand-new parish in the coming days and weeks, but there’s a bit of irony here. None of these new Majczyk discoveries are likely to help me determine how Bruce and his DNA match, Karen, are related. Although I initially approached the DNA match from the angle of historical records, reasoning that the match was most likely through Bruce’s Russian-partition ancestors since Karen’s immigrant Polish ancestors were from the Różan area in Russian Poland, there was a very basic step I should have taken first. Both of Bruce’s parents have contributed DNA samples for autosomal testing, so what I should have done was first checked to see which of his parents was also a match to Karen and her brother. When I went back and did that, after my heady, rapid progress on the Majczyk line, I realized that Karen and her brother are a match to my mother-in-law, not my father-in-law.

None of my mother-in-law’s immigrant ancestors came from the Russian partition, at least as far back as I’ve managed to research each line. They were all from Prussian Poland. The joke’s on me, I guess! Shared matches suggest that the match is through Bruce’s maternal Bartoszewicz line, which is another line I’ve been neglecting to research due to time constraints. However, preliminary research in U.S. records point to origins in the vicinity of Toruń, some 225 km/140 miles from Karen’s ancestral area of Różan, so this match will definitely take some time and research to figure out.

Even though progress toward understanding the DNA match has currently left me with more questions than answers, I’d say this was a worthwhile rabbit hole to go down, after all. It led to the parish of Rogotwórsk, Stanisław Majczyk’s birth record, and abundant new discoveries to further my understanding of Bruce’s Majczyk ancestry. I’ll take it! 


1 Frank Kondzik, declaration of intention for naturalization no. 125740 (10 September 1928); imaged in “Pennsylvania, Federal Naturalization Records, 1795–1931,” database and images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020), citing Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685–2009; National Archives at Philadelphia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Record Group 21, no specific roll cited. 

2 “U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020), Frank G. (only) Kondzik, serial no. U-2382, no order no., Draft Board 23, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; citing World War II Draft Cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania, State Headquarters ca. 1942, NARA microfilm publication M1951; no specific roll cited. 

3 “U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935–2014,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020), entry for Anna Kondzik, 1992, SS no. 161-50-9266; citing “U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).”

4 “U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s–current,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020), entry for Antonina Kondzik (1890–1992), citing memorial page 62609270, originally created by Margaret Janco; citing Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Lower Burrell, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, USA; maintained by Karen Benson (contributor 49425389).

5 “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936–2007,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020), entry for Anna Kondzik, 1992, SS no. 161-50-9266; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Numerical Identification (NUMIDENT) Files, 1936 – 2007, NARA Record Group 47.

6 Manifest, SS Pretoria, arriving 23 May 1913, p 185, line 20, Antonina Koczot; imaged as “New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (Including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820–1957,” database with images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 July 2020); citing National Archives microfilm publication T715, 8892 rolls, no specific roll cited.

7 Filip Sulimierski, et al., Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich [Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands] (Warszawa: Nakładem Władysława Walewskiego, 1880-1902), Tom II, 258, “Dyszobaba,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 18 July 2020).

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej Gradzanowo 1873-1907,” 1888, Małżeństwa, no. 36, marriage record for Stanisław Majczyk and Aniela Nowicka, accessed as browsable images, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.genealodzy.pl: Projekt indeksacji metryk parafialnych (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl/ : 18 July 2020), Zespół 0619/D, citing 76/619/0 Akta stanu cywilnego Parafii Rzymskokatolickiej w Gradzanowie, Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Mławie [Mława Branch, State Archive of Warsaw]. 

9 I. Zinberg, Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego, Tom 1 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), p 55, “Bronisze,” digital images, Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/ : 18 July 2020).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020






10 Tips for Finding Your Family on Passenger Manifests

Those of us with ancestors who immigrated to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries know how valuable passenger manifests can be, as they often provide the name of the immigrant’s place of birth. We also know how frustrating it can sometimes be to find those immigrants in indexed databases such as Ellis Island and AncestryToday I’d like to review some basic concepts regarding passenger manifests, and then share a few tips for finding your ancestors in those databases.

