Friday, April 24, 2015

To “A” From “Z”

When I start thinking that researching this extended Laskowski family is like wandering around in the dark with a paper sack over my head, I need only remember I have yet to do Sophie’s in-laws. That will make this effort seem like child’s play.

Before we leave off poking at every possible hint for Sophie’s roots, there is one more detail I need to re-visit. I had mentioned, in examining her brother John’s in-laws, that his wife’s mother had had the maiden name Zielinska. If you remember, John’s wife Blanche was herself an Aktabowska, but her mother’s maiden name, Zielinska—or at least a spelling variant—had popped up for another part of this extended family: Sophie’s own mother, Marianna.

That may not be entirely true. Not that it’s false. It’s just that I’m not sure. I have one document asserting that Marianna was from the Zelinski family. That was what was listed on Sophie’s own death certificate in 1952.

If, however, you reach back to the previous generation and examine Marianna’s own certificate in 1939, there is no mention of the Zelinski surname. That document identifies her father’s name as Frank Jankowsky.

And there I’m left: with no explanation for where the Zelinski entry came from—nor why it disappeared.

This is where you have to take a long look at the fine print. In Marianna’s case, the informant was her daughter, Sophie. In the case of Sophie’s own death certificate, the informant was her husband. Perhaps he was not as familiar with the intricacies of his in-laws’ lives, back in the Old Country.

It wasn’t until the other day when I got the brilliant idea to crosscheck this with Sophie’s brother’s own death certificate. After all, unlike when I first obtained those snail-mailed records for Sophie and her mother, we now have instant research gratification. With the click of a mouse, we can do this.

No sooner said than done—and bringing up the information on John’s death record reveals his mother’s maiden name was listed there as Jankowska.

Good old John, traditionalist at heart to the end. For him—and for his Polish-American family—a woman’s surname would always end in “a,” just as it had in his native Poland. Jankowska, of course, would be his mother’s counterpart to her father’s Jankowski.

But what of the Zelinski entry? Where did that name come in? Perhaps Sophie’s husband, knowing that his brother in law, John, was married to someone who was doubly related to Sophie, chose the wrong surname. Remember, John’s wife Blanche was daughter of Aniela Zielinska.

Aniela, however, was married to an Aktabowski, and that surname ends up being the one Sophie’s husband should have remembered. For, as it turns out, Sophie’s mom, Marianna, had one other detail on her own death certificate: her mother’s maiden name. Listed right below Frank Jankowsky—Marianna’s father—was the entry for Marianna’s mother.

I’m sure you are already guessing what that name might be. While it was listed on the document as “Aktaboska,” I have never found Americans of that generation, struggling with Polish pronunciation, to be particularly careful to render their spelling correctly. That, plainly, was the equivalent of Blanche’s own maiden name: Aktabowski.

Just like that, we’re taken from Z to A—from Zelinski to Aktabowski—yet still left with the tantalizing possibility that, somewhere beyond the grandparents of Sophie and Blanche, there was a link that made them distant cousins as well as in-laws.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In Case of Outlaws

With every microscopic discovery on the trail to piece together my father’s family again, I gain an understanding of who he was. It may not seem like much to someone not accustomed to the discipline of genealogy to, say, uncover the maiden name of a cousin’s spouse, but it somehow improves my chances of isolating the right cousin from among so many others with the same name in a place the size of New York City.

What I didn’t remember, yesterday, when mentioning my discovery of Albert Lasko’s bride’s identity was how much I have been aided, along the way, with research tips by those who aren’t my own relatives, but who are related to the other side. A cross between crowdsourcing and cousin bait, such details have the potential, once posted online, to draw the attention of other genealogical researchers who just might have a piece of the rest of the story I’m seeking.

Realizing this, I feel remiss in not including the obituary I had linked to in yesterday’s post. The article I had discovered in the November 27, 1946, Brooklyn Eagle provided the maiden name of Mildred, Albert Lasko’s wife. I decided it would be appropriate to retrace my steps and bring this subject up again, so I could post the death notice here today, which I've added below.

Yes, while it is Albert who was my father’s cousin, there is no relationship between me and Mildred’s family. But perhaps someone will come searching for information on her father, Louis Henry Hoyