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!

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Should Auld Ancestors Be Forgot: The Year in Review

2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.

Connecting the Dodds

In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.

Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly

In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.

DNA Discoveries

Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.

Honing in on the Hodgkinsons

In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.

Caus(in) for Celebration

Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.

Figure 1: Pedigree chart for Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts suggested by data gathered to date from the records of Pfetterhouse and Seppois-le-Bas. Click the chart to view a larger image. Research is ongoing and some of these conclusions remain tentative, pending discovery of additional evidence.

Everything Else

Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.

A Look Ahead

As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:

  1. I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
  2. I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
  3. I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
  4. On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
  5. I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
  6. I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.

This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

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

Grandma Helen’s Letter: How Family Stories Measure Up

My mother’s been holding out on me. For many years, she’s maintained that she’s really not interested in family history. And I can accept that. Although it’s difficult for me to empathize, I do understand intellectually that there are some people who just aren’t enthralled at the prospect of digging up documents pertaining to long-gone generations of the family, and Mom is one of those people. However, while helping to sort and reorganize accumulated papers in her desk recently, I discovered a folder, neatly marked “Genealogy Information.” What?! Curiosity piqued, I sifted through the contents of the folder, and  discovered that most of it was merely stuff I’d given to her over the years, hard copies of emails I’d written to my parents as I made new family history discoveries. However, some of it was pure genealogical gold, including a bridal picture of my great-grandaunt, Wanda, an envelope of prayer cards from family funerals, and—best of all—a letter written by my grandmother, Helen Zielinski, in 1977.

The letter was addressed to my parents, my sister, and me. At that time, my family was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, while Grandma and Grandpa still lived in North Tonawanda, New York. The letter was dated 4 December, and the first page is delightfully chatty. Grandma noted that she’d call on Friday, thanked Mom for some photos Mom recently sent, expressed concern that my other Grandma, Marie Roberts, had been in the hospital, and offered to send Christmas cookies in case my mother did not have time to bake. The next pages, however, are even better: Grandma provided brief biographical information about each of her parents and Grandpa’s parents, as well as some other interesting tidbits of family history.

This part of the letter was written in order to help my sister with a family history project she was doing in school. At that time, my sister was in 4th grade and I was in 3rd grade, and she was working on a “Roots” project, which (sadly) I was not also required to do when I got to 4th grade. The project was aimed at helping the students discover their family history, so it was necessary for them to interview their elders and ask about previous generations of the family, as well as any family traditions or ethnic customs that were still practiced. I remember when this project was taking place, and I knew that Grandma had contributed a great deal of information. It made sense that Mom would have saved this letter; however, I’d never actually seen it or read it previously.

It’s clear that Grandma really enjoyed helping with the project, and she wrote about how she spoke with two of her cousins, Carrie Baginski and Arthur Gray, to help her fill in the blanks. It was really fascinating for me to read this information, recorded in Grandma’s own handwriting. It was especially interesting to see how this information measured up against the documentary paper trail that I’ve been gathering over the years since then. Here, then, is Grandma’s original information, recalled and recorded by her at the age of 57, in collaboration with information from some of her cousins, compared with “the rest of the story.”

On Joseph Zielinski (My Great-Grandfather):

Starting off with her father-in-law, Joseph Zielinski, Grandma wrote, “Born in Poland in 1892—lived with his parents on a farm in a village called ‘Sochaczew’ near Warsaw. He arrived in New York City in 1914. He left Poland because he would have had to serve in the Russian Army. Joseph had one brother named Frank who was killed in World War II in America. Joseph died at age 80 in August 1973.”[1]

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 3

Analysis: Grandma was spot-on about Joseph’s birth year in 1892, in spite of census records, a World War II draft registration, and the record from his second marriage, which would all argue that Joseph was born between 1893-1894. Joseph’s birth record confirms that he was born 10 October 1892; however, he was born in the village of Mistrzewice, not in the town of Sochaczew. Mistrzewice is located in Sochaczew County, and the Zieliński family’s deeper roots lie in the parish of Sochaczew itself, since Joseph’s grandfather, Michał Archanioł Zieliński, was born in the village of Bibiampol and baptized in Sochaczew. Therefore it’s actually true, in one sense, that the Zieliński family was “from” Sochaczew, although it would have been more accurate (and would have saved me some time in searching!) if the family history had mentioned Mistrzewice as their more recent place of origin.

It may very well be that Joseph left Poland so he would not have to join the Russian army. Exactly how he managed to avoid the conscription that was mandatory in Russia at that time is unclear, but his World War I draft registration does not indicate any prior service in the Russian army. In contrast, the World War I draft card for Joseph’s brother, Frank, states that he served three years in the Russian infantry. Taken together, these facts seem to confirm the family story that Joseph was able to slip out of the Russian Empire before they could force him into service. It’s also true that Joseph’s brother, Frank, was killed in the war. However, he was killed in World War I, not II. It seems likely that Grandma merely made a recording error when she wrote that Frank was killed in World War II, since the oral family tradition always referenced World War I.

Grandma’s wording does not make it clear if she was aware of other siblings that Joseph and Frank might have had, and one might suspect that she would have identified those siblings by name if she could have. I know now that Joseph and Frank had eight additional siblings—five brothers and three sisters. Five of these siblings (three younger brothers and two younger sisters) were still alive when Joseph left Poland for the U.S., and he arrived in 1912—not 1914. All in all, Grandma was pretty accurate in the information she provided.

On Genevieve Zielinski (My Great-Grandmother):

Next, regarding her mother-in-law, Grandma wrote, “Maiden name—Klaus. Born in 1898 in North Tonawanda, N.Y. Married Joseph Zielinski in 1915. They had five children, John (born Oct. 18, 1916), Frank, Helen, Stanley, and Irene. Genevieve died at age 44 in the year 1942.”

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 4

Analysis: Grandma was pretty close with Genevieve’s birth year, but Genowefa Klaus was, in fact, born 28 September 1897 in Buffalo, New York, rather than in North Tonawanda. She married Joseph Zielinski on 6 October 1915 at the church of Our Lady of Częstochowa in North Tonawanda, and of course, the names of their children (my grandfather and his siblings) are accurate. She died on 6 May 1942 at the age of 44, so once again, Grandma did pretty well.

On Mary Klaus (My Great-Great-Grandmother):

Things start to get a little bumpy with Grandma’s next report about her husband’s grandmother. Regarding Mary Klaus, Genevieve Zielinski’s mother, Grandma wrote, “Maiden name—Olszanowicz. Arrived in Texas from Poland. She and her husband had eight (in N.T.) children, Anna, Joe, Pauline, Eddy, Genevieve, Walter, Helen and Rudolf. Anna is still alive, living in Chicago. Mary died in N. Tonawanda at age 65.”

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 5

Analysis: Oh, Grandma. Would that I had never heard that story about Texas. I spent so much time trying to find any possible shred of evidence for our family’s sojourn there. And it wasn’t just you, Grandma. Cousin Julia Ziomek reported that same story, in even greater detail. I wrote about it most recently here, but also here, here, and here. The truth, as near as I can figure, is that the entire story was a fabrication created to avoid embarrassing questions about the circumstances surrounding the births of Mary’s two oldest sons, Joseph and John, who were born out of wedlock in Buffalo, New York, prior to Mary’s marriage to her first husband, Andrew Klaus. Mary’s maiden name was not Olszanowicz, either—it was Łącka. Olszanowicz was the name of her second husband, whom she married after Andrew’s death. That marriage did not last long—only three months, reportedly—which may explain why poor Walter Olszanowicz was so easily forgotten, although his name was still recalled in association with Mary. In total, Mary Klaus had 11 children. In addition to Joseph and John, her children with Andrew included Zofia (who died in infancy), Anna, Pauline, Bolesław (who also died in infancy), Genevieve, Edward, Walter, Rudolf, and Helen. Grandma was right, Anna (née Klaus) Gworek Matysak was still alive in 1977 when this letter was written. However, Mary (née Łącka) Klaus Olszanowicz was quite a bit older than most U.S. records would indicate, and she was actually 75, not 65, when she died in 1942.

On John Zazycki (my great-grandfather):

Grandma wrote the following about her father, John Zazycki: “Born in Warsaw, Poland 1866. Came to the United States and went to Alaska to seek employment. While in Poland he served in the Russian Cavalry and got his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. He died in 1924 at age 58. John’s forefathers were named Zazycki because they lived behind a creek. Za—behind, zekom—creek.”

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 6

Analysis: As often happened with immigrants, John Zazycki approximated his birthplace to a nearby large city, rather than citing the small village where he was actually born. I now know that John was born 5 March 1866 in the village of Bronisławy, which was located in Sochaczew County in the Warsaw gubernia, or province of the Russian Empire. So in that sense, Grandma’s information that her father was born in Warsaw in 1866 was correct, if not especially precise, since Bronisławy is about 50 miles west of the city of Warsaw. I have not been able to confirm any Russian military service for John, although it’s quite likely that he did serve, since such service was compulsory. Similarly, John died in 1924 at the age of 58, exactly as Grandma reported, and we have documentary evidence that John was apprenticed to a master blacksmith, Józef Gruberski, who was also his brother-in-law. Even Grandma’s Polish surname etymology is approximately correct, although I’ve read that it should be “za rzeka” (“beyond the river”). That leaves the final statement, that John initially went to Alaska to seek employment prior to his arrival in Buffalo, New York.

It turns out that this is a difficult claim to fact-check. John’s naturalization papers state that he arrived in the U.S. on 15 January 1895, and that he resided in the U.S. continuously for 5 years prior to his petition for naturalization in Buffalo on 12 July 1900. Alaska was a U.S. territory, so presumably, John could have traveled to Alaska following his arrival in New York and still count that time toward his 5-year-residency requirement for naturalization. If he did go to Alaska, he was not there for long, and documenting him there, without knowing a specific location, is akin to chasing down my Klaus family in Texas. And we all know how that ended.

On Veronica Zazycki (My Great-Grandmother):

I’ve written previously about some of the interesting statements made by Grandma about her mother, Veronica Zazycki. Grandma wrote, “Maiden name—Grzesiak. Born in the year 1876 in the village ‘Poznan’ near Warsaw. Her parents owned a grain mill. She had a sister Josephine and two brothers—Walter and Thaddeus. They lived near the church and parish house and Veronika’s mother sewed all the vestments for the priest. Veronika’s mother died when Josephine was born so at age 18 she came to America in year 1894. She found employment working in the kitchen of a restaurant. The people could not speak Polish and Veronika could not speak English so they used sign language and called her Mary. She saved her money and sent it to her two brothers so they could come to America. In the meantime, Walter (her brother) married a Polish actress named Wanda and she did not want to leave her career, so he left without her. They say she died of a broken heart.

Veronika married John Zazycki and they had twin boys as their first born, Benjamin and Roman. Wanda was next, then came Leon, Antoinette, Joseph, Angela, and last but not least, their beautiful baby daughter Helen who is sitting here writing ‘Roots.’

Veronika was a seamstress who supported her family after her husband died. She lived to age 62 and was killed in an automobile accident in 1938. Helen’s birthday is Nov. 30th, 1920.”

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 8

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 9

Analysis: Veronica (née Grzesiak) Zazycki was born 27 December 1876 in the village of Kowalewo-Opactwo. The village is about 50 miles east of Poznań, but “Poznań near Warsaw” doesn’t make a lot of sense since Poznań and Warsaw are nearly 200 miles apart. Nonetheless, the reference to Warsaw is interesting in light of the fact that members of the Grzesiak family were living in Warsaw in the years after Veronica moved to the U.S. Her passenger manifest informs us that Veronica arrived in Baltimore in March 1898, and in June 1898, her sister Konstancja married Julian Cieniewski in Warsaw, while her brother Walter married Kazimiera Olczak in Warsaw two months later. These facts underscore two more points—first, that Walter’s wife was not named Wanda, but rather Kazimiera; and second, that Veronica had additional siblings besides Walter, Thaddeus and Josephine. Polish birth records from Kowalewo-Opactwo revealed two more Grzesiak sisters, Pelagia and Konstancja, whose existence was not known to Grandma.

The part about the grain mill, and the proximity of the family home to the church, was something I wrote about in a previous post, as there may be some evidence for that. The part about Veronica’s mother dying when Josephine was born is utterly false, however, as Veronica’s mother, Marianna (née Krawczyńska) Grzesiak, did not die until 1904, several years after most of her children were settled in America. Grandma was a bit off on the timing of Veronica’s immigration, since Veronica did not immigrate in 1894, at the age of 18, but rather in March of 1898, at the age of 21. I have not been able to document the story about Veronica working in the kitchen of a restaurant and being called Mary. However, it always struck me as a bit strange that they would call her Mary when Veronica is a not a name that is unusual or difficult to pronounce in English.

I have a hunch that this part of the story may have something to do with another Mary whom I discovered through my research, Mary Staszak. When Veronica immigrated, her passenger manifest reported that she was headed to her “brother-in-law” in Buffalo, Michael Staszak. Further research revealed that Michael was not Veronica’s brother-in-law at all. Nonetheless, Michael’s wife, Marianna (née Derda) Staszak, was from the same village as Veronica and they traveled together on the ship, although they were recorded on different pages of the ship’s manifest. Research in records from Poland has not revealed any obvious way in which Veronica Grzesiak and Mary Staszak were related. My guess is that they were merely good friends, or at best, distant cousins. But the association between the name Mary, and this story from Veronica’s early days in the U.S., strikes me as something more than coincidental.

The next part about Walter and his actress wife is probably accurate. Walter and Kazimieria (née Olczak) Grzesiak did meet and marry in Warsaw, and I wrote about their story previously. At this point, I think she probably was an actress when they met. However, she did not die of a broken heart, nor did she remain in Poland while Walter came to the U.S. alone. In fact, she came to the U.S. in 1900, along with Walter’s sister, Josephine, and the Grzesiak patriarch himself, Józef, father of Walter, Veronica, Thaddeus and Josephine. Kazimiera was still in Buffalo and married to Walter in 1905 when the New York State census was conducted, but they were separated by 1910, and subsequent newspaper articles from 1912 indicate that Kazimiera had left Walter for another man.

The final part of the story, in which Grandma recounts her siblings’ names is, of course, accurate. However, Grandma’s mother died in 1940, not 1938, at the age of 63. The last line is also interesting to me. Grandma’s birth date of record was, indeed, 30 November 1920. However, we always “knew” her birthday was November 25th, and that’s the day we celebrated it. The story was that Grandma was born on Thanksgiving Day, so the registry office was closed. The midwife could not get in to report the birth immediately, and there were penalties for delays in reporting. So, when she finally visited the office on the 30th to report Grandma’s birth, she simply told them that the baby had been born that day. A quick check of a 1920 calendar confirms that Thanksgiving fell on 25 November that year, so I believe that this story is accurate, although I have no way of proving it to be so.

The last page of the letter includes some miscellaneous information about the family. Grandma wrote, “Genevieve Zielinski embroidered the picture in 1940 and gave it to Helen and John in 1941 when we got married. Dad thinks that the name Zielinski was given to the people because they came from Green County. Green is ‘Zielone,’ County would be ‘Miasto.’ Don’t know of any living relatives. I am giving you all the information I could gather after 7 phone calls on Friday. Seems like names and dates were not important. I am happy to give my Granddaughters the enclosed pictures. Perhaps you would want to mention the fact that Daddy’s parents plus John, Frank and Helen went for a visit to Poland in 1921 and stayed for 3 months.”

Letter from Grandma Helen 1977 page 10

The picture that Grandma referenced (below) is now a cherished family heirloom, of course, belonging to my mother. When Grandma Genevieve stitched that picture in the year before she died, she was a patient in the sanatorium, suffering from tuberculosis.IMG_5037 (2)

As for the remaining statements, Grandpa’s theory about the origin of the Zieliński surname is pretty much in line with accepted etymology in that the surname derives in some form from the Polish word for “green.” The lack of (close) living relatives from Poland which Grandma mentioned was always a disappointment to me, but ultimately I’ve been able to connect with distant cousins there who were identified through deeper research. The “enclosed pictures” which she mentioned were unfortunately separated from this letter, although I’m certain that my mother still has them, somewhere. And finally, the comment about Grandpa’s family trip back to Poland in 1921 has since been well documented, and I was even able to discover the reason for the trip—the death of the last surviving Zieliński sibling in Poland, Władysław, who died on 23 March 1921, leaving their elderly mother alone to manage the family farm.

So now we’ve come full circle. The family history stories that Grandma recorded in her letter got me started on my path to discover the past, but they are no longer my only source of information. After years of research, I understand which parts of the stories are accurate and which are not, and I even had the opportunity to share with Grandma some of my findings about her family before she passed in 2015. I’m now nearly the age that Grandma was when she wrote that letter, and I’ve taken on her role of story teller, helping a new generation to know a bit about our family’s origins, identifying the patriarchs and matriarchs whose DNA we carry. I only hope that my stories may be as inspirational as hers.

Source:

[1] Helen Zazycki Zielinski, North Tonawanda, New York, to the Roberts family, Cincinnati, Ohio, letter, 4 December 1977, privately held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

 

 

Eight Surnames of My Own

Not so recently, genealogy blogger James Scobbie wrote a post which created quite a buzz in the Facebook genealogy world.[1] He proposed that each of us should know or learn the eight surnames of our great-grandparents, and be able to recite them with ease, since this is a manageable amount of family history for anyone to carry around in his or her own head. Moreover, these surnames convey a more complete picture of who we are—insofar as our identity is determined by the people we come from—than does our surname alone, or even our surname plus mother’s maiden name.

I really liked this idea, and I find myself thinking about it still, long after the buzz has died down. I grew up with a surname, Roberts, that created misconceptions about my family’s origins. The surname is typically British, but in fact, my Roberts forebears were German immigrants with the surname Ruppert, who changed the name to Roberts upon settling in Detroit in the 1850s. Back then, German Catholic immigrants were among the groups targeted by the anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” party, so I’m sure it made sense for my Ruppert ancestors to keep their heads down and assimilate as quickly as possible.[2] Despite this German heritage, which was repeated on Dad’s maternal side of the family (Meier/Boehringer), I didn’t grow up with any German traditions. I always believed that was because Dad’s family settled in America much earlier than Mom’s did, but as I look at their immigration dates more closely (Figure 1), I don’t think that explanation is entirely satisfactory.

Figure 1: Timeline for immigration to North America in my family.Timeline for Immigration to North America in my family

As evident from the table, my German ancestors Anna Goetz and Wenzeslaus Meier both arrived in the U.S. around the same time that my Polish ancestors Andrew Klaus and Mary Łącka arrived from Galicia, and just a few years before my Polish ancestors John Zazycki and Veronica Grzesiak arrived from the Russian Empire. Perhaps my German ancestors were simply less sentimental? More likely, anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II played a role.[3] The result was a loss of German traditions and culture in my family, even despite my mother’s best efforts to give equal time to those traditions by teaching my sister and me to sing “O Tannenbaum” in German along with all the Polish Christmas carols. Even the favorite recipes were lost, for the most part. I have just one of Nana Boehringer’s recipes, for her bread dumplings, but I’ve had to try to recreate her famous fruit kaffee kuchen for myself, based on Dad’s fond recollections.

And so it was mostly the Polish traditions, songs, and foods from Mom’s side of the family that became part of my cultural identity. It could not possibly be Christmas without celebrating Wigilia on Christmas Eve, breaking the opłatek with my family, and feeling the love, peace and contentment that overflowed as we wished each other health, happiness, and all good things. Easter meant Święconka breakfast with ham, kiełbasa, hard-boiled eggs, and Grandma’s placek, with its plump raisins and butter-crumb topping. Spending time at Grandma and Grandpa Zielinski’s house meant visiting with Grandma in the kitchen while hearing Grandpa playing “Góralu, czy ci nie żal,” on the piano in the living room, or listening to the Sunday afternoon polka fest on the radio. The Polish-American traditions were so close to my heart that it felt problematic to have a surname which conveyed no hint of this heritage. Whenever conversations would turn to ethnic traditions and I would enthusiastically mention the Polish customs in my family, people would raise their eyebrows and say, “Roberts? That’s not Polish!”

This dual Polish-German ethnicity comprises the bulk of my eight surnames, but there’s one additional ethnic component that was largely glossed over as I was growing up. I think I was already an adult by the time I realized that my great-grandmother, Katherine Walsh Roberts, was actually born in Canada. I was dimly aware that her ancestry was a mixture of English, Irish and Scottish, but I’d somehow supposed that they were all 19th-century immigrants to Canada. It wasn’t until 2006 that I discovered that Great-Grandma Roberts’ lineage included not only 19th century immigrants to Canada, but also United Empire Loyalists with roots deep in the American colonies. The knowledge of that ancestry seems to have been buried in the family history, perhaps when my great-great-grandfather Henry Walsh decided to move his family back over the Canadian border, to Buffalo, New York.

If little remains of German cultural identity in my family, even less remains of English, Irish or Scottish ethnic identity. Such is the nature of assimilation, I suppose, and the day may come when that Polish ethnic identity which has always been so important to me, is just a distant memory for my descendants, buried as deeply as our ancestral English, Irish and Scottish origins. When my Polish grandparents passed away, the Polish language disappeared from my family as well—an inestimable loss, since shared language is the most fundamental characteristic of a culture. My son Daniel studied the Polish language at the University of Buffalo and even at Jagiellonian University during a summer program in Kraków, so perhaps his efforts will aid in preserving Polish heritage for future generations of my family. Yet I can’t help but wonder what eight surnames will be included in the lists of my great-great-grandchildren, assuming I have any, and what ethnic traditions they’ll celebrate. I won’t be here to meet them, of course. By then, I hope to be “hanging out” in the next life with all those ancestors who are presently my “brick walls” in the family tree, finally getting answers to all my questions.

Here, then, are my Eight Surnames, representing ancestors who may have originated in Poland, Germany, and Canada, but whose descendants are now as thoroughly American as apple pie.

  • Zielinski
  • Klaus
  • Zazycki
  • Grzesiak
  • Roberts
  • Walsh
  • Boehringer
  • Meier

What are your Eight Surnames, and what’s their story?

Sources

[1] James M. Scobbie, “The Theory of Eight Surnames,” Noisybrain (https://noisybrain.wordpress.com : 16 October 2019), posted 28 December 2018.

[2] “Know Nothing,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : 16 October 2019)

[3] Robert Siegel and Art Silverman, “During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture,” All Things Considered, NPR, broadcast 7 April 2017 (https://www.npr.org : 16 October 2019).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

Party Like It’s 1899, Continued

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

My Maternal Grandmother’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Maternal Grandfather’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

Still Searching For Antonina Naciążek: Some New Insights into Old Data

Sometimes I find that it pays to take a break from my research on a particular family line. When I come back to it, I notice clues in the data that I missed the first time around. This happened recently when I returned to the question of the parentage of one of my Brick Wall Ancestors, my great-great-grandmother Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka, who was born circa 1828, married Ignacy Zarzycki circa 1849, and died after 1904. I’ve written about her in several posts previously, and she continues to haunt me. The crux of the problem is that all her children were baptized in Rybno parish, Sochaczew County, but she herself must have been from another parish, since there is no birth, marriage or death record for her in the records of Rybno.

The Search for Antonina, Revisited

My strategy thus far has been to search vital records in the popular database Geneteka in order to identify the families that were living in the vicinity of Rybno with the surname Naciążek, or with one of the known variant forms of this surname, Maciążek and Raciążek, to discover potential parents for Antonina. However, the effectiveness of this strategy is limited by major gaps in the indexed records in Giżyce and Sochaczew, which are the two local parishes where this surname is most prevalent. Records for Giżyce are especially limited, since there are no records for this parish in the diocesan archive in Łowicz. Moreover, the only vital records from Giżyce from the relevant time period that are in possession of the state archive in Grodzisk Mazowieckie are from 1810, and 1823-1825, all of which are indexed in Geneteka. This suggests that most of the records for Giżyce are at the parish itself, where they can only be accessed onsite, at the discretion of the parish pastor.  The situation for Sochaczew is somewhat better, since marriage records are available from the diocesan archive in Łowicz with no gaps from 1802-1842, although there is a large gap after that, from 1843-1861, which is when Antonina Naciążek would have been married (circa 1849).

Search results in Geneteka point to two couples who emerge as most likely candidates for Antonina’s parents. The first couple, Francizek Naciążek and Marianna Kowalska, married in Sochaczew in 1826. The entry noted that the groom was from the nearby parish of Giżyce, so it’s quite possible that they moved back there after their marriage. Since Geneteka contains no birth records from Giżyce after 1825, it’s impossible to identify any children that Franciszek and Marianna might have had without onsite research. My great-great-grandmother Antonina may have been one of those children.

The second couple was Mateusz Naciążek and Petronella Trawińska, who were already married by 1824 when their daughter, Marianna, was born in Giżyce. The data suggest that they subsequently moved to Sochaczew parish, where they had sons Michał in 1826, Stanisław Andrzej in 1832, and Ignacy in 1834, and a daughter, Florentyna Marianna, in 1836. Notice the 6-year gap in the births to this couple after Michał’s birth in 1826?  Such a large spacing is unusual in a family, and as luck would have it, Antonina’s birth circa 1828 would fall right into that gap. This gap in births can’t be explained by any gaps in the available records for Sochaczew, since birth records from this parish are indexed during this entire time period. However, these data are consistent with the hypothesis that Mateusz and Petronella moved back to Giżyce after 1826. Since birth records from Giżyce are not available after 1825, it’s entirely possible that Mateusz and Petronella were the parents of Antonina, circa 1828, and possibly even an additional child born circa 1830 whose births would not show up in Geneteka.

So the focus is presently on Giżyce, whose records might hold a birth record for Antonina, as well as her marriage record. Her death record remains elusive, however. Antonina was still noted be living in 1904 when her son Leonard married, but her husband, Ignacy Zarzycki, died in 1901.1 As a 76-year-old widow, one might expect Antonina to continue living in her own home with assistance from her children, or to move in with one of her adult children. Unfortunately, the former hypothesis does not bear up, because there is no death record for Antonina Zarzycka in the parish records of Rybno or the civil records of the gmina (a gmina is an administrative district smaller than a county, similar to a township). Nor have I been able to find a death record for her in the civil records of gmina Iłów, to which the parish of Giżyce belongs, or in the civil records of Sochaczew. However, the search is frustrated by local registry offices claiming that some books were transferred to the regional archive in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, while that archive asserts that they don’t have the books, so therefore they must be in the local registry offices. Moreover, if Antonina fled her home during the confusion and chaos of World War I, it’s entirely possible that her death may not have been recorded.

Research on the families of each of Antonina’s children is still a work in progress which needs to be completed in order to identify every location where Antonina’s death may have been recorded if she was living with one of her children when she died. Of Antonina’s 11 children, six survived to adulthood and married, four died in childhood or as young unmarried adults, and one is thus far unaccounted for. The six who married included daughters Marianna Gruberska, who was living near Łowicz as of 1887, Paulina Klejn, who was living near Sochaczew as of 1880, and Aniela Gruberska, who was living near Młodzieszyn as of 1914, as well as sons John Zazycki, who was living in North Tonawanda, New York, until his death in 1924, Karol Zarzycki, who was living in Warsaw as of 1908, and Leonard Zarzycki, who was also living in Warsaw as of 1905. No promising match for Antonina’s death record is found in the indexed death records in Geneteka, and there’s no evidence to suggest that she emigrated. Since Łowicz and Warsaw both contain multiple Catholic parishes, finding Antonina’s death record without knowing her exact date of death will be challenging.

The Search for Marianna Kowalska, Revisited

That brings us back to the search for Antonina’s birth and marriage records, which might be easier to locate than her death record. Previously, while gathering clues about Antonina’s early life, I noted an interesting set of records pertaining to the family of Marianna (née Naciążek) Kowalska, whom I hypothesized might be Antonina’s sister. I discovered Marianna by reasoning that one might expect to find other Naciążek relatives of Antonina’s in the records of Rybno, since family members often settled near one another. In fact, this surname was generally not found in Rybno, with one exception: the 1903 marriage record of one Roch Kowalski mentioned that he was the son of Marianna Naciążek and Aleksander Kowalski.2 The record indicated that Roch was born in Giżyce, and further research revealed four additional children of Aleksander Kowalski and Marianna Naciążek, all of whom married in Giżyce, Sochaczew, or Iłów, underscoring the importance of these parishes— especially Giżyce and Sochaczew—to my quest for the origins of my great-great-grandmother. In addition to these records pertaining to her children, a second marriage record was discovered for Marianna Naciążek herself following the death of Aleksander Kowalski. Marianna married Stanisław Marcinkowski in Giżyce in 1881, and the record indicated that she was born circa 1837 in Czerwonka, a village belonging to the parish in Sochaczew.3

As noted in that previous post, birth records from Sochaczew are available for the period from 1819-1841, but there is no baptismal record for a Marianna Naciążek during this time. The closest possibility is the birth of a Florentyna Marianna Naciążek in 1836, to parents Mateusz Naciążek and Petronela Trawińska, and I believe that this Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk is the same person as Marianna Naciążek Kowalska Marcinkowska. It’s a bit unusual that she seems to have been called “Marianna” and not “Florentyna” in her adult life, but I believe this may have occurred because she had an older sister named Marianna who died young. There is a birth record in Giżyce in 1824 for Marianna Naciążek, daughter of Mateusz and Petronela, and if this theory is correct, we should expect to find her death record between 1824 and 1836. Although no death record is presently available, this doesn’t mean much, since indexed death records are only available from 1823-1825. Once again, it seems that the records of Giżyce may hold the key to unlocking these genealogical mysteries.

As I looked at this research with fresh eyes, it dawned on me that there was another small piece of evidence I had overlooked previously, which was the fact that Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka gave her daughter the name Florentyna, and that this child’s godmother was Marianna Kowalska (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Birth record from Rybno for Florentyna Zarzycka, born 5 June 1861. Text underlined in red translates,  “….was given the name Florentyna, and her godparents were the aforementioned Wincenty Zarzecki and Marianna Kowalska.” 4

Florentyna Zarzcyka birth 5 June 1861 marked

Yes, I’d analyzed the godparents of all the Zarzycki children previously, and I realized that despite the popularity of the Kowalski surname, this Marianna Kowalska was most likely Marianna Naciążek Kowalska of Giżyce. But somehow I’d failed to make the connection with Marianna Kowalska being named as godmother to this particular child, Florentyna, rather than any of the other children of Antonina and Ignacy Zarzycki.

Although it was not de rigueur in Polish culture to name a child after the godparent of the same sex, this practice was not unheard of. Indeed, Ignacy and Antonina Zarzycki named their second daughter Paulina, presumably in honor of her godmother, Paulina Jagielska.5 So it’s quite possible that little Florentyna Zarzycka was also named in honor of her godmother. This suggests that I’m definitely on the right track with my reasoning that Marianna Kowalska is, indeed, Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk Kowalska, who was pretty clearly some relative of her mother’s. However, at this point we still have too little evidence to conclude that Florentyna Marianna was necessarily Antonina Naciążek Zarzycka’s sister, rather than a cousin.

But wait, there’s more!

In reviewing the chart I made previously showing each of the Zarzycki children and their godparents (Figure 2) and rereading my notes, I noticed a careless supposition. That is, that the surname of Józef Zarzycki’s godmother, Jadwiga Bugajka, was necessarily rare. While this exact surname is rare, I realize now that I was thinking too narrowly, since the surname is merely a variant of the common surname, Bugaj. Given the lack of standardization of surname forms in the 19th century, it’s quite possible that this same Jadwiga Bugajka might be recorded as Jadwiga Bugaj in some records.

Figure 2: Summary of Godparents of Children of Ignacy Zarzycki and Antonina (née Naciążek) Zarzycka. Source citation numbers correspond to sources cited in original blog post.figure-1

So what does that do for us? Why do we care if she’s Jadwiga Bugaj or Jadwiga Bugajka? Well, more recent digging suggested an interesting possibility regarding her relationship to the Zarzycki family.  Figure 3 shows Geneteka search results for Jadwiga Bugaj in Sochaczew.

Figure 3: Geneteka search results for birth records which mention Jadwiga Bugaj in Sochaczew.Bugaj results in Geneteka

In 1851 and 1854, there were two births to children of Maciej Bugaj and Jadwiga Krzemińska. Then there is a gap, and in 1861, there is the birth of Józefa Bednarska to Józef Bednarski and Jadwiga Bugaj. Now, the timing there is rather curious, and might almost suggest a scenario in which Jadwiga Krzemińska married Maciej Bugaj and had two children with him before his death between 1854 and 1861, after which she remarried Józef Bednarski and had 7 more children. (Note that double entries for children with the same name in the same year represent different records for the same event.) However, it was customary in these records for the priest to record the mother’s maiden name, not her first husband’s surname, in the case of a woman who remarried. I think it’s unlikely that the priest would have misrecorded the mother’s maiden name on 10 different birth records, and wrote her surname from her first husband instead. So in absence of evidence to the contrary, I believe that Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj is not the same person as Jadwiga (née Bugaj) Bednarska. But at this point, I’m not fussed about whether she remarried or not, I’m just excited to find evidence of the Krzemiński surname, because it just so happens that Ignacy Zarzycki’s mother was Joanna Krzemińska, who was born circa 1806 in Lubiejew, as evidenced by her death record (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Death record from Rybno parish for Joanna (née Krzemińska) Zarzycka, 30 April 1857. Text underlined in red translates as, “Joanna Zarzycka, wife, tenant colonist, daughter of Jan and Zofia, the spouses Krzemiński, already deceased; born in the village of Lubiejow [sic], having 52 years of age.” 6Joanna Zarzycka death 1857 crop

To answer the question of how Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj is related to the Zarzycki family, we need to find the record of her marriage to Maciej Bugaj and hope that it states her parents’ names. If her parents were Jan and Zofia, we know that she was Ignacy Zarzycki’s aunt. If they are something else, then further research is needed to determine the connection. Maddeningly, there is a gap in existing marriage records for Sochaczew from 1842-1861, according to information from the diocesan archive in Łowicz about their holdings for Sochaczew. Since Jadwiga’s oldest child was apparently born in 1851 based on information found in Geneteka, Jadwiga most likely married circa 1850, right in that gap in the records.

The Krzemiński Family of Bielice, Lubiejew, and Szwarocin

What do we know about the family of Jan and Zofia Krzemiński, and how likely is it that Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj and Joanna (née Krzemińska) Zarzycka were sisters? My 4x-great-grandfather, Jan Krzemiński, was born circa 1782 in either Czerwonka or Czyste.He married 17-year-old Zofia Bielska on Valentine’s Day in 1802 in Sochaczew.8 (The birthplaces of Jan and Zofia are uncertain because their marriage was recorded on a page pertaining to vital events from residents of the villages of Czerwonka and Czyste, but no indication was made regarding which individuals on the page were from which village.)  On 19 July 1802, their oldest son, Jakub, was born in the nearby village of Bielice.9 A gap in birth records from Sochaczew exists from 1803-1809, so it’s not possible to find the birth record for my great-great-great-grandmother, Joanna Krzemińska circa 1806. However, Joanna’s death record (Figure 4) states that she was born in the village of Lubiejow [sic], about 7 miles northwest of Bielice. Since couples had children every 2-3 years, typically, we might expect additional births to Jan and Zofia circa 1804 and 1808, but there are no indexed marriage or death records in Geneteka that identify any children born to this couple in those years.

By 1810, the Krzemiński family had moved to the village of Szwarocin, some 3 miles west of Lubiejew, where their son Błażej was born on 2 February and baptized in Rybno parish (Figure 5).10  Jan Krzemiński was described as a gajowy, which was a forester or gamekeeper. On 21 July 1812, a daughter, Magdalena, was born.11 Two years later, another daughter, Zofia, was baptized on 9 May 1814, and was probably born a day or so before that.12 On 25 February 1816, little Magdalena Krzemińska died of smallpox (ospa, in Polish) at the age of 3 1/2.13 Just nine days after her daughter’s death, Zofia Krzemińska gave birth to another son, Józef.14 Although no death record has been found for this child, it is likely that he died some time before 1821, because Jan and Zofia conferred the name Józef on their next son, born 17 March 1821.15

Figure 5: Map showing locations of places mentioned in records pertaining to the Krzemiński family. The towns of Sochaczew and Rybno, where the parishes are located, are underlined in red and the villages of Czerwonka and Czyste where Jan and Zofia were stated to have been born are similarly noted.Map of Krzeminski villages

After this, the family disappears from the records of Rybno. Justyna Krogulska, who performed the onsite research at St. Bartholomew church in Rybno for me in 2016, noted, “In the years 1826-1860 [there was] no record [of the] deaths of Jan Krzemiński and Zofia Krzemińska. Probably the family moved to another parish. In the years 1826-1846 [there was] no record [of any] marriage on the name Krzemiński / Krzemińska.” 16 

Consistent with the observation that the Krezemiński family moved out of Rybno, a death record for a 75-year-old widow named Zofia Krzemińska was found in the records of Sochaczew in 1843. At the time of her death, Zofia was living in Lubiejów [sic], and her age suggests a birth year circa 1768. Although “our” Zofia was only born circa 1785, based on her age at the time of her marriage, it’s nonetheless possible—likely, even—that the Zofia mentioned in the death record is the same woman, since priests frequently approximated people’s ages when this information was not known precisely. As a smallpox survivor who had already buried a husband and at least two children, Zofia may have looked much older than she actually was when she died.

Zofia Krzemińska was only 36 when her son Józef was born in Szwarocin in 1821, so it’s entirely possible that she might have had a few children after his birth, including, perhaps, Jadwiga (née Krzemińska) Bugaj. Geneteka contains a birth record for a Maciej Bugaj who might be the same as Jadwiga Krzemińska’s husband, and who was born in Sochaczew in 1823. If Jadwiga Bugaj was approximately the same age as her husband, she would have been born exactly two years after Józef Krzemiński was born in Rybno in 1821. However, birth records for Sochaczew are indexed with no gaps from 1819-1841, and there is no record of Jadwiga’s birth. However this lack of evidence for her birth in Sochaczew does little to disprove my theory about Jadwiga Bugaj’s parentage, given the extent of parish records in this area that are unindexed and can only be found in the parish archives. So at this point, we still don’t know precisely who Jadwiga Bugaj(ka) was, and what relationship she may have had to Antonina and Ignacy Zarzycki that would have inspired them to ask her to be godmother to their son, Józef. Present evidence suggests that she may have been Ignacy’s aunt or possibly a cousin through his mother’s Krzemiński family, but the frustrating difficulty with access to records makes it impossible to state anything definitively.

Despite the difficulties inherent in research in this area—or perhaps because of them—it’s fun to examine every minute detail of the precious data that have been found for my family. Knowing that Marianna Kowalska was actually Florentyna Marianna Naciążęk Kowalska Marcinkowska may not bring me closer to knowing whether she was sister or cousin to my great-great-grandmother, Antonina Zarzycka, but somehow, it’s satisfying to find yet another small consistency in the data. At this point, without knowing what’s contained in those records from Giżyce, I’m betting on Team Mateusz and Petronella as the parents of Antonina and Marianna, but there’s really no compelling reason for it. It may be that Antonina was the daughter of Franciszek and Marianna instead, and that Mateusz and Franciszek Naciążek were brothers. That would make Antonina Zarzycka first cousin to Florentyna Marianna, and it’s certainly plausible that a first cousin might be asked to serve as godmother. As evidenced by the new discovery that Jadwiga Bugajka was most likely Jadwiga Krzemińska Bugaj, a maternal relative of Ignacy Zarzycki, but definitely not his sister, anything is possible.

Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to gain access to those records from Giżyce, and the answers to all these mysteries will be revealed. Maybe I’ll even get to know who the heck Weronika Jaroszewska was, and why she was named as godmother to three Zarzycki children. Hey, I can dream, right?

Sources:

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga ślubów 1888-1908, 1904, no. 15, marriage record for Leonard Zarzycki and Maryanna Majewska, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 28 February 2019); and

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga zgonów 1886-1903, 1901, no. 44, death record for Ignacy Zarzycki, accessed as digital image, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 28 February 2019).

“Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Rybnie,” (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Ksiega slubów 1888-1908, 1903, no. 1, marriage record for Roch Kowalski and Anastazja Blaszczak, 2 February 1903, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki.Genealodzy.pl (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 28 February 2019).

3 “Akta stanu cywilnego parafii rzymskokatolickiej w Giżycach” (Giżyce, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga ślubów 1856-1891, no. 9, marriage record for Stanisław Marcinkowski and Marianna Kowalska, 21 February 1881, accessed as digital image, Polskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, Metryki, (http://metryki.genealodzy.pl : 28 February 2019).

4  Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1855-1862, 1861, #36, baptismal record for Florentyna Zarzecka.

5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księga urodzeń 1845-1854, 1853, no. 60, baptismal record for Paulina Zarzycka.

6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), “Księga zgonów, 1853-1868,” 1857, #21, death record for Joanna Zarzecka.

7 Roman Catholic Church, St. Lawrence parish (Sochaczew, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi małżeństw, 1802-1825, 1802, no. 2, marriage record for Joannes Krzemiński and Sophia Bielska, 14 February 1802, Archiwum Diecezji Łowickiej, 99-400 Łowicz, Stary Rynek 19 A. “[Towns] Czerwonka et Czyste, [Number] 2, [Month] February, [Day] 14, [Marriage Statement] I, Sebastian Richter, (expositus?) of Sochaczew, after three banns. and without discovering (? “adinvento”) any Canonical impediments, blessed the marriage between the honorable Joannes Krzemiński, young man, and Sophia Bielska, virgin, “inetum” (?) with additional witnesses Jacob Skokoski and Florian Stolarek, Under column heading “Young Man with Virgin,” indicating that it is a first marriage for both the bride and the groom, the age of the groom is given as 20 and the age of the bride is given as 17.

8 Ibid.

Roman Catholic Church, St. Lawrence parish (Sochaczew, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), Księgi urodzonych, 1781-1802, 1802, no. 69, birth record for Jacobus Krzemiński. 19 July 1802, Archiwum Diecezji Łowickiej, 99-400 Łowicz, Stary Rynek 19 A.

10 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1810, births, no. 5, record for Błażej Krzemiński, 2 February 1810.

11 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1812, births, no. 46, record for Magdalena Krzemińska, 21 July 1812.

12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1814, births, no. 26, record for Sophia Krzemińska, baptized 9 May 1814.

13 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew’s parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1816, deaths, no. 9, record for Magdalena Krzemińska, 25 February 1816.

14 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1816, births, no. 13, record for Josephus Krzemiński, 5 March 1816.

15 Roman Catholic Church, St. Bartholomew Parish (Rybno, Sochaczew, Mazowieckie, Poland), 1821, births, no. 17, record for Josephus Krzemiński, 17 March 1821.

16 Justyna Krogulska, “Krzemiński Family,” report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA, 18 May 2016, original held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, USA.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019.

DNA Testing for the Scientifically Challenged

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

Going Beyond the Ethnicity Estimates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

first three chromosomes showing matching segments

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

Chromosome Mapping with DNA Painter

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

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

dna painter screenshot

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

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

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

dna painter crop

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

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

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

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

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

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

IBD or…Not?

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

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

The Nuts and Bolts of Autosomal DNA Testing

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

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

raw dna data

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

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

The Big Problem of Small Segments

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

Blaine Bettinger’s blog, The Genetic Genealogist.

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

Roberta Estes’ blog, DNAeXplained.

Leah Larkin’s blog, The DNA Geek.

CeCe Moore’s blog, Your Genetic Genealogist.

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2019

 

 

 

The Many Wives of Józef Grzesiak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tadeusz Gresiak &amp; Marya Gorska marriage record 1 marked

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

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

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

Jozefa Grzesiak &amp; Jozef Cymermann marriage record 1 marked

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

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

Walter_Grzesiak_-_death

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

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

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

Polish Records to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018