Shea and Hoffman’s Russian Genealogical Translation Guide is Now Available as an E-book!

For many family historians with Polish roots, the language barrier is one of the most intimidating obstacles to tracing their Polish ancestry. Depending on the specific region from which one’s ancestors originated, genealogical documents may be written in Latin, Polish, German, or Russian, and sometimes in several of these languages, depending on the time period and the source of the documents. However, the good news is that fluency in these languages is not required for successful genealogical research. A good genealogical translation guide, and a willingness to learn, can make it possible to locate and translate the documents needed for building a family tree.

The very best genealogical translation guides I’ve found are those authored by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. “Fred” Hoffman. Shea and Hoffman published a four-volume series, In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents, which began in 2000 with Volume I: Polish, and continued with Volume II: Russian, Volume III: Latin, and Volume IV: German, in 2002, 2013, and 2017, respectively. Each volume is packed with multiple examples of every kind of document that a researcher might hope to encounter in the course of her family history research, in addition to broader instruction in the languages themselves, covering phonetics, orthography, handwriting, grammar, personal names, and more. Shea and Hoffman also provide instructions for tracing immigrant ancestors back to Europe, and offer an introduction to the best gazetteers for locating ancestral villages, as well as letter-writing templates to aid in the composition and translation of correspondence with foreign archives. In addition, their glossaries are invaluable for defining the sort of esoteric words that are not in common usage today, that nonetheless may be encountered in genealogical documents. These are just some of the highlights of each book; additional information is available at the authors’ website, including an excerpt from their Polish translation guide aimed at helping researchers decipher correspondence received from archives in Poland.

As one may imagine, these books are pretty substantial, physically. They’re printed at a large, 8.25 x 11 inch size so that images of the documents are adequately displayed for comfortable reading, yet the books range between 384 pages for the Polish volume, up to 665 pages for the German volume. I love having a physical book to hold in my hands and fill with sticky tabs, marking all the sections I refer to most frequently, but it’s not always convenient to lug these books around when I’m on the go. Moreover, the size makes them expensive to ship, which may make the books less affordable for those living outside the U.S. With that in mind, the authors began publishing the series as e-books, and the German, Polish, and Latin volumes have been available for some time now. The Russian e-book is newly available, and I’m thrilled to have it on my computer desktop for easy access. As an added bonus, the e-book format allows me to zoom in on the images of the documents for easy viewing of tiny details in the letter formation without straining my eyes, whereas this was a little more difficult in the print version.

This new, third-edition Russian translation guide is 52 pages longer than my old first-edition book, and updates include expanded sections on records leading back to Europe, gazetteers for the Russian Empire, and dealing with repositories of records in the former Russian Empire. Don’t be intimidated by the volume of information, however. As the authors themselves suggest in the introduction, this is not necessarily the sort of book that one reads cover-to-cover. Polish researcher Cecile Wendt Jensen once compared Shea and Hoffman’s books to the Sears Wish Book for genealogical documents, and I think her analogy hit the nail on the head. Although I might give my eye teeth to locate some of the documents they discuss, not every example will be relevant to all researchers.

Of course, in this era of internet research, there are some online translation aids available for Polish, Russian, Latin, and German genealogical translations. These aids offer a decent introduction to translating records, and you may find that they meet your needs entirely if you’re not interested in understanding every detail of every vital record you encounter. However, if you’re after the whole enchilada, Shea and Hoffman’s books are game-changers. They present multiple examples of birth, marriage and death records—the backbone of our family trees—with a complete analysis of each record, including comments on the handwriting, grammatical or spelling errors, alternate phrasings which are sometimes found, and more. Each document is dissected in a warm, collegial tone, as if the authors were right there in the room with you, to explain, encourage, and share helpful research tips along the way.

In the interest of full transparency, I did receive a complimentary pre-release copy of the Russian e-book, but I have no monetary interest in the sales of these books. I’m simply a huge fan of the In Their Words series because of how helpful these books have been, empowering me to be comfortable and confident in reading for myself the birth, marriage, and death records that tell the story of my family. I’m not a gifted linguist, as anyone who has heard me try to pronounce “Grzesiak” accurately can tell you. (It always comes out sounding like “Grzeszak.”) I couldn’t engage in a conversation in Polish or Russian to save my life. But vital records? I’ve got those covered. And if I can learn to read them, you can, too.