Types of Manifests:  Embarkation vs. Arrival

It helps to begin with an understanding of the manifests themselves and how they were created. There’s a persistent myth in American culture that names were changed at Ellis Island. This article explains more fully why that isn’t true, but the short version is that the manifests were recorded at the port of embarkation, and Ellis Island officials were merely working from those original lists. Many of these manifests recorded at ports of embarkation did not survive. For example, most of the Bremen lists were destroyed due to lack of space in the Bremen Archives. However, the Hamburg emigration lists recorded between 1850-1934 have largely survived, and sometimes it’s possible to find both the outgoing Hamburg manifest and the incoming Port of New York manifest for the same immigrant.

Types of Errors:  Original vs. Transcription

There are undoubtedly errors in spelling and transliteration that occurred on these passenger manifests, but most of the name changes that people attribute to “Ellis Island” were adopted by the immigrants themselves as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. In my experience, far more dramatic spelling errors were created during the process of transcribing and indexing the passenger manifests to create a searchable database, than occurred during the original recording of the manifests. I don’t want to place too much blame on the indexers here, as they’re faced with a formidable task. Anyone who’s ever looked at a passenger manifest knows that the handwriting can be cramped and illegible, the manifest might have been torn, taped, or faded, and the microfilmed image might be blurry or grainy. Combine this with the fact that you might see on the same page immigrants from a variety of different countries, each with its own language and maybe its own alphabet, and it’s immediately clear that indexers are brave and hardy heroes, indeed.

Faced with all these obstacles, how do we find our immigrant ancestors on those manifests?

1. Use wild-card searches.

If you have a subscription to Ancestry (or can access it at your local public library or Family History Center), you can search their immigration database using wildcard characters. Ancestry‘s directions state,

“An asterisk “*” replaces zero or more characters, and a question mark “?” replaces exactly one character. For example, a search for “fran*” will return matches on words like “Fran,” “Franny,” or “Frank.” A search for “Johns?n” matches “Johnson” and “Johnsen,” but not “Johnston.”

2. Try leaving off the surname entirely.

In cases where I suspect a surname has been butchered in the transcription, I sometimes omit it entirely, and search for the immigrant based on other identifying information.  For example, I could search for my great-grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak, by looking for a female passenger named Weronika, born about 1876, stating Polish ethnicity, arriving about 1898.

3. Play with the search parameters.

If your parameters are too specific, you get too few hits, but if they’re too broad, you get too many, so try tinkering with them one by one. Sometimes male passengers are marked as female and vice versa, sometimes first and last names are reversed, and that “race/nationality” box is tricky for Poles, who might be marked as Polish, Russian, German, or Austrian. Be flexible.

4. Determine your ancestor’s name at the time of immigration before you search.

I’d bet a million dollars that a Polish ancestor named “Walter Cherry” will not be listed under that name on his passenger manifest. There’s a good chance you’d find him under “Władysław Wiśniewski,” though. That’s because many of our ancestors adopted new given names, or new versions of their surnames, as part of their efforts to assimilate into American culture. Some common name changes among Polish-Americans were Władysław to Walter, Stanisław to Stanley, Czesław to Chester, Bronisław to Bruno, and Wojciech to Albert or George. For women, common changes include Jadwiga to Ida or Hattie, Władysława to Lottie or Charlotte, Pelagia to Pearl, and Bronisława to Bertha. These are generalizations, and it’s important to recognize that there were no hard and fast rules. You need to do research into your own family history to determine the names that your immigrant ancestors used. (See here for my story of my challenge in finding the passenger manifest for an immigrant who used Edward in the U.S. when his real name was Stanisław!) For Polish ancestors who settled in the U.S., try checking church records from the parish they attended here, as those are frequently a good clue to their original names.

5. Familiarize yourself with spelling and pronunciation rules in your ancestor’s native language.

In Polish, “Szcz” is a common combination of two digraphs (sz and cz), and there are a lot of surnames that start this way. In contrast, surnames that start with “Lz” are quite rare (I found exactly one example, Lzarewicz, which belonged to exactly 1 person in Poland as of 1990, in this database). So when your search results at Ellis Island or Ancestry include results for passengers with names like “Lzczerba,” “Lzcrepaniak,” and “Lzcsepansky,” you can bet that those names are misspelled and actually start with “S.” In these examples, when I checked the original image of the manifest, those names were clearly Szczerba, Szczepaniak, and Szczepansky.

6. Databases index differently, so if you can’t find your ancestor in one database, check another.

My husband’s great-grandfather had a sister named Marcjanna Szczepankiewicz who was indexed on Ellis Island as “Marcyanna Sezezefsankiewiez” and on Ancestry as “Marcyanna Sczezyoankiemg.” On the manifest, the surname is clearly “Szczepankiewicz,” so this is a case of the indexers having no familiarity with Polish surnames. Even better, in looking up those examples, I came across one poor guy who was indexed on Ancestry as a 24-year-old Ruthenian woman named  “Fazel Lzczzvca.” I took a look at the actual manifest, and the passenger was a 24-year-old Ruthenian man named Józef Szczyrba. I didn’t have the heart to see how he was indexed on Ellis Island, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

7. Give Steve Morse’s site a try.

If you’re not familiar with Steve Morse’s website, you’re missing out. He’s got a variety of very helpful tools for genealogists, including resources for translations, DNA, searching census records, and a search portal for the different immigration databases (both free, like Ellis Island and Castle Garden, and paid, like Ancestry). I used to use his search portal all the time back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, because it was far superior to Ellis Island‘s search portal for the same data. But to be honest, a lot has changed since then, and both Ancestry and Ellis Island now offer fairly powerful, flexible search parameters that are comparable to Steve Morse’s. However, you may find that his search page is laid out in a more intuitive fashion, so it can’t hurt to try if you’re not having luck with the other search engines.

 8. If you already know your ancestor’s hometown but you still can’t find his manifest, try searching according to place of origin.

This technique is not only useful for finding missing manifests, but also can sometimes be used to gain insight into the family groups in your ancestral village. For example, one of my ancestral parishes is Młodzieszyn in Sochaczew County, Poland. Records for Młodzieszyn were largely destroyed in World War II, leaving only records from 1885-1908. So, my understanding of my family history there is very incomplete. However, I’ve discovered that passenger records can offer a surprising amount of information to help fill in some of these blanks. Manifests for emigrants from Młodzieszyn have given me their names, approximate birth dates, and the names and relationships of contacts in the new world (often family members), as well as the names and relationships of family members still living in their former home town. Many of these emigrants were born before 1885 when existing birth records for Młodzieszyn begin, so their passenger manifests are incredibly useful in constructing family groups. Of course, one problem with this is that the hometown is just as likely to be misspelled as the passenger’s name, but it’s still worth a shot.

9. If your ancestor has a common name but he immigrated with other family members, try searching for the manifest using the family member with the least common name.

For example, “Nowak” is the most common Polish surname there is, so if your great-grandfather was Jan Nowak, you’ll probably have to wade through a lot of manifests to find the right one.  But if you have reason to believe that he emigrated at the same time as his wife, Pelagia, try searching for her instead.

10. If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, get his naturalization papers first, then try to find his manifest.

I was really stuck trying to find a manifest for my husband’s great-grandfather Joseph Bartoszewicz. He was supposed to have come in with a large family group, and I’d tried pretty much all the tips I mentioned here, but I just couldn’t tease the data out of the search engines. However, he naturalized in 1914, and after 1906, Petitions for Naturalization included questions about the person’s arrival date in the U.S., the port of entry, and the name of the ship. I obtained Joseph’s naturalization petition, which told me that he arrived on 12 October 1890 in the Port of Philadelphia on the ship Pennsylvania. Great! Only I still couldn’t find him, using that date as an exact search term. Further investigation revealed that Joseph reported his arrival date inaccurately — the Pennsylvania did not arrive in Philadelphia on 12 October 1890, but rather on the 13th. I finally found Joseph and his family by browsing through the manifest page by page.

If you’ve been struggling to find the right passenger manifests for your family, know that you’re not alone. It can certainly be frustrating sometimes, and we’ve all been there. But persistence and flexible search strategies will usually pay off. As always, I’m happy to hear from other researchers, so if you try some of these strategies and they work for you, or if you’d like to offer other suggestions, please leave a note in the comments.  Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016






Playing “Telephone” Across Generations: Documenting Family Stories

Family stories are always the starting point for genealogy research. Beginners are typically instructed to start with themselves and work backwards, interviewing older family members or generational peers to discover what they remember, or remember hearing, about past generations. Often it feels like a game of “telephone” played out over many decades. You may remember “telephone” as that game in which a number of players stand in a circle, and a complicated phrase is whispered from one person to the next. Repetition is not allowed, so although each person does his best to listen carefully, the phrase becomes distorted, often comically, as it is passed around. Finally the result is whispered to the person who began the game, who announces what the original phrase actually was, and everyone gets a good laugh. As family historians, our job is to sift out the wheat from the chaff, using our ancestors’ paper trail to document what we can from the family stories, but keeping in mind that not everything we were told is going to be verifiable.

I became interested in my family history soon after I was married in 1991. My husband and I were incredibly fortunate to have six living grandparents at that time, as well as plenty of their siblings still living. As I’ve tried to document all the many bits of information I gathered from them, one truth in particular has emerged:  if an older relative remembers a specific name, it’s safe to say that the person is connected to the family in some way, even if it’s not in the way that he or she remembers. Remembered names aren’t just pulled out of thin air.

As one example of this, I interviewed Uncle Mike Stevenson (Szczepankiewicz) about the Szczepankiewicz family history. Uncle Mike was the youngest brother of my husband’s grandfather, Stephen Szczepankiewicz. Although he knew a great deal about his father from his mother’s stories, Uncle Mike had never met him: he died on 14 February 1926,1 and Uncle Mike was born 3 months later, on 23 May 1926.Nonetheless, Uncle Mike proved to be a reliable source. He told me that his father, Michael Szczepankiewicz, had never naturalized. This assertion is validated by the 1925 New York State census, in which Michael Szczepankiewicz is listed as an alien (Figure 1):3

Figure 1:  Extract of 1925 New York State census showing Michael Szczepankiewicz and family.3michael-szczepankiewicz-family-1925

This extract shows that 49-year-old Michael Szczepankiewicz was born in Poland, had been living in the U.S. for 20 years, was an alien (“al”) at the time of the census, and was employed in “building labor.” Since Michael died in 1926, and the naturalization process took longer than a year, it would not have been possible for him to naturalize prior to his death. Uncle Mike also mentioned that his father was a stone mason who helped to build Transfiguration Church in Buffalo. Although I have yet to document this directly (maybe payroll records exist in the archive of the diocese of Buffalo dating back to the construction of Transfiguration Church?), the fact that Michael was a construction laborer is consistent with that claim.

When I asked Uncle Mike about the family of his mother, Agnes (née Wolińska) Szczepankiewicz, he told me that Agnes’s mother was named Apolonia Bogacka. Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out. Records showed that Agnes’s mother’s name was Tekla, as shown by the 1892 census for New York State (Figure 2): 4

Figure 2:  Extract from 1892 census of New York State showing the family of Joseph Wolinski, including wife “Teckla” (sic).4wolinski-family-1892

So where did the name “Apolonia Bogacka” come from? The answer was found in the 1900 census (Figure 3).5  Living with Joseph Wolinski’s family is his mother-in-law, “Paline” Bogacka.  The name “Pauline” was commonly used by women named Apolonia in the U.S. as a more American-sounding equivalent.

Figure 3:  Extract from the 1900 U.S. Federal census showing the family of Joseph Wolinski, including mother-in-law “Paline” (sic) Bogacka.5joseph-wolinski-family-1900-census

So it turns out that Uncle Mike’s great-grandmother had also emigrated, and he was confusing her name with the name of his grandmother!

As another example, my grandfather’s first cousin, Jul Ziomek, told me in a 1992 interview that the mother of her grandmother, Mary (née Łącka) Klaus, was named Janina Unicka. Jul was a very reliable source in other matters, but in this case, her memory did not serve her well. The civil record for Mary Klaus’s second marriage, to Władysław Olszanowicz, tells us that her mother’s name was (phonetically) Anna “Taskavich” (Figure 4).6

Figure 4:  Civil marriage record from North Tonawanda, New York, for Mary Klaus and Władysław Olsanowic (sic).6mary-klaus-second-marriage

The correct spelling of Mary’s mother’s name in Polish is found on Mary’s baptismal record from her home village of Kołaczyce — she was Anna Ptaszkiewicz (Figure 5).7

Figure 5:  Baptismal record from Kołaczyce, Austrian Poland for Marianna Łącka.7marianna-lacka-birth

The section of the record in the red box pertains to the mother of the child and reads, “Anna filia Francisci Ptaszkiewicz ac Salomea nata Francisco Sasakiewicz.” For those who might be unfamiliar with Latin, this translates as “Anna, daughter of Franciszek Ptaszkiewicz and Salomea, daughter of Franciszek Sasakiewicz.”

Believe it or not, it’s quite reasonable, based on Polish phonetics, that an English speaker might come up with a spelling of “Taskevich”for “Ptaszkiewicz.”  But no matter how you slice it, this is pretty far off from “Janina Unicka.”  So where did Jul come up with that name? The 1910 census gives us a clue (Figure 6):8

Figure 6:  Andrew Klaus family in the 1910 U.S. Federal census.8andrew-klaus-fam-1910

Living with the family of Mary Klaus, there is a boarder named John Unicki.  At this point I have traced Mary Klaus’s family back in Poland for another 3-4 generations, which is as far back as existing vital records go, and I’ve seen no evidence of the Unicki surname anywhere in the extended family tree.  I’ve concluded that cousin Jul’s memory was inaccurate on this point. It must have been dim memories of this boarder, Jan Unicki, living with her grandparents that caused her to associate the name “Janina Unicka” with her grandmother’s family.

As one final example, my husband’s grandfather, Stephen Szczepankiewicz, told me that his father, Michael Szczepankiewicz, immigrated from Russian Poland to Buffalo, New York, along with four brothers and no sisters. He recalled the names of his father’s brothers as Bernard, Felix, Alexander and Joseph. It turns out that he was partially correct.  Further research indicates that his father did indeed have brothers who also emigrated from Poland to Buffalo who were named Bernard (Anglicized from Bronisław), Alexander, and Joseph.  What Grandpa didn’t know was that there were two more brothers who emigrated, Adam and Walter (also known as “Wadsworth” — both names are Anglicized versions of his Polish name, Władysław), as well as a sister, Marcjanna, who emigrated to Buffalo along with Bronisław and then disappears from records there (Figure 7):9

Figure 7:  Passenger manifest for Marcyanna and Bronisław Szczepankiewicz, arriving in the port of New York on 3 May 1902.9marcjanna-manifest-cropped


Try as I might, I could not document a brother named Felix/Feliks Szczepankiewicz, or find one with a name that was even close to that.  Why would Grandpa remember an Uncle Felix if there never was one? Well, it turns out that there was an Uncle Felix, but it was on his mother’s side, not his father’s side. Grandpa Steve’s mother was Agnes/Agnieszka Wolińska.  If we take a closer look at that 1892 census for the Woliński family shown in Figure 2 and the 1900 census shown in Figure 3, the oldest child in the family is Feliks.  So it seems likely that Grandpa was just mixing up which side of the family Uncle Feliks was from.

As is evident from these examples, family stories work best when used as a starting point for genealogy research, but we can’t let our research end there. Time can play tricks with people’s memories, so it’s important to attempt to document everything we’ve been told.  If conflicts exist between the story and the evidence, consider how these might be reconciled.  As you document each story, you’ll begin to get a sense of the reliabilty of each relative’s memory. If you have any particularly wild stories that you’ve been able to document, please let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear about them!


Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Certificates,1926, certificate #1029, record for Michael Sczepankiewicz (sic).

“United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VMDV-RJ7 : 20 May 2014), Michael A Stevenson, 28 Apr 2011; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing), accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, State Census, 1925 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), http://www.ancestry.com, Record for Stepahn Szczepankiewicz, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, State Census, 1892 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), http://www.ancestry.com, Record for Joseph Wolinski household, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1900; Census Place: Buffalo Ward 9, Erie, New York; Roll: T623_1026; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 69, record for Joseph Wolinski household, accessed on 8 November 2016.

6 “New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936″, database, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Family Search, (https://familysearch.org), Wladyslaw Olsanowic and Mary Klaus, 21 Nov 1916; citing county clerk’s office, , New York, United States; FHL microfilm 897,558. accessed on 8 November 2016.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Anna’s Parish (Kołaczyce, Jasło, Podkarpackie, Poland), “Urodzenia, 1826-1889”, Stare Kopie, 1866, #20, Record for Marianna Łącka.

Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1910; Census Place: North Tonawanda Ward 3, Niagara, New York; Roll: T624_1049; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 0126; FHL microfilm: 1375062, record for Andrew Klaus, accessed on 8 November 2016.

Ancestry.com, New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010), http://www.ancestry.com, Year: 1902; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 0272; Line: 5; Page Number: 132, record for Marcyanna Sczezyoankiemg, accessed on 8 November 2016.