Celebrating My Blogiversary!

It’s hard to believe it, but I started this blog six years ago today as a way to share my family history discoveries and my enthusiasm for genealogy with fellow genealogists, distant cousins, research collaborators, and everyone in between. For six years, you’ve celebrated my successes with me and commiserated with my stumbling, offering encouragement for all those “brick walls.” I’ve shared my musings, insights, resources, and strategies, and you’ve shared your own tips, kind remarks, and research challenges. I’ve gotten to know new living cousins, and discovered dozens of “new” ancestors and deceased relatives to add to my family tree.

So what does six years of blogging look like, by the numbers? Like this:

My favorite discoveries from the past six years, in no particular order:

  • The origins of my immigrant Causin/Cossin ancestors from Alsace.
  • The marriage record of my great-grandmother’s brother, Władysław/Walter Grzesiak, who unexpectedly married in Warsaw, 150 miles from his birthplace, which opened the door to additional new discoveries for my Grzesiak family.
  • The marriage record from Buffalo, New York, for my great-great-grandparents, Marianna/Mary Łącka and Andrzej/Andrew Klaus, and the baptismal records of Mary’s first two sons, which finally disproved the family myth that the Klaus family ever lived in Texas.
  • The identification of distant cousins on my Klaus, Słoński, Wilczek, Panek, Dodds, Zarzycki, and Causin lines, made through DNA testing, which led to a clearer understanding of the migrations and dispersions of those families.
  • The discovery of a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, which spurred further research into her godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, which in turn led to the discovery of the last will and testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr., which identified previously unknown siblings of my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, and offered direct evidence that his father also immigrated to the U.S. from England.
  • The marriage record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, and her first husband, Victor Dehlinger, which opened doors into further discoveries into the origins of the Dehlinger and Grentzinger families.
  • The death records from Młodzieszyn for the siblings of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, which allowed me to piece together a timeline that finally explained why my grandfather returned to Poland with his parents in 1921.
  • The grave marker of Joseph and Gertrude (Wagner) Riel from Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit, which identified Joseph’s place of birth in Germany, which allowed me to leverage the FAN principal and definitively identify the the place of origin of my Wagner ancestors.

Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun! I’m looking forward to further adventures in genealogy, and I’m excited to be able to share my discoveries with you. Thanks for all the positive feedback and encouragement over the past six years. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to have your company on this journey.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

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

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

Introducing Józefa (Winnicka) Łukasik

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Manifest

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

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

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

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

Suchatzew, Suchatzin, Sawacew and Sawasew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confirming Place Identification Using Geneteka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Deciphering Mangled Place Names

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 I. Zinberg, Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego czyli Spis alfabetyczny miast, wsi, folwarków, kolonii i wszystkich nomenklatur w guberniach Królestwa Polskiego, z wykazaniem: gubernii, powiatu, gminy, parafii, sądu pokoju lub gminnego, oraz najbliższej stacyi pocztowej, wraz z oddzielnym spisem gmin podług najświeższej ich liczby i nazwy ułożony, wykazujący: odległość każdej danej gminy od miasta powiatowego i sądu swojego gminnego; czy i jakie znajdują się w gminie zakłady fabryczne lub przemysłowe, szkoły itp. oraz ludność każdej gminy, obejmujący także podział sądownictwa krajowego świeżo urządzonego, Tom 2 (Warsaw: W. Drukarni, I.J. Ałapina 1877), pp 125-126, “Rybno,” digital images, Śląska Biblioteka Cyfrowa (https://www.sbc.org.pl/ : 24 April 2022).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Visualizing Challenges to Genetic Genealogy Research Using Leeds and Collins-Leeds Methods

When it comes to genetic genealogy, it’s best to hope that each generation in your family tree was large, with lots of descendants living in countries where DNA testing is popular. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Small families, and families in which many of the distant cousins are living in a place where DNA testing is not as popular (e.g. Poland) make it difficult to find those DNA matches that can lead to breakthroughs in your research. Whether you know, or only suspect, that this is the case for your family, you can visualize the situation using some of the available tools out there, such as Leeds worksheets, and Collins-Leeds matrices.

What is the Leeds Method?

Back in 2018, which is a lifetime ago in the world of genetic genealogy, researcher Dana Leeds described her method for color-coding DNA matches using a spreadsheet, which she developed in order to help a client identify his biological family. Elegant in its simplicity, the Leeds Method took off, and it inspired a number of next-generation automated tools which cluster a tester’s DNA matches based on shared ancestry. Sites which offer autocluster tools include MyHeritage, DNAGedcom, Genetic Affairs, and GEDMatch, and AncestryDNA’s colored-dot grouping tool is also based on this method. With all these automated options available, it’s become a bit passé to create a Leeds Method spreadsheet manually. Nonetheless, I want to share one with you here, because it’s a compact visual aid for illustrating some “structural defects” in my mom’s family tree, and their impact on her DNA match list.

Figure 1 shows a Leeds Method worksheet created from my mother’s list of DNA matches on Ancestry.

Figure 1: Leeds Method worksheet for my mom’s DNA matches on Ancestry. Click image to view larger.

Leeds’ basic goal was to sort a list of DNA matches into four clusters, representing matches who are related to the tester through each of that person’s four grandparents. Individuals to whom we are related through only one of our four grandparents are our second cousins, so second cousins would be ideal test subjects for creating a Leeds worksheet. Thanks to the random nature of DNA inheritance, the amount of DNA shared between any two second cousins can vary, but typically, they share about 200 centiMorgans (cM) DNA, where a cM is the unit used to express genetic distance. (More cM shared = closer genetic relationship.) The exact amount of shared DNA between two second cousins can be as little as 41 cM, and as much as 592 cM, according to data gathered by Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.

With that in mind, Leeds opted to focus on DNA matches who shared between 90 cM and 400 cM DNA. Using her method, a color is assigned to the first match in the the list who shares between 90–400 cM with the tester, and then that same color is assigned to all the shared matches (or “in common with”) matches. This process is repeated until all the matches who share 90–400 cM have been assigned a color. Ideally, you want to exclude first cousins (1C), and descendants of first cousins (1C1R, 1C2R, etc.), because they will match you on two grandparents, not just one. This can be a little tricky if your family tree is not well-developed, because the amount of DNA shared between two people who are 1C1R, 1C2R, or 1C3R, can fall within that 90–400 cM range. However, the beauty of the Leeds Method is that it works even if you don’t know precisely how you’re related to someone, so having a few “mystery” matches in your worksheet that are 1C1R, etc., shouldn’t throw you off too much.

The 33 matches shown in Figure 1 were culled from my mom’s top 52 matches. Since I do know how most of my mom’s top matches are related to her, I took those first 52 matches and subtracted out all children, grandchildren, first cousins, and their descendants, who would match Mom on more than one grandparent. I removed the names of the DNA matches to protect their privacy, but they’re identified by the documentary relationship (if known), as well as by the amount of shared DNA in both cM and number of shared segments. The next ten columns, labelled 1 through 10, are the result of sorting Mom’s match list according to the Leeds Method. In column 1, the blue bars represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her maternal grandmother, Veronica (née) Grzesiak. The red bars in column 2 represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her paternal grandmother, Genevieve (née) Klaus. Columns 3 and 4 represent those matches to whom Mom is related through her paternal grandfathers, John Zazycki (purple bars) and Joseph Zielinski (green bars).

This brings us to the first observation I’d like to make. By looking at those four columns, it’s pretty clear that Mom has substantially more DNA matches who are related to her through the families of her grandmothers (Grzesiak and Klaus, blue and red), than she does through the families of her grandfathers (Zazycki and Zielinski, purple and green). She has exactly one match at this level who is related to her through John Zazycki: a 2C1R who is descended from John’s older sister, Marianna (née Zarzycka) Gruberska. Worse, I have to go all the way down to the level of a 4C2R to find a match that’s related to my mom through her grandfather Joseph Zielinski. The common ancestors between Mom and that match are my 6x-great-grandparents, Stanisław and Urszula Swięcicki, who lived back when there was still a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and who had already finished having children by the time of the final partition of Poland in 1795. (The story of that DNA match can be found here.) In other words, Mom has few-to-no “close” matches, depending on how you define “close,” who are related to her through either of her grandfathers.

So, what factors cause this phenomenon? In the case of the Zielinski family, my mother’s grandfather was the only one of the ten children in his family to survive long enough to marry and have children. This means that my mother has no second cousins who are related to her through her Zielinski family, and second cousins are what the Leeds Method hopes to exploit when developing initial groupings. The situation with the Zazycki family may be similar. My mother’s Zazycki grandfather, John, was one of eleven children, six of whom (including John) had children. John was the only one of his siblings to immigrate to the U.S., however, and it seems that not many of his siblings’ descendants opted to immigrate, either. Research is ongoing, but thus far it appears that only John’s eldest sister, Marianna Gruberska, had any children who immigrated. Presumably, the descendants of the other Zazycki (or Zarzycki) siblings remained in Poland. It may be that more of those Zarzycki relatives from Poland will start showing up in my DNA match lists, as DNA testing becomes more affordable and more popular among Poles. Time will tell. And If there are cousins in Poland who might be testing their DNA, it’s more likely that they’ll be showing up in DNA databases from MyHeritage and FamilyTree DNA, since those sites are are more popular than Ancestry DNA in Poland. So, I keep checking all the databases regularly, but thus far the situation has been similar in all of them, with few matches on the Zazycki and Zieliński sides.

Of course, any time one observes a lack of DNA matches to one particular line, there’s always the possibility of a misattributed parentage event, also known as a non-paternity event, or NPE. I’d be more likely to suspect this if Mom had no matches to a particular line, rather than a few distant ones. I’d be even more likely to suspect an NPE if I could find documentary evidence to suggest that a family was large and had plenty of descendants, and she still had no DNA matches. However, the fact that Mom has DNA matches to documented cousins on her Zielinski and Zazycki lines, and that the amount of DNA shared between her and those matches is within the expected range for the documented relationships, suggests that NPEs are not the issue here. (Or at least, it suggests that there are no NPEs that occurred in the generations between Mom and the ancestral couple shared between her and each DNA match.)

Rather than viewing the glass as half empty, it might be better to focus on all those DNA matches to the Grzesiak and Klaus families. Columns 5 through 10 indicate which matches are descendants of particular ancestral couples. In the case of the relatively close DNA matches shown in Figure 1, all but two of the Grzesiak matches are descendants of mom’s great-grandparents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczyńska, as indicated by the light blue bars in column 5. The other two matches near the bottom, which are noted with a dark blue bar but not a light blue one, are not in my tree yet, so additional work is needed to make the documentary connection. However, we know they must be related somehow to the Grzesiak family because of all the matches they share in common with documented Grzesiak descendants. The Klaus matches are even more abundant, and can be broken down into descendants of various couples who were ancestors of either Andrzej Klaus, mom’s great-grandfather, or Marianna Łącka, mom’s great-grandmother.

Autoclusters: The Leeds Method on Steroids

Of course, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and gifted software engineers, we can go one better. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of the top portion of Mom’s autoclusters report at MyHeritage.

Figure 2: Autoclusters report from MyHeritage for Mom’s DNA matches. Click figure for larger image. Typically names of testers appear above the columns and to the left of the rows, but they’ve been removed here for privacy purposes.

This utilizes the same principle as the Leeds Method spreadsheet, except it does the heavy lifting for you, automatically clustering your matches into groups which likely share a common ancestor. Each square on the grid represents a comparison of one of Mom’s DNA matches to another, and colored squares represent two people who match each other, in addition to matching my mom. You’ll note that there are some uncolored squares within each cluster; these occur because it’s possible that two members of a cluster will not match each other (even though they both match Mom) due to the random nature of DNA inheritance. So, I can gain insight into Mom’s relationship to all the members in the orange cluster shown in Figure 2, simply by determining her connection to one member of this cluster.

While it’s sometimes possible (e.g. with DNAGedcom) to vary the parameters for inclusion to create tighter or looser groups, that’s not possible with the autocluster tool at MyHeritage. MyHeritage utilizes an algorithm that automatically adjusts that parameters to yield the best clusters for each kit. Note also that not all of a tester’s matches will appear on the grid. MyHeritage provides a ReadMe file with each autocluster analysis which specifies the parameters that were used, the number of kits included in the analysis, and the names of DNA matches who were not included in the analysis as well. In my mom’s case, 109 DNA matches were used to create 26 clusters; 41 matches were excluded because they did not have any shared matches, and another 127 matches were excluded because, although they met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis, they would have ended up in singleton clusters (matching each other and Mom and no one else).

As MyHeritage states in their explanatory ReadMe file, “Everyone in a cluster will be on the same ancestral line, although the most recent common ancestor between any of the matches, and between you and any match, may vary. The generational level of the clusters may vary as well. One may be your paternal grandmother’s branch, and another may be your paternal great-grandfather’s branch.” This can be illustrated using the red cluster shown at the top left in Figure 2. This cluster represents 10 testers who are related to Mom through her grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak. I know how we’re related to eight of them: five of the matches share Weronika’s parents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawcyńska as the most recent common ancestral couple, and three share Józef Grzesiak’s maternal grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, as the most recent common ancestral couple. Descendants of this couple were highlighted in light blue in Figure 1. So, the remaining two mystery matches in that red cluster shown in Figure 2 might be related to to Mom through a bit of DNA inherited from any of the ancestors of Weronika Grzesiak; we can’t really claim to know anything more definitive than that from these data.

The beauty of the autocluster option is that it eliminates the necessity of going through a match list by hand and tagging each match with a colored dot based on shared matches. Although the clusters themselves are extremely informative, it’s also worth noting the DNA matches who were omitted from the cluster analysis. In Mom’s case, one of the matches who was omitted due to lack of any shared matches was a 5th cousin who matches her through her Wilczek line. Since Mom descends from the Wilczeks through her paternal grandfather, it’s disappointing, but unsurprising, that there are no shared matches between Mom and her Wilczek 5th cousin, given the general lack of DNA matches who are related to Mom through either of her grandfathers.

Extrapolating to Other Surname Lines

For want of a better term, I’ll call the relative lack of DNA matches to Mom through either of her paternal grandfathers the “Small Family/International Family Effect.” Unfortunately, it seems to be at work on my Dad’s side of the family as well. I had high hopes that DNA testing might provide some clues regarding the birthplace in Ireland of my great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. Despite the fact that I’ve identified DNA matches with whom Robert Walsh and his wife, Elizabeth Hodgkinson, are the most recent common ancestors, DNA has not provided any strong leads to Walsh relatives in Ireland as of yet. I’ve even tested my father’s 100-year-old paternal aunt, whose great-grandfather was Robert Walsh. She would be expected to have more numerous and genetically closer DNA matches to this line than I would, since she inherited a greater percentage of Robert Walsh’s DNA. One might have expected that some of her matches would include Walshes from a particular location in Ireland, or even that one region of Ireland might stand out as an area from which a preponderance of DNA matches originated. However, no great leads have turned up yet. Similarly, DNA has not been especially illuminating as of yet with another brick wall ancestor, Maria Magdalena (née Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon) Roberts, who also seems to have come from a very small family which left few descendants. Does that mean that my DNA test results can’t help me? No, it just means that there’s nothing obvious to leverage, no low-hanging fruit to harvest.

There is hope, of course. By identifying “autoclusters of interest” that seem to share common ancestors on my brick-wall lines, I can examine their family trees of DNA matches within those clusters, or attempt to build family trees for them if none are available, and search for common surnames and ancestral locations. It should be noted that some sites (e.g. DNAGedcom) even have automated tools for identifying common ancestors based on GEDCOM files (family tree files) that are associated with DNA test kits. Another possible approach is to use research into an ancestor’s social network of friends, associates and neighbors (i.e. his “FAN club”) to identify putative parents for a brick-wall ancestor, trace their descendants forward to the present day, and then do autosomal target testing on individuals who would be predicted to share DNA, based on this hypothesis. Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way.

It can be incredibly rewarding to connect DNA matches to your family tree. Thanks to DNA matches, I’ve been able to discover and connect with distant cousins that I never knew I had, some of whom have even been willing to share old family photos. I’ve been able to track down a number of “lost” siblings of my ancestors who disappeared from the records. And DNA is an especially powerful tool when leveraged for tracking migrations of relatives with popular surnames. However, small families with few descendants can produce “lopsided” DNA match lists, which can be readily visualized using Leeds and Collins-Leeds clustering techniques. While these analytical methods won’t fix “structural defects” in your family tree, they can help you make the most of the matches you do have.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

No Scan in Geneteka? No problem!

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: the lack of a scan linked to a record found in Geneteka does not imply that no scan is available online.

I was reminded of this recently while researching my Wilczek family. A search of marriage records from Mazowieckie province for children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka produced the results shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for marriage records from any indexed parish in Mazowieckie province which mention Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka together.Wilczek marriages in Mazowieckie

While the first two marriage records are linked to scans, the last one, from Iłów parish, is not. Hovering over the “Z” reveals that the original record is in possession of the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (Grodzisk Mazowieckie branch of the state archive of Warsaw). Although this seems to suggest that the only way to obtain a scan is to write to that archive to request a copy of the marriage record, the reality is that this record can be accessed online from either of two repositories, GenBaza or Metryki.


GenBaza, whose home page is shown in Figure 2, is a digital archive of Polish vital records privately hosted through the generosity of Tomasz Nitsch. Although the main site is found here, it’s necessary to register first at GenPol (Figure 3). Creating an account is free.

Figure 2: GenBaza‘s home page.GenBaza screen shot

Figure 3: GenPol‘s home page.GenPol home page

GenPol’s site can be switched to English by clicking the British flag icon shown under the login area, boxed in red in the image. To create a new account, click “Zarejestruj się” and follow the instructions. Note that if you want to view the GenBaza site itself in English, clicking “English version” in the upper right corner won’t get you very far. What’s shown in Figure 2 is the “English version.” (It states “Wersja Polska” in the upper right corner in the image because that’s what you click to change it to Polish.) Using the English version helps a tiny bit when it comes to viewing the scans themselves, but if you want to read the material on the home page in actual English, you’re better off translating the page via Google Translate by copying the URL for the page into the input text window, as shown in Figure 4, and then clicking on the resulting link in the output box.

Figure 5: Using Google Translate to translate web pages from Polish to English.Google Translate window

Alternatively, those who use Chrome as their browser can right-click anywhere on a web page and select, “Translate to English” as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Using Google Chrome to translate web pages from Polish to English.English translation via Chrome

Getting back to GenBaza, the nice thing about it is that fluency in Polish is not necessary in order to navigate the site and locate vital records. C. Michael Eliasz-Solomon wrote an excellent tutorial for using GenBaza at his blog, Stanczyk — Internet Muse, which I highly recommend. However, I’ll quickly walk through the steps I used to obtain a scan of that 1909 marriage record from Iłów that was indexed in Geneteka.

Records on GenBaza are arranged according to the archive which houses them, so some familiarity with the archival structure in Poland is helpful if one wishes to locate scans for a particular parish. To quickly determine which archive holds the records for a parish or registry office, check the PRADZIAD database. Although this database is no longer being updated, the version that existed in July 2018 is still available, and I personally prefer PRADZIAD’s display format to that of Szukajwarchiwach when it comes to determining the range of available records, but either site will do. In this case, however, when the object is simply to find a scan that’s already been indexed in Geneteka, we can determine the archive simply by hovering over the “z” in the indexed entry.

Once I’m logged into the GenBaza site, I select the parent archive from the list on the left (Figure 7). In the case of Iłow, the records are at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim, so the parent archive is AP_Warszawa.

Figure 7: Root directory for archives with scans in GenBaza.GenBaza root directory

When we click on AP_Warszawa, we get a list of all the branch archives that operate under the umbrella of the state archive of Warsaw (Figure 8). From this list we choose AP_Grodzisk.

Figure 8: Directory of branch archives within the State Archive of Warsaw system.AP Grodzisk

This brings us to the list of available vital records collections from this archive (Figure 9). Remember that civil records from this part of “Poland” were maintained by each religious denomination separately starting in 1826, so denominations are indicated by abbreviations, such as “ew” for “ewangelickie” (Lutheran), “moj” for “mojżeszowe” (Jewish), etc.  Another important abbreviation which you will see in GenBaza is “gm,” which refers to “gmina.” As it’s used in GenBaza, this term designates collections of civil vital records created in the Duchy of Warsaw and the Russian partition between 1808-1825. During this period the local Catholic priest usually served as the civil registrar for everyone in the gmina (an administrative division comprised of multiple villages but smaller than a county), regardless of religion. Of course, the majority of collections in GenBaza are not designated with any of these abbreviations. and in these cases, the default seems to vary based on the collections themselves. For example, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Gdańsk—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Prussian partition—are civil vital registrations,  which were introduced in the Prussian Empire in 1874. On the other hand, most of the undesignated collections from AP_Warszawa—an archive which mainly holds records from places that were in the Russian partition—are civil records for Roman Catholics, created at Roman Catholic parishes. These are generalizations, and your mileage may vary, so your best bet is to click around within a collection. The style of the records themselves will usually tell you about their origin.

Figure 9: List of vital records collections from AP Grodzisk Mazowieckie for which scans are available from GenBaza.AP Grodzisk parishes

From this list of parishes in AP Grodzisk, I can scroll down to find Iłów and then click on it, which brings us to the page shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10: List of scans available from Iłów parish.Ilow

The list on the left indicates eight collections of civil birth (U, urodzenia), marriage (M, małżeństwa) and death (Z, zgony) records created by the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów and dating from 1889–1927. There is also a collection of civil records created by the Lutheran parish in Iłów (“Iłów_ew”), and clicking on this link will open up to a similar list of vital records collections dating from 1834–1934.

The marriage record indexed in Geneteka for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska was number 22 in 1909, so it will be in the collection entitled “1890–1910 M_05.” Clicking on this link opens up the range of individual years shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11: List of individual years within the collection of civil marriage records from the Roman Catholic parish in Iłów, 1890-1910.Ilow marriages 1890-1910

Clicking on “1909” brings up the page shown in Figure 12, where we can select an individual image file to view. These are named according to the numbered marriage records contained on each, so marriage record number 22 will be on the image “_22-23.jpg.”

Figure 12:  Individual image files for 1909 marriages. 1909 marriages

Clicking on that image file brings us at long last to the image of the marriage record of Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska which was indexed in Geneteka with no link to a scan (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Franciszek Wilczek marriage in GenBaza

Since Iłów was located within the Russian Empire in 1909, the record is in Russian rather than Polish. However, it was common practice to write the names of the key participants first in Russian and then again in Polish. So even without an ability to read Russian, it’s possible to ascertain that this is the correct record by scanning through the text to find the names of the target individuals. In the example above, Franciszek Wilczek’s name, written in Russian and Polish (in the instrumental grammatical case, so Franciszek becomes Franciszkiem and Wilczek becomes Wilczkiem) is underlined in red. To download a copy of this record in full resolution, click the “Pobierz zdjęcie” button boxed in green.


The second digital archive in which a scan of this marriage record can be found is Metryki.genealodzy.pl (Figure 14). A common theme is evident in the names of these digital archives, since both contain the word “metryki.” “Metryki” is just the plural form of “metryka,” which can mean certificate, registers or metrics. In other words, these are birth, marriage and death registers. Many researchers refer to Metryki.genealodzy.pl as “Metryki” and Metryki.GenBaza.pl as “GenBaza” for simplicity’s sake.

Figure 14: Metryki.genealodzy.pl home page.Metryki screen shot

Metryki is the work of the Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, or Polish Genealogical Society, and is supported financially by donations to the society. I’ve written previously about using this site, so again, a detailed tutorial is not necessary. However, typing  “Ilow” into the search box and selecting the records from Iłów, 1889-1910, results in that same book of marriages, 1890-1910, that is found at GenBaza. Further drilling down to marriages from 1909, and then to the image file which contains marriage number 22, results in exactly the same image of the marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska (Figure 15).

Figure 15: Marriage record for Franciszek Wilczek and Katarzyna Widyńska, 7 November 1909.Metryki marriage record.png

Since both Metryki and GenBaza offer the same image in this case, it makes sense to obtain the record from Metryki and avoid the hassle of having to log in to the GenBaza site (and then continue to log in periodically, since the site seems to require frequent re-logins). However, it’s important to recognize that, while there is some redundancy between these sites, the overlap is not complete, and each of the major sites from which one can obtain scans of Polish vital records (e.g. Szukajwarchiwach, FamilySearch, AGAD, AP Przemyślu, etc.) offers some unique collections that are not duplicated elsewhere.

Although Franciszek Wilczek’s marriage record was found in GenBaza and Metryki, the specific sites that might contain a particular scan will vary depending on the parish or registry office in question. Knowing which sites to check when no scan is linked to an indexed entry is sometimes a matter of experience. However, help is always available via Facebook groups, an assortment of which can be found in Katherine R. Willson’s indexed list. Of course, not every indexed entry without a linked scan has a secret scan lurking online somewhere. In some cases, indexes were created from parish or diocesan archival collections for which no online scans are available. In those cases, the best recourse may indeed be to write to the archive identified by the “z” infodot in the indexed entry. The good news is that an indexed entry in Geneteka means that the record exists somewhere, and with a little perseverance, it can be tracked down.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


Solving the Puzzle: Establishing a Paper Trail to Match DNA Evidence

In my last post, I wrote about a new DNA match that I’ve been puzzling over, between my mother and our genetic cousin, Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name on my blog. However, in looking at this research again more closely, I’ve been able to solve the puzzle and figure out how Ron and I are related, thanks to a document gifted to me by a friend, which provided the crucial bit of evidence that was the key to solving the problem.

To quickly recap, Ron’s great-grandfather, Izydor Wilczek, was a Polish immigrant who arrived in the U.S. circa 1903 and settled in North Tonawanda, New York. In 1895, Izydor married Zofia Krawczyk in the parish of Żyrardów, presently located in Żyrardów County, Mazowieckie province, Poland.According to that marriage record, Izydor was born in Budy Stare, a village which happens to be less than 6 kilometers distant from the village of Młodzieszynek where my Wilczek ancestors lived. Both villages were served by the Catholic parish in Młodzieszyn, which was the same parish to which my great-grandfather, Joseph Zieliński, belonged prior to his immigration to North Tonawanda, New York in 1912. It was Joseph’s great-grandmother who was named Marianna Wilczek. So if Ron and I both have Wilczek ancestors from villages in the vicinity of Młodziesyzn, then obviously this must be how we’re related, right? It should just be a matter of documenting the common Wilczek ancestor from whom Ron and my mother inherited that bit of shared DNA?

Not so fast. That same marriage record for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk also revealed that Zofia was born in Kuznocin, a village which belongs to the parish in Sochaczew and which was home to my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors. So was it Izydor or Zofia who was the most recent common ancestor who contributed that single segment of DNA shared between Ron and my mom? We really need some documentary evidence in order to figure this out, and the first step is further research into Izydor Wilczek’s roots in Młodzieszyn and Zofia’s roots in Sochaczew.

In Search of Zofia Krawczyk’s Maternal Ancestry

Zofia Krawczyk was age 20 at the time of her marriage in 1895, suggesting a birth circa 1875. A matching birth record was quickly identified in the indexed records in Geneteka (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Geneteka search results for birth records mentioning Zofia Krawczyk in Sochaczew.Geneteka search results for Zofia Krawczyk

The first result, showing Zofia Krawczyk born to Marianna Krawczyk and an unknown father, is clearly a match for the Zofia mentioned in the marriage record to Izydor Wilczek. Hovering the cursor over the “i” in the “Remarks” column reveals that she was born on 14 May 1874, and hovering over the “z” column informs us that a copy of the record can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu, the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Although the unknown father presents a roadblock at this point, perhaps we can more easily identify Marianna Krawczyk’s parents?

If we assume that Marianna Krawczyk was between the ages of 13 and 45 when she gave birth to Zofia in 1874, then she herself would have been born between 1829 and 1861. A search for a birth record for Marianna Krawczyk in all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, between 1829 and 1861, produces the results shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Geneteka search results for birth records dated between 1829-1861 mentioning Marianna Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns. Geneteka search results for Marianna Krawczyk

There are three possible matches, all from Sochaczew parish, but none specifically from the village of Kuznocin where Zofia was born. However, Zofia’s marriage record provided one important clue buried at the end of the record, where it stated, “Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act.” Repeating the search with the date restrictions removed, and clicking over to the “marriages” tab, produces the results shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Geneteka search results for marriages after 1829 for given name Marianna and surname Krawczyk from all indexed parishes within a 15 kilometer radius of Sochaczew, omitting results in the parents’ columns.Marianna Krawczyk marriages in Geneteka

Bingo! The first item underlined in red is the 1876 marriage of Jan Skrzyński and Marianna Krawczyk, which took place in Sochaczew. According to this indexed entry, the bride was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Pietraszeska, and information revealed by the “i” infodot (not shown in this image) states that the bride was 25 years old and born in Gawłów. Although a scan is not available, this record, too, can be requested from the Archiwum Diecezjalnego w Łowiczu.

If Marianna was 25 in 1876, it suggests that she was born in 1851. However, this information does not align perfectly with the information from the available birth records for women named Marianna Krawczyk from Sochaczew shown in Figure 2. The Marianna Krawcyzk born in 1851 was born in Żuków, not Gawłów, and her mother’s maiden name was Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. On the other hand, the Krawczyk girl born in Gawłów was named Marcjanna, not Marianna, and she was born in 1859, not 1851. Moreover, her mother’s name was still Piotrowska, not Pietraszeska. So how do we reconcile this? We remember that no single document can be trusted to be 100% accurate and completely reliable. Each piece of evidence must be evaluated in light of the total. In this case, it seems more likely that the Marianna Krawczyk born in 1851 is the same as the Marianna Krawczyk who married in 1876, despite the discrepancies in the place of birth recorded in the marriage record and in the spelling of the mother’s maiden name. This assertion is bolstered by the fact that the Marcjanna Krawczyk born in 1859 appears to have died in 1861, which we discover when we click over to the “deaths” tab in Geneteka.

The second marriage record underlined in red in Figure 3 should also inspire confidence in the conclusion that Marianna’s mother’s name was most likely Piotrowska rather than Pietraszeska (although both names are patronymic surnames related to the given name Piotr). That record shows the marriage of Mateusz Krawczyk, son of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, to Marianna Winnicka in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1893. Mateusz is clearly a full brother to Marianna Krawczyk, and as additional documents emerge which mention Piotrowski, it becomes clear that the Pietraszeska variant was an anomaly. Having established that Zofia Krawczyk’s mother, Marianna Krawczyk, was the daughter of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska, we come to a dead end. Although further searching in Geneteka can fill out the family tree, producing additional birth, marriage, and death records for children of Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska,  there is no marriage record for Andrzej Krawczyk and Tekla Piotrowska which identifies their parents’ names. Similarly, no death records were found for either Andrzej or Tekla which might provide this information. All that can be done quickly and easily to trace Zofia Krawczyk’s ancestry in the hope of finding a connection between her and my family has been done, and no connection has been discovered.

In Search of Izydor Wilczek’s Paternal Ancestry

Moving on, then, to research into Izydor Wilczek’s ancestry, we recall that Izydor’s 1895 marriage record described him as age 30, born in Budy Stare to Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. This suggests a birth year circa 1865, and again we hit a snag because birth records for Młodzieszyn are only readily available after 1885. The situation with marriage records from Młodzieszyn is similarly frustrating, since these are only available from 1889–1898 and then again from 1911–1928. Although it is not possible to easily obtain Izydor’s birth record or his parents’ marriage record, a search for a death record for his father, Andrzej Wilczek, pays off (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Geneteka search results for death records for given name Andrzej and surname Wilczek in Młodzieszyn parish.Geneteka search results for Andrzej Wilczek

According to this indexed entry, Andrzej Wilczek died in 1900 in the village of Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish. The record is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Death record from Młodzieszyn parish for Andrzej Wilczek, 16 August 1900.2Andrzej Wilczek death 1900 marked

The record is written in Russian, which was the official language required for all church and civil vital records in this area at the time, and the full translation appears in the footnotes. It states that Andrzej Wilczek was a farmer, born and residing in Budy Stare, age 72, which suggests a birth year circa 1828. The most important part for solving our DNA puzzle is the section underlined in red, which translates, “…son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka…” The statement of his wife’s name confirms that this death record does indeed pertain to Andrzej Wilczek, father of Izydor Wilczek, rather than to some other Andrzej Wilczek who might have been living in Budy Stare at the same time. Having determined that this is definitely the right guy, the information about Andrzej’s parents becomes the link which allows me to connect Ron Wilczek’s family to my own, because I have preliminary evidence that Jan Wilczek was the full brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Marianna Wilczek.

Why Genealogy Friends Are the Best Kind of Friends

How do I know that Jan and Marianna Wilczek were siblings? As mentioned previously,  records from the parish of Młodzieszyn are not readily available, as the only existing copies of books prior to 1885 are onsite at the parish itself. The current pastor, Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński, is understandably busy with tending to the spiritual needs of his congregation, and has little time for research in old records. However, last November, my friend Justyna Cwynar visited the parish on my behalf to request some Masses for the deceased members of my family, and while she was there, Fr. Kuźmiński kindly permitted her to spend about ten minutes with the parish books. It was unfortunately all the time that Fr. Kuźmiński could give her since he had other commitments, so Justyna worked quickly. She first located the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek which was discussed in the last post, and she also discovered this marriage record for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828.3Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka 1828 copy 2 crop

The record is written in Polish, and states in translation,

“This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the twentieth day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-eight at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Grzegorz Orliński, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszyńskie, age thirty, and Izydor Wilczek, land-owning farmer residing in Budy Młodzieszynek, having sixty-two years of age—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Jan Wilczek, a bachelor born in Budy Młodzieszynek to Izydor and Katarzyna nee Chlupińska, the spouses Wilczek, residing in that same place as land-owning farmers; living with his parents, having nineteen years of age; and Miss Joanna Winnicka, daughter of Maciej, already deceased, and Jadwiga, the spouses Winnicka, residents of Budy Młodzieszyńskie; age sixteen, born in Budy Młodzieszyńskie and living with her mother. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the sixth, thirteenth, and twentieth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn, and likewise by the oral permission of those present at the marriage act—the mother of the bride and likewise both parents of the groom. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreement. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses, who are illiterate. [signed] Fr. Wawrzyniec Kruszewski, pastor of Młodzieszyn.”

And there you have it.

Unlike the marriage record for my ancestors, Marianna Wilczek and Antoni Kalota, which only stated that she was the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna without specifying Katarzyna’s maiden name, the present record states that Katarzyna’s maiden name was Chlupińska. Although Wilczek is a fairly common Polish surname, especially in this part of Poland, the name Izydor is sufficiently uncommon to permit a reasonable certainty that there were not two distinct couples named Izydor and Katarzyna Wilczek who were living concurrently in the same parish. However, the possibility still remains that Izydor Wilczek could have been married sequentially to two different women named Katarzyna. Lacking evidence from additional marriage and death records in the parish, the hypothesis that Marianna Wilczek and Jan Wilczek were full siblings and both children of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska remains tentative. Jan Wilczek’s age in this record suggests that he was born circa 1808, and an added bonus in this record is the fact that the first witness, 62-year-old Izydor Wilczek, was almost certainly Jan’s father. We can therefore infer that Izydor was born circa 1766.

That’s a Wrap (For Now)

Despite the limitations on available records for Młodzieszyn, further research can be done in the indexed records in Geneteka to identify additional children of Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka. (Note that one such child, Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska, turned up during the search for Andrzej’s death record shown in Figure 4.) However, for the purpose of understanding the DNA match between Mom and Ron, we have already established a paper trail, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Relationship chart showing documented relationship between Ron Wilczek and my mother, showing their proposed common descent from most recent ancestral couple, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska.relationship-chart-for-ron-and-mom.png

The chart indicates that my mom and Ron are fifth cousins, a relationship which is consistent with the amount of DNA they share (26.3 centimorgans, cM). Of course, the established paper trail does not prove conclusively that the shared DNA must come from the ancestral couple of Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. In order to do that, it would be necessary to identify additional living descendants of this same couple, who match Ron and Mom on this same DNA segment. Ideally, those tested would descend from Izydor and Katarzyna through other children besides Marianna and Jan Wilczek, such as the Paulina (née Wilczek) Orlińska mentioned in the death record in Figure 4. But present documentary evidence is sufficient to establish this relationship as a preliminary hypothesis for further testing, if one wished to determine beyond the shadow of a doubt that this particular DNA segment was inherited from either Izydor Wilczek or Katarzyna Chlupińska.

Personally, I’m satisfied with this progress. This DNA match spurred me to new discoveries about the interrelatedness of the Polish immigrant community in North Tonawanda; it pointed to a new migration pathway to ponder, which brought migrants from Sochaczew County to Żyrardów County; and it opened paths to further research into the descendants of my 5x-great-grandparents, Izydor Wilczek and Katarzyna Chlupińska. This should keep me busy for quite a while. I’m deeply grateful for the kindness and generosity of two individuals: my friend Justyna Cwynar, who made time during her trip to Poland to stop by Młodzieszyn for me, and Fr. Dariusz Kuźmiński. who permitted access to these priceless vital records. Without them, these discoveries would not have been possible.

And now, back to those Walshes!


1 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019).

2 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Mlodzieszynie,” Ksiega zgonów 1889-1901, 1900, no. 55, death record for Andrzej Wilczek, died 16 August 1900, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 24 May 2019). Translation: “No. 55, Budy Stare. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the fourth/seventeenth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred at eleven o’clock in the morning. They appeared, Franciszek Orliński, farmer, [having] fifty-five years, and Mateusz Orliński, farmer, [having] sixty-three years from birth, residents of the village of Budy Stare, and stated that, on the third/sixteenth day of August of the current year, at eleven o’clock in the morning, in the village of Budy Stare, Andrzej Wilczek died; a farmer, having seventy-two years of age, born in the village of Budy Stare, son of Jan and Joanna née Winnicka. He leaves after himself his widowed wife, Anna née Kornacka, residing in the village of Budy Stare. After eye witness confirmation of the death of Andrzej Wilczek, this document was read to the illiterate witnesses and was signed by Us only. [signed] Fr. J. Ojrzanowski.”

Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1828, marriages, no. 1, Jan Wilczek and Joanna Winnicka, 20 January 1828, Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


Puzzling Through a DNA Match

Although I’m mostly working on my Walsh research these days, there’s some Polish research that’s in the back of my mind that I thought I’d write about today. This research relates to an exciting DNA match I found recently on my Mom’s side. Although I still don’t know exactly how we’re related, I’m sure we’re on the right track.

Like many of you, I regularly check my list of new “close” matches (4th cousins or better) at the sites where I have done DNA testing with various family members. Since I’m fortunate enough to have test data for both my parents, I prefer to check their match lists rather than my own since their matches yield better information about earlier generations of the family. During one of the checks on Mom’s matches, I noticed a 4th-cousin-level match to Ron Wilczek, who gave me permission to use his name in my blog. Ron had a tree linked to his DNA data, and I was immediately intrigued by the fact that his grandfather was reported to be a Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda, New York, named Stanisław Wilczek. Both the surname and the location were significant to me, because my mom’s grandfather was another Polish immigrant to North Tonawanda named Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s great-grandmother was Marianna Wilczek.

The Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn Parish

Marianna was born circa 1810, and she married Antoni Kalota in the parish of Młodzieszyn in 1830. The record of their marriage was kindly obtained for me through onsite research at the parish by my friend Justyna Cwynar, and is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Marriage record from Młodzieszyn parish for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830.1Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek 1830 crop

The record is written in Polish, and in translation it states,

“No. 2. This happened in the village of Młodzieszyn on the thirty-first day of January in the year one thousand eight hundred thirty at twelve o’clock noon. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Chaba, land-owning farmer of Młodzieszyn, having forty-eight years of age, and Antoni Wilczek, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, having twenty-seven years of age, brother of the aforementioned Marianna Wilczkówna—on this day was concluded a religious marriage between Antoni Kalota, bachelor, land-owning farmer of Budy Młodzieszynek, age twenty years, son of Grzegorz and Helena, the spouses Kalota, former residents of Młodzieszyn; born in Młodzieszyn; and Miss Marianna Wilczkówna, age nineteen, daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, the spouses Wilczek, residing as land-owning farmers in Budy Młodzieszynek; born in that same place and living there with her parents. The marriage was preceded by three announcements on the tenth, seventeenth, and twenty-fourth days of January of the current year in the parish of Młodzieszyn and likewise by the oral permission of the parents of the bride, present at the marriage act; on the part of the groom, permission was officially declared by the family council before the village mayor of gmina Trojanów on the ninth day of January of the current year. There were no impediments to the marriage. The newlyweds stated that they had made no prenuptial agreements. This document was read to the declarants and witnesses who are unable to write. [signed] Pastor Fr. Fabian Hirschberger.”

Marianna’s name was recorded as Wilczkówna, but this is merely an old-fashioned form indicating an unmarried woman of the Wilczek family. She was noted to be the daughter of Izydor and Katarzyna, whose maiden name was not provided in this document.

The second witness on the marriage record for Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek was Antoni Wilczek, who was also identified as her brother, and whose age suggests a birth circa 1803. The record states that Marianna was born and residing with her parents in “Budy Młodzieszynek,” a place which does not appear in the Słownik geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and Other Slavic Lands). It’s unclear from this record whether the village of Młodzieszynek was intended, or instead the village of Budy Młodzieszyńskie, both of which belonged to the parish in Młodzieszyn. According to the Słownik, Budy Młodzieszyńskie had 44 homes, while Młodzieszynek had 15 homes circa 1827, contemporaneous with the time frame for the marriage of Marianna and Antoni Kalota. 2

The DNA Match

Mom and Ron share a single segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. The matching segment consists of 26.3 cM and 11,008 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), according to the chromosome browser at MyHeritage, where Ron uploaded his raw DNA data from Ancestry. The Shared cM Tool at DNA Painter, which offers statistical probabilities for each relationship that is possible based on a given amount of shared DNA, reports a 55.88% chance that the relationship between Mom and Ron is pretty distant, along the lines of 4th-8th cousins, but encompassing a number of possible relationships within that range (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Most probable relationships predicted by 26.3 cM shared DNA, according to DNA Painter.Shared cM Screenshot for DNA shared between Ron and Mom

26.3 cM is likely to be identical by descent, indicative of shared ancestry, rather than by identical by chance, i.e. a false positive. However, the Wilczek surname is sufficiently common throughout Poland that we cannot assume that this is necessarily how Ron and Mom are related without documentary evidence to prove the relationship (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Approximate geographic distribution of the Wilczek surname throughout Poland, circa 2009, courtesy of Nazwiska Polskie. Numbers in colored circles indicate approximate number of bearers of the surname in that region.Wilczek surname distribution

So what do we know—or what can we discover—about the origins of Ron’s Wilczek ancestors that might help confirm the hypothesis that the connection lies with the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn parish?

The Wilczek Family of North Tonawanda, New York

According to Ron’s tree, his grandfather, Stanisław, was the son of Izydor and Sophia Wilczek, both of whom also immigrated from Russian Poland to North Tonawanda. Izydor is not an especially common Polish given name, and its appearance in both Ron’s family and my own offers further evidence that our connection lies somewhere within the Wilczek family of Młodzieszyn. The 1910 census shows the Wilczek family living at 36 Eighth Avenue in North Tonawanda (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Extract from the 1910 census showing Izydor Wilczek and his family in North Tonawanda, New York.3Wilczek fam 1910 census

According to the information in the census, Izydor was born circa 1874 in Russian Poland and had been married for 15 years, suggesting a marriage date circa 1895. He was reported to have immigrated in 1903 but was not a naturalized citizen. His wife, Sophie, arrived three years later in 1906. Although there were only four children living with the family in 1910, the census revealed that Sophie was the mother of 8, so we know there were four additional children that we need to identify in order to get a complete picture of the family.

In addition to the 1910 census, Ron’s tree contained one another piece of information that was especially interesting. His tree stated that his grandfather, Stanisław Wilczek, was born in Żyrardów, Poland, a town which is located some 40 km south of Młodzieszyn (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Locations of Żyrardów and Młodzieszyn within the Mazowieckie province of Poland, courtesy of Google Maps.Map of Zyrardow to Mlodzieszyn

If Ron’s Wilczek ancestors were originally from Żyrardów or nearby villages, that would fly in the face of my hypothesis that we descend from common Wilczek ancestors in Młodzieszyn. Could his information be incorrect? Or did his branch of the Wilczek family move south, and if so, how long ago?

Geneteka to the Rescue, Again!

Fortunately, this was an easy thing to check. Records for Żyrardów are indexed in the popular Polish vital records indexing database, Geneteka, for the time period when Stanisław Wilczek and his siblings were born. A quick search for records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia (the Polish version of the name Sophie) Wilczek demonstrated that Ron’s oral family history was accurate: Stanisław Wilczek was born in Żyrardów (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Geneteka search results for birth records pertaining to Izydor and Zofia Wilczek, searching all locations in Mazowieckie province. Geneteka Search Results for Izydor Wilczek

In addition to Stanisław’s birth record, this search also produced birth records for the two Polish-born siblings mentioned in the 1910 census, Feliksa and Antonina. Furthermore, it identified two of the children born to Zofia Wilczek who were reported to be deceased prior to 1910, Zofia Stanisława and Józef. Their death records can be found by clicking over to the “Deaths” tab in the search results. Best of all, the marriage record for Izydor and Zofia was also indexed and linked to a scan, which is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Marriage record from Żyrardów parish for Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895.4Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk marriage 1895

The marriage record is written in Russian, and is translated as follows:

“No. 63. Teklinów and Budy Stare. This happened in the town of Żyrardów on the 12th/24th day of February 1895 at 7:00 in the evening. We declare that—in the presence of witnesses, Antoni Peńsko and Jan Wysocki, both adult laborers residing in Ruda Guzowska—on this day a religious marriage was contracted between Izydor Wilczek, bachelor, reserve solder, farmer, born in Budy Stare in Młodzieszyn parish, and residing in that place with his parents; son of Andrzej and Anna née Kornacka, the spouses Wilczek, age 30; and Zofia Krawczyk, single, seamstress, born in Kuznocin, Sochaczew parish, and residing in Teklinów, daughter of the unmarried Marianna Krawczyk; age 20. The marriage was preceded by three readings of the banns in the local parish church and in the parish of Młodzieszyn on the 10th, 17th, and 24th days of February of this year. No impediments to the marriage were found. The newlyweds stated that they had made no premarital agreements between them. Permission for the marriage of the underage bride was given orally by the stepfather, Jan Skrzyński, present at the marriage act. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Kazimierz Nowosielski, vicar of the local parish. This document was read aloud to the newlyweds, witnesses, and stepfather, who are illiterate, and was signed by Us. [signed] Acting Civil Registrar, Fr. Jan Ka??? [illegible]”

So Izydor was indeed born in a village belonging to Młodzieszyn parish, and he was still living there at the time he married Zofia. This confirms my hunch about Izydor’s origins and suggests that I’m on the right track. It may be that the common ancestor shared between me and Ron was a Wilczek from Młodzieszyn. The record goes on to identify Izydor’s parents as Andrzej Wilczek and Anna Kornacka, who were unknown to me, so further research in the records of Młodzieszyn is needed to elucidate the relationship between Izydor Wilczek and my great-great-great-grandmother Marianna (née Wilczek) Kalota. However, the record also presents a plot twist: the bride, Zofia Krawczyk, was a native of the village of Kuznocin in Sochaczew parish! This is potentially relevant because I’ve traced my Krzemiński, Bielski, and Świecicki ancestors back to villages belonging to Sochaczew parish, so it muddies the waters quite a bit when it comes to determining the common ancestor from whom Mom and Ron inherited that segment of DNA on Chromosome 17. Moreover, it’s problematic that Zofia’s father is unknown, as our connection might lie with him.

Although an answer to this problem is not immediately apparent, it may be that additional research can present the solution. In the meantime, it’s obvious that we’re on the right track. This is a story that will be continued…. stay tuned!


Roman Catholic Church, Młodzieszyn parish (Młodzieszyn, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Młodzieszynie,” unknown dates, 1830, marriages, no. 2, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, 31 January 1830,  Parafia Narodzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny w Młodzieszynie, Chodakowska 1, 96-512 Młodzieszyn, Poland.

2 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 VI, 536, “Młodzieszyn,” DIR—Zasoby Polskie (http://dir.icm.edu.pl/pl/ : 17 May 2019).

3 “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M5HJ-T4L : 17 May 2019), Izidor Wilczek household, North Tonawanda Ward 3, Niagara, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 126, sheet 20A, family 309, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1049; FHL microfilm 1,375,062.

4 Roman Catholic Church, Żyrardów parish (Żyrardów, Żyrardów, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi metrykalne parafii rz-kat. w Żyrardowie, Księga UMZ 1895 r., marriages, no. 63, Izydor Wilczek and Zofia Krawczyk, 24 February 1895, accessed as digital images, Metryki.genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 17 May 2019). 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019


A Geneteka Christmas

The Advent season, with its preparations for Christmas, is always nostalgic for me.  I was very close to my grandparents, John and Helen Zielinski, and Grandpa told me stories of how his mother, Genevieve (née Klaus) Zielinski, loved Christmas, too.  He was the oldest of the five children in his family, and at some point before Christmas, she would draw him aside and show him the gifts that she had gathered to give to his younger siblings, sharing with him her anticipation of the joy that those gifts would bring.  Of course, she didn’t show him the gifts that he himself would receive, but the honor of being co-conspirator in creating Christmas joy for his siblings was clearly a source of pride for Grandpa.  Grandpa’s family also had a tradition of giving the children one gift before Christmas.  Whether this custom had its origins in the Polish tradition of gift-giving at the feast of St. Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj) on December 6 is unclear, but Grandpa and Grandma strongly felt that children should not have to wait throughout the whole of Advent without some small gift.  As a child, I certainly had no objections to this practice.

Grandpa passed away in the pre-dawn darkness of a February night in 2003.  He had been suffering from prostate cancer for some time, and we knew the end was near. At the time, I was pregnant with my fourth child, Catherine, and when I spoke with him on the phone for the last time, a few days before he died, Grandpa told me that he was holding out to know that Catherine had arrived into this world safely.  Catherine was born a few minutes after dawn, just hours after Grandpa died.  He never got to meet her, but I know in my heart that he knew all about her.  I’ve tried to share my memories of my grandparents with all my children, especially at Christmas when those memories are so dear and Grandma and Grandpa feel so close.

So what does this have to do with Geneteka?  Fast-forward to October of 2012. I was still plugging away at my research on Grandpa’s Zieliński’s family, but I hadn’t obtained any information prior to the emigration of Grandpa’s father, Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski. I had progressed to the point where I had identified the Zielinskis’ ancestral village of Mistrzewice, Mazowieckie province, and I had determined that some records for this parish were held at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (the Grodzisk Mazowiecki Branch of the Polish State Archive of Warsaw).  In October 2012 I wrote a snail-mail letter to the archive to request a copy of my great-grandfather’s birth record, hoping that at last I might have some documentation from Poland for this family.  Most of my research in Polish records at this point had been done in LDS microfilms, and I was as yet unaware of the growing treasure-trove of Polish vital records coming online in greater numbers each day.

It was while I was waiting for my reply from that archive, that Grandpa gave me my best Christmas gift that year, on December 16 — a little early, because no one should have to wait all the way until Christmas without some small gift.  That was the day I discovered Geneteka, and found the birth records for his father, Joseph Zielinski, as well as for Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski, and eight other siblings who were previously unknown to our family (Figure 1).

Figure 1:  Geneteka search results for children of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.zielinskis-in-geneteka

For me, finally reading great-grandpa’s baptismal record, after so many years of seeking it, was such a thrill (Figure 2).

Figure 2:  Baptismal record for Józef Zieliński, son of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.joseph-zielinski

As you may notice, the record is in Russian, which was the required language for all legal documents from this part of Poland at that time. Having this fantastic data set that I couldn’t read because all the records were in Russian, was also a gift in its own way.  Although I’d dabbled in Russian translations with a few records before this, it was these records that forced me to finally get serious about learning to read Russian vital records.  During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, while we were in Buffalo visiting with our extended family, I sat down and immersed myself in these records and in Shea and Hoffman’s game-changing translation guide until they finally started making sense and I could read them with relative ease.  The fact that my family indulged me in that, and gave me the time and space for genealogy research in the midst of holiday cheer, was yet another Christmas gift.

(If you’re curious about what that baptismal record says, here’s the translation.)

“This happened in the village of Mistrzewice on the 30th day of September/12th day of October 1892 at 4:00 in the afternoon. He appeared, Stanisław Zieliński, farmer residing in Mistrzewice, 28 years from birth, in the presence of Tomasz Kęska, farmer, age 33, and Piotr Szewczyk, farmer, age 33, residents of the village of Mistrzewice, and showed us a child of the male sex, stating that it was born in the village of Mistrzewice on the 28th day of September/10th day of October of the current year at 6:00 in the morning of his lawful wife Marianna, née Kalota. (Marginal note, whose text should be inserted here, reads, “To this child at Holy Baptism was given the name Józef.) and godparents were Tomasz Kęska and Waleria Zakościelna. This document to the declarant and to the illiterate witnesses was read, and signed only by us.”

Unfortunately, Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn, the two parishes which held records for my Zieliński family, were in the path of the Nazis in 1939.  Many records were destroyed, as was the parish cemetery in Mistrzewice, so my knowledge of the family is incomplete.  I do know that my 5x-great-grandparents were Wojciech and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Ciećwierz, probably born in the 1790s.  Their son, Jan Ciećwierz, married Katarzyna Grzelak about 1836.  Jan and Katarzyna’s daughter, Antonina Ciećwierz, married Michał Zieliński circa 1853, and together they had 7 children, including my great-great-grandfather, Stanisław Zieliński, who married Marianna Kalota.  Michał Zieliński died in February 1872, a fact which I know only because it was mentioned in the marriage record when his widow Antonina remarried Ludwik Grzegorek. Surviving marriage records for Mistrzewice only go back to 1855, and death records only go back to 1890, so I will never be able to determine Michał’s parents’ names from either his marriage or his death record.

On the Kalota side, I can trace back as far as my 4x-great-grandparents, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, whose son Roch Kalota married Agata Kurowska, daughter of Andrzej and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Kurowski, circa 1855.  Had they married in Mistrzewice, their marriage record might have been captured in the surviving records, but unfortuately the Kalota family was from Młodzieszyn, where all the records prior to 1885 were destroyed.  Roch and Agata Kalota had six children that I have been able to discover, including my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Kalota) Zielińska.

Geneteka’s interface has changed considerably since I began my research that Christmas, and it offers more powerful and flexible search options than it did four years ago.  Moreover, records are being added to Geneteka regularly, so it’s well worth your time to revisit your research periodically, even if you think you’ve been thorough.  For example, a new feature that has been added since I first began researching my Zieliński family is the ability to conduct a province-wide search using both a surname and a maiden name.  So I can now search all of Mazowieckie province for records which mention both the names Ciećwierz and Grzelak — which I just did, while writing this blog post, with exciting results (Figure 3)!

Figure 3:  Search results for Ciećwierz and Grzelak in Mazowieckie province.ciecwierz-and-grzelak

If you’ll notice, there are three marriages that occurred in Mistrzewice, and I knew about those already.  However, there are two births for children of Jan Ciećwierz and Katarzyna Grzelak in the parish of Mikołajew — Feliks in 1838 and Marcjanna in 1840.  The dates are right on the money to make them siblings of my 3x-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska.  Moreover, there is an 1830 marriage record for a Marianna Ciećwierz to a Karol Grzelak, also in Mikołajew, as well the death record for this same woman five years later. If you hover your cursor over the “i” in that indexed entry for the death record, you see that Marianna was age 25 when she died and her maiden name was indeed Ciećwierz. The death index specifies that the parents of Marianna (née Ciećwierz) Grzelak were Wojciech and Katarzyna, which means that Marianna was most likely a sister to my 4x-great-grandfather Jan Ciećwierz. Jan’s death record from 1897 states that he was age 82 when he died, suggesting a birth year of 1815, and if Marianna was 25 when she died in 1835, then she was born in 1810 — just 5 years older than Jan.

The fact that these records are from Mikołajew is also fascinating to me.  My great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, emigrated in 1912 with his cousin, Stanley Mikołajewski. Although he initially settled in North Tonawanda, New York, where my family lived, Stanley eventually moved on to Cleveland where he changed the family surname to Michaels. The families remained close and would often travel back and forth between North Tonawanda and Cleveland for visits.  Etymologically, “Mikołajewski” is a topographic surname, deriving from the names of towns such as Mikołajew.1 So essentially, the surname “Mikołajewski” means, “that guy from Mikołajew,” and I have long suspected that the Mikołajewskis who settled in Młodzieszyn and married into my Kalota family, must have been from the nearby village of Mikołajew originally (Figure 4).

Figure 4:  Map showing proximity of Mikołajew to Młodzieszyn and Mistrzewice.map

Surnames were often surprisingly changeable in the first half of the 19th century in Poland, and as I consider these new data, I wonder if perhaps it was Stanley Mikołajewski’s grandfather or great-grandfather who might have used a different surname previously, but migrated to Młodzieszyn, perhaps at the same time as my Ciećwierz ancestors, and became known as “Mikołajewski.”  Further pondering and research are required to fully understand all this, but at the moment, I’m thrilled with this wonderful new discovery!

Somehow, it seems like another Christmas gift from Grandpa in heaven.


1 William F. Hoffman, Polish Surnames:  Origins and Meanings (Third Edition), (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 2012), p. 450

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016