In my next post, I’ll share some strategies that I’ve found helpful to use when translating a new record. Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2020

 

 

 

 

End of an Era

Many of you know me from the Polish Genealogy group on Facebook, where I’ve been an administrator since the summer of 2013. Back then, the group was growing quickly, approaching 1,000 members, and the group’s founder and sole admin, Michael Mulholland, was looking to bring in some new admins to help with managing the group’s day-to-day activities. I was a fairly active participant at the time, so he asked me and a few others to help out as admins. The group has now grown to over 15,000 members, blossoming into a community that I was proud to be a part of. With a core group of experienced, knowledgeable group members who were passionate, dedicated researchers, willing to share their expertise, there was an exciting dynamic. It was not an uncommon experience to have a newcomer present a research problem on which the group would work collaboratively in real time, ultimately producing a document or documents, such as the birth record from Poland for the target immigrant.

Besides being a place to learn about genealogy, I loved the Polish Genealogy group because of all the colleagues-turned-friends that I met there. I learned so much from them, and it was truly an honor and a privilege to serve in that community as admin for the past 5 years. I especially loved the atmosphere that we created, which was warm, friendly, welcoming, helpful, and knowledgeable — a community in which we could all learn from one another in an atmosphere of respect and encouragement.

As much as I have loved this community and the work that is accomplished there, all good things must come to an end. After much reflection, I feel that the time has come for me to turn over the reins to others who have a new vision with which to guide the group. For this reason, two days ago, I stepped down as admin in Polish Genealogy. I wish my friends on the admin team the very best as they lead the group into the future.

 

The Devil is in the Details: Finding the Right Adam Krupski

Happy New Year! This past weekend, I spent a delightful New Year’s Eve at a family party, talking with with my niece, Tina, who is newly engaged to her fiancé, Luke. Tina and Luke were interested in discovering Luke’s family history, so we began researching Luke’s ancestry together, starting with information from a preliminary family tree recorded in Luke’s baby book by his mom. The process was really satisfying for me, because it gave me a chance to demonstrate proper methodology, source citations, and critical analysis, so Tina can avoid making some of the sloppy rookie mistakes that I made when I started. Moreover, the research project offered an opportunity to demonstrate the necessity of resolving conflicting information as we sought to distinguish between two men with the same name and approximately the same birth year, living in the same metropolitan area, a problem frequently encountered in genealogy.

Meet William Krupski

Our starting point for the project was Luke’s great-grandfather, William L. Krupski. Luke knew that he died 25 June 1995 and lived in Elma, New York, and that was all he knew. A match for William L. Krupski from Elma, New York with this date of death in the Social Security Death Index, quickly provided William’s date of birth, 7 January 1919. Even better, an entry in Ancestry’s Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, provided his full name, William Leonard Krupski, confirmed his date and place of birth as 7 January 1919 and place of birth as Buffalo, New York, confirmed his date of death, and revealed that his parents were Adam Krupski and Maryann Houchol.

This information led to the 1930 census, in which we discovered the family of Adam and Mary Krupski, living in Elma, New York, with son William Krupski, born 1919, as well as daughters Eva, Genevieve, and Jennie. Oddly, William was marked as “relative,” rather than “son,” and at this point, we didn’t know whether this was merely an error on the part of the census taker, or whether William Krupski might have been an adopted son, rather than Adam and Mary’s biological child. However, at this early stage of the game, this was not something we needed to lose sleep over. As my old undergraduate research mentor used to tell me, “keep gathering data and truth will emerge.” The census revealed that William’s father, Adam, was born circa 1880 in Poland, immigrated in 1907, was a naturalized citizen, and that he was 22 years old at the time of his first marriage. This suggests a marriage year circa 1902, and since the data for his wife Mary suggest the same year of marriage, we have no reason to suspect that either of them was married previously. Their oldest daughter, Eva, was also born in Poland. Strangely, the census-taker chose to record her under her married name, Dubel, but in her father’s household, rather than with her husband and daughter, who appear on the next page. This may have resulted from a miscommunication, which supports the notion that William Krupski’s identification as “relative” rather than “son” may have been another miscommunication.

In the 1920 census, the family was still living in Elma, New York, and was recorded under the name Krupska, rather than Krupski, possibly suggesting that Mary was the informant, since this is the feminine form of the surname in Polish. Adam’s age once again suggests a birth year circa 1880, and his immigration year, 1908, is fairly consistent with the date he reported previously. So far, so good. William Krupski was recorded as “Bolsłew” which is clearly a misspelling of the Polish name Bolesław. It was unfortunately indexed as “Boktev” by both Family Search and Ancestry. This illustrates nicely why it’s a good idea to search for family groups, rather than trying to focus on just one individual, since a researcher focused solely on “William Krupski” is unlikely to pay much attention to a result for “Boktev Krupska.” It’s actually fairly common for Polish men named Bolesław to use the name William in American records. This is because the traditional diminutive for Bolesław is Bolek. From Bolek, they’d go to “Bill,” and then from “Bill,” they’d go to “William.” In this census, Bolesław/William was recorded as “son” rather than “relative.”

At this point, we had two records confirming that Adam Krupski of Elma, New York, was born circa 1880. We still didn’t know his date of death, but the Social Security Death Index reveals that one Adam Krupski, born 4 December 1880, from Erie County, New York, died in May 1970. Seems perfectly plausible, right? That zip code for his last residence, 14218, corresponds to Lackawanna, New York, rather than Elma, but that’s only about 15 miles away. He could have moved, right? Find-A-Grave informed us that Adam Krupski died 3 May 1970 and is buried in Cheektowaga, New York, which also seemed reasonable.

The Plot Thickens

So now we know that William Krupski’s father, Adam Krupski, was born 4 December 1880 in Poland, and died on 3 May 1970.

Or do we?

A little more digging in census records revealed that there was an Adam “Krupsk” in the 1930 census, living in Buffalo, New York, who was born circa 1880, with wife Josephine and children Joseph, Alice, and Henrietta. This Adam immigrated circa 1903, and his two daughters were born in Pennsylvania circa 1913 and 1917, respectively. This same guy showed up in the 1940 census as Adam Krupski, still living in Buffalo, with calculated birth year 1880, wife Josephine, son Aloysius, and daughter Henrietta. From this, we understood that there were two different Adam Krupskis, born circa 1880, living within 15 miles of each other. This told us that we needed to be very careful in evaluating documents so as not to confuse the two Adams.

So which Adam died 3 May 1970 and is buried in Cheektowaga? An easy way to answer this question was to check Find-A-Grave again and search for other Krupskis buried in the same cemetery as Adam. Sure enough, other burials include Henrietta, Aloysius, Joseph, and Josephine, along with a Jane and a Violet (née Smith) Krupski — probably the wife of Aloysius or Joseph. This family may still be related in some way to Luke’s Krupski family, but there’s no guarantee of that, especially since the Krupski surname is sufficiently common that several unrelated Krupski families might have immigrated to Buffalo from Poland independently.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for genealogy rookies to get confuddled when presented with data like this, and it can lead one to the wrong conclusions entirely. We discovered at least one family tree online in which a researcher conflated Adam Krupski 1 (married to Mary) with Adam Krupski 2 (married to Josephine). Ancestry’s database, Pennsylvania, Federal Naturalization Records, 1795-1931, includes a Declaration of Intention dated 26 October 1908 for one Adam Krupski, born 4 December 1881, who arrived in the U.S. on 25 June 1903. His date of birth, exactly one year off from the date of birth for Adam Krupski 2, combined with his arrival date in 1903, and the fact that he naturalized in Pennsylvania, are all consistent with this man being the same as Adam Krupski 2 who was married to Josephine and had two daughters born in Pennsylvania in 1913-1917. Unfortunately, the other Krupski researcher whose family tree we examined, concluded that this was the Declaration of Intention for Adam Krupski 1. Since this document stated that Adam Krupski was from Grodno, Russia, the researcher will be chasing the wrong family if she seeks Adam Krupski 1 in records from Grodno.

So where was the birthplace of Adam Krupski 1, the father of William Krupski, husband of Mary Houchol? That’s easy. He was born in Pobroszyn, Opatów County, in the Radom province of Russian Poland, nowhere near Grodno. How do I know this?

Rather than engaging in an exhaustive analysis of each document discovered let me hit the highlights. The 1940 census suggested a birth year circa 1873 — significantly earlier than the date of 1880 discovered previously. This could have been an error, or it could indicate that Adam really wasn’t sure of his exact date of birth, which was fairly common in those days since knowing this information wasn’t as important as it is today. Unfortunately, none of these census records (1920, 1930 or 1940) indicated the partition of Poland that Adam was from, which was important to discover, since Poland did not exist as an independent nation at the time of Adam’s birth, marriage, or emigration (see here for a crash course in Polish history). It’s very helpful to determine the partition that an immigrant was from because there are so many Polish place names that are not unique. Fortunately, further digging produced Jane Krupski’s birth record, which revealed that her father Adam Krupski and mother Marie Hochol were born in Russia circa 1877 and 1879, respectively. We can be sure that this is the right Jane/Jennie Krupski, because the mother’s maiden name matches the name reported by William Krupski on his Social Security application, and the 1930 census reported that  Adam and Mary’s daughter Jane was born in Indiana.

Putting it all together, I now knew that Adam and Marianna/Mary were from Russian Poland, where they married circa 1902. Adam immigrated circa 1907-1908, while Marianna stayed behind in Poland. Their oldest daugher, Ewa/Eve, was born circa 1907, and Marianna and Ewa came to the U.S. to join Adam circa 1913. Adam’s passenger manifest was the key to unlock the place of origin for the family. According to this document, Adam Krupski (line 27) was a 32-year-old ethnic Pole living in Russia, who arrived in New York on 9 July 1907. He was married, and his age suggests a birth year of 1875. His last permanent residence was Ujazd, Russia, he was headed to New York, and his contact in the Old Country was his wife, Marianna Krupska, living in Ujazd.

There were two places in Russian Poland called Ujazd, according to the Skorowidz Królestwa Polskiego published in 1877. One was in the Kalisz province (presently in the Łódź province) and belonged to the parish in Tur. The other was in the Radom province (presently in the Świętokrzyskie province) and belonged to the parish in Iwaniska. Both these parishes are indexed in Geneteka for the time period needed to locate the family, and Iwaniska turned out to be the correct parish. Lo, and behold, Ewa Krópska’s birth record was discovered in 1907 and the facts fit perfectly. She was born in Ujazd to Adam Krópski and Marianna Chochoł. Although both of the surnames are spelled a bit differently than they appeared in U.S. records, the U.S. spellings make sense as phonetic transliterations of the Polish versions.

Although there’s no link to it in the Geneteka index, Ewa’s birth record can be found online in the Metryki database.  Adam and Marianna’s marriage record was also discovered in Geneteka in the parish of Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, about 20 miles north of Ujazd. The record, which appears below, can be found online in the GenBaza database. (To access this database, you need to create a free account, and once your account is active and you are logged in, the link to the marriage record will work.)

Adam Krupski and Marianna Chochoł 1899 marriage crop

Here’s the translation from Russian, as I read it:

“#31. Ostrowiec. Adam Krupski and Marianna Chochoł. This happened in the town of Ostrowiec on the 30th day of May/11th day of June 1899 at 7:00 in the morning. They appeared, Roman Domański, blacksmith, age 40, and Artur Gregor, ???, age 22, residents of Ostrowiec. On this day was contracted a religious marriage between Adam Krópski, bachelor, age 27, son of parents Kazimierz and the late Joanna née Kocznur, born in the village of Pobroszyn, parish Opatów, and now in Ostrowiec residing in the local parish, and Marianna Chochoł, peasant, age 26, daughter of Roch and the late Julianna née Mucha, born in the village of Pęchów, parish Goźlice, Sandomierz district, and now in Ostrowiec residing in this parish. The marriage was preceded by three announcements in Ostrowiec parish church, to wit: on the 14th, 21st and 28th days of May of the current year. The newlyweds stated that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. The religious ceremony of marriage was performed by Fr. Feliks Latalski. This Act was read aloud to the illiterate witnesses and was signed only by Us. [signed] Administrator of the Parish of Ostrowiec, Fr. F. Latalski”

So there you have it. I think we made pretty good use of our New Year’s Eve, successfully tracing the family of Luke’s great-grandfather, William Krupski, through U.S. records, determining his parents’ place of origin in Poland, and discovering and translating William’s parents’ marriage record and his sister Ewa’s birth record, all before the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the research that can be done for the Krupski family in both the U.S. and Poland, but Warsaw wasn’t built in a day. The moral of the story is, if you carefully follow the paper trail — not ignoring conflicting evidence, but seeking the truth — you won’t go astray. Here’s to a New Year filled with great genealogical discoveries, for all of us!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

 

Frequency Analysis of Given Names in My Family Tree, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the frequency of given names on my side of the family tree that I tabulated because I’m interested in that sort of thing. Today I’ll report on the frequency analysis of given names on my husband’s side of the family.

The first thing I realized when I sat down to review my data is that I’ve really been slacking off on research into my husband’s family in recent years, a fact which I hope to remedy in 2018. Moreover, I never finished updating my tree with some research sent to me by a couple of his cousins. However, this close to Christmas, that seems like a better project for January than for tonight, so I’m just going to use the data that I currently have in my spreadsheet.

My husband Bruce’s family is 100% Polish, by which I mean that all of his immigrant ancestors reported their ethnicity as Polish, and all of them were born within the borders of Poland today, as far back as I’ve traced. Consequently, we don’t need to develop any particular rules for dealing with German given names, or given names from any language other than Polish, for that matter. So the rules of the game are pretty similar to last time:

  1. Equivalent versions of the same name in different languages (e.g. John, Jan, and Joannes) were counted in the same category.
  2. In Polish culture dating from the mid 20th-century and earlier, the name “Maria” was revered as the name of the Mother of God, and it was considered inappropriate for parents to aspire to use this name for their daughter. Consequently, the name  Marianna, meaning, “like Mary,” was used instead. For the purpose of this analysis, Mary, Marie, Maria, and Marianna were all treated as equivalents and counted together.
  3. Polish immigrants with names that were foreign to American ears often chose to use different names in the U.S. in their efforts to assimilate into American culture. Often they used the English version of the name of their baptismal patron saint, and for that reason, Polish men named Wojciech often became Albert or Adalbert in the U.S. However, some traditional Slavic names such as Stanisław, Czesław, Władysław, etc. do not have a precise English translation. While many men named Stanisław chose to use the name “Stanley” in the U.S., there was no requirement to do so, and some men chose very different names. In the case of Bruce’s family, his 2x-great-grandfather, Stanisław Lewandowski, chose to use the name “Edward” in the U.S. For the purpose of this analysis, I counted him under his baptismal name, Stanisław, rather than his adoptive name.
  4. Only direct ancestors were counted.

The Results

The data included 48 men and 48 women born between about 1732 and the 1940s. In the category of male names, there was a marked deviation from the expected result, in that Albert/Adalbert/Wojciech was the most popular name in Bruce’s family, rather than John/Jan. In fact, John/Jan was only in third place, where it was tied in popularity with the name Stanisław. The name Joseph/Józef took second place. The names Anthony/Antoni and Stephen/Szczepan were tied for fourth place, and there was a four-way tie for fifth place between the names Andrew/Andrzej, Jacob/Jakub, Martin/Marcin, Michael/Michał.

Frequency Distribution Male Names Bruce's Side

Additional male names which each appeared once in the family tree were Augustine/Augustyn, Denis/Dionizy, Francis/Franciszek, Gary, Henry, Lawrence/Wawrzyniec, Louis/Ludwik, Matthew/Mateusz, Matthias/Maciej, Peter/Piotr, Simon/Szymon, Thaddeus/Tadeusz, Valentine/Waleny, and Vincent/Wincenty.

For female names, Marianna/Mary was the winner by a huge margin over second-place Catherine/Katherine/Katarzyna. Third place was a three-way tie between the names Agnes/Agnieszka (which didn’t even make the top 10 in my family), Anna, and Elizabeth/Elżbieta. Finally, the names Angeline/Aniela, Apolonia, Christine/Krystyna, Frances/Franciszka, and Joanna, came in with two votes each, creating a five-way tie for fourth place.

Frequency Distribution Female Names Bruce's Side

Additional names which appeared once each among Bruce’s female ancestors were Antonina, Dorothy/Dorota, Hedwig/Jadwiga, Helen/Helena, Josephine/Józefa, Justine/Justyna, Caroline/Karolina, Magdalena, Margaret/Małgorzata, Petronella, Thecla/Tekla, Theresa/Teresa, Rosalie/Rozalia, and Veronica/Weronika.

Putting the data together, I came up with this comparison of the top names in each family (those that appeared more than once). Names that appear in color are tied for the frequency with which they appeared; in other words, in my family, there were equal numbers of Andrews and Josephs.

Top 10 Given Names for Boys

Seven of the top names were the same in both families: John/Jan/Johann, Joseph/Józef, Michael/Michał, Jacob/Jakub, Andrew/Andrzej, Stanisław, and Wojciech. Robert, Henry, George/Georg and Frank/Franciszek made it into my list, whereas Anthony/Antoni, Stephen/Szczepan, and Martin/Marcin were more popular in Bruce’s family.

For the women, the names Marianna/Mary, Catherine/Katherine/Katarzyna, Anna, Elizabeth/Elżbieta, and Christina/Christiana/Krystyna/Christine made the list for both families, and beyond that, there were quite a few names that were more popular on one side of the family or the other.

Top 10 Given Names for Girls

What does all this mean? Not much, really, although it might shoot down my theory about the relative popularity of the name “Catherine” in my own family, versus the general population, since that name was the second-most popular in both families. However, whereas in my family, there were 19 women named Marianna/Mary and 16 named Catherine/Katarzyna, in Bruce’s family there were 11 women named Marianna/Mary, and only 4 named Catherine/Katarzyna, so it still seems to be relatively more popular in my family. Although it’s not possible to draw too many conclusions based on such a small sample, it’s certainly interesting to take a look at the names that our ancestors chose for their children. I can imagine all the new mothers in my family and Bruce’s, raising their children in small villages or larger towns in what is now Poland, Germany, France, Canada, or the U.S., cradling their newborns in their arms and bestowing on those children the most beautiful, noble, saintly, or strong names they could think of, and dreaming of the men and women these little ones would become.

And if nothing else, I will be well-prepared for that casual inquiry about popular given names in our family tree, the next time someone in the family is having a baby!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017

What’s in a Name?: Frequency Analyis of Ancestral Given Names in My Family Tree

Many years ago, when she was pregnant and thinking about baby names, my sister-in-law Ainslie asked me for a list of given names of ancestors on the Szczepankiewicz side of the family. Little did she know how well this simple question would play into my lifelong fascination with given names. Given my obsession with genealogy, I wasn’t about to jot down ancestral given names for a few generations and call it a day. Nope, I decided to develop a spreadsheet that included given names on both sides of the family, and the frequency with which each name appeared. As my research has progressed over the years, I’ve continued to add to this spreadsheet, each time a new generation of ancestors is discovered. Today I’ll discuss the data from my own family, and another day I’ll delve into the data from my husband’s side.

Determining the frequency with which given names appear in the family tree isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Relatively few of my ancestors’ given names are in English, since most of my ancestry is Polish or German. And German ancestry opens the door to the question of how to count German double names like Johann Heinrich or Maria Magdalena. According to German custom, the second name is the rufname, or call name, by which the person is known. So it’s not uncommon to see an entire family of boys with the first name Johann and different middle names. Common first names for girls are Maria or Anna, again used in combination with different rufnamen. However, the waters are muddied because Johannes can be used as a call name, usually for an oldest son.

The Rules of the Game

With all this in mind, here are the ground rules I developed for assessing the popularity of  given names in my family tree:

  1. Equivalent versions of the same name in different languages (e.g. John, Jan and Johann) were all counted in the same category.
  2. In Polish culture dating from the mid 20th-century and earlier, the name “Maria” was revered as the name of the Mother of God, and it was considered inappropriate for parents to aspire to use this name for their daughter. Consequently, the name  Marianna, meaning, “like Mary,” was used instead. For the purpose of this analysis, Mary, Marie, Maria, and Marianna were all treated as equivalents and counted together.
  3. If existing data suggest that a German man with the first name “Johann” used a different call name, he is recorded under that call name. If there is no known call name, I assumed he used the name Johann (or some diminutive thereof) in daily life.
  4. In cases where a woman seemed to use two names equally (e.g. Margaretha Elisabeth) or was equally likely to be recorded under her first name or her middle name (e.g. Maria Magdalena, who was sometimes recorded as Mary and sometimes as Magdalena) I used her first name for the popularity ranking.
  5. The names Maciej/Matthias and Mateusz/Matthew were counted separately, even though they have the same ancient etymological orgin, because the distinction between these names dates back to the New Testament.
  6. Similarly, although the name Harry is a traditional diminutive of Henry, it was not used that way in my family, so I counted those names separately.
  7. German immigrants named Walburga often chose to use the name Barbara in America. However, in the single instance in my family where this was the case, I counted her under her baptismal name, Walburga, since St. Walburga and St. Barbara are two different patron saints.
  8. Christina and Christiana were counted together (same etymological origin).
  9. Only direct ancestors were counted.

The Results

The data covered 96 women and 95 men who were born between about 1670 and the 1940s. Some of the results were as expected. Just as John and Mary were the most popular given names in the U.S. throughout the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, they were the most popular names in my family tree as well. However, those same data from the U.S. indicate that William was a close second to John throughout this time period, even overtaking it in some time periods, and this name does not appear at all among my male ancestors.

Male name frequency

Additional names which appeared in the family twice each are Anthony/Antoni, Casimir/Kazimierz, Christoph/Krzysztof, Harry, Matthias/Maciej, Peter/Piotr, Thomas/Tomasz, and Lawrence/Wawrzyniec. Names which appears once each in the family are Carl, Fidel, Gregory/Grzegorz, Ignatius/Ignacy, Lucas/Łukasz, Martin/Marcin, Matthew/Mateusz, Nicholas/Niklaus, Paul/Paweł, Phillip/Philipp, Roch, Sebastian, Simon, Ulrich, and Wenceslaus/Wenzeslaus.

My family’s Catholic roots are very evident in the large number of saints’ names in the list, especially saints popular in central Europe, (unlike poor St. William). Among male names, the top three names (John, Francis, Michael) comprised about 33% of the total, whereas the top three female names (Mary, Catherine, Anna) comprised nearly half the total (47%). Interestingly, there were exactly 34 “different” names (as defined in the Rules of the Game, above) in each data set (male and female), indicating less overall variability among female names. Additional female names that appeared once each in the family tree are Agatha/Agata, Cecilia/Cecylia, Dorothy/Dorota, Elaine, Felicia, Frances/Franciszka, Genevieve/Genowefa, Joanna, Josephine, Julia, Clara/Klara, Constance/Konstancja, Leonora, Martha, Regina, Salomea, Sarah, Ursula/Urszula, Veronica/Weronika, and Victoria/Wiktoria.

Female Given Names

Among female names, I was unsurprised by the popularity of Mary and its variants, but I was somewhat surprised by the popularity within my family of the name Catherine, since its ranking is relatively higher than one might expect based on a comparison with U.S. data. The name was consistently found in the top 10 U.S. girls’ names here, but was never as high as #2, and the U.S. Social Security Administration’s list of the top names over the last 100 years ranks Catherine at #43. However, this list treats the names “Catherine” and “Katherine” separately, and “Katherine” came in at #41. Obviously if the two names were taken together, they would appear much higher on the list.

I admit, I was intrigued by this for personal reasons. I’ve loved the name Catherine since I was a little girl. I named almost all my dolls Catherine Elizabeth or Catherine Marie. When my husband and I were dating and beginning to talk about marriage, I told him that if ever we had a daughter, she had to be named Catherine, and that fact was pretty much non-negotiable. (He married me despite the ultimatum.)  To me, the name is elegant, musical and lovely, and apparently, many of my ancestors agreed with me. It almost makes me wonder if there’s some weird genetic predisposition for name preferences, just as there’s a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap for some people, or a gene that makes some people find broccoli to be bitter. Whether or not that’s the case, it was nice to compile the data and demonstrate to my daughter Catherine that she’s in good company. I think I simultaneously demonstrated to her that her mother is a huge geek, but I think she knew that already.

So how about you? What are the most popular given names for your ancestors? Which names were the most fascinating to discover, or most unusual? Did you name your children after any particular ancestors? Let me know in the comments! Happy researching!

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

Hoffman and Shea’s German Genealogical Translation Guide is Here At Last!

Christmas came early this year! While I was at the biennial conference of the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast last weekend, I had the opportunity to purchase one of the very first copies of In Their Words: A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents: Volume IV:  German by William F. Hoffman and Jonthan D. Shea. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book for several years now, because I found Volumes I, II, and III (for Polish, Russian, and Latin translations, respectively) to be absolutely indispensable research aids. My family is all too familiar with these books, because they’re the ones that never seem to make it back to the bookshelf. Instead, they’re usually found lying on the kitchen table or coffee table, next to my laptop, because I refer to them so often for a quick look-up of an unfamiliar word or review of grammatical case endings.

So why are these books so great?

I’ve always been one to do genealogy on shoestring budget. Raising four kids meant that I couldn’t afford to pay for professional translations of each and every genealogy document I found. Although we have Facebook groups nowadays that offer translation assistance, such groups didn’t exist when I made my first foray into Polish records. Moreover, I’ve discovered a profound satisfaction in learning to read records about my ancestors in the original language, and having someone else translate the record for me just isn’t as much fun. So, I realized early on that this was sink or swim. If I wanted to make progess in genealogy, it was up to me to learn to read documents in Polish, Russian, Latin, and German.

It’s very true that learning to translate foreign-language records can be intimidating. As genealogists, we often have to contend with grainy or fuzzy microfilms of original records that may have been faded, smeared, torn, taped, or exhibit bleed-through from the other side of the page. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of the illegible chicken-scratch that passes for handwriting on certain documents pertaining to our ancestors. Throw a foreign language in there — or worse, a foreign language written in a different alphabet, like Cyrillic — and it’s enough to make us want to give in to frustration and take up a different hobby. But in reality, learning to read foreign-language records is very doable. Most vital records tend to be pretty formulaic, so it’s not necessary to be fluent in a language in order to read genealogical records written in that language. It’s necessary to have the right tools, however, and that’s where the translation guides by Hoffman and Shea come in.

These books were game-changers for me, allowing me to gain confidence and develop proficiency with translations in Polish, Russian and Latin. They provide numerous examples of an impressive variety of genealogical documents with transcriptions, translations, and discussions of the grammar and vocabulary used in each. They offer historical insight into obscure and archaic words that you’ll never find in a modern dictionary, and they provide multiple examples of the forms that each letter of the alphabet can take in print and cursive. One could even argue that their books have driven the course of my research. Like many of us, I often choose the path of least resistence when it comes to my genealogy research. Since Polish, Russian and Latin records are pretty comfortable for me at this point, I’ve developed a preference for research using documents written in those languages, and I’ve been putting off research that involves German-language records, for both my own family, and for my husband’s ancestors from Prussian Poland.  But no more! Now that their German guide has made its way into my eager hands, I have no more excuses. Onward and upward!

So my next post will include my very first German translation, but I admit, I’m on a sharp learning curve right now. The old German cursive (Kurrentschrift) in this 1857 marriage record that I’ve chosen is making my head spin, but hey, practice makes perfect. Stay tuned. And if you’re interested in reading more about Hoffman and Shea’s German translation guide, or you’d like to purchase a copy, you can do so at the authors’ website. I should mention that I have no commercial interest in the sale of their books. I recommend them because I happen to think they’re wonderful resources. However, in the interest of full disclosure, Jonathan was kind enough to give me a “speaker’s discount” and sell me a copy of the book at $9 off the cover price.

Time to get back to work on that record. It’s not going to translate itself. 😉

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz

 

 

Welcome to my world!

I started this blog as a way of sharing my passion for family history research with family members, genealogy friends, and anyone else who is interested in following along.  Please feel free to share your comments, suggestions, questions, and ideas with me along the way.

Most of us family historians seek to understand who we are by understanding where we came from, and what kind of people our ancestors were.  I come “From Shepherds and Shoemakers,” but also from farmers, potters, tailors, teamsters, architects, laborers, and others.  As I develop this blog I hope to introduce you to them, and to provide some strategies and resources you might employ in your search for your own ancestors.

© 2016 Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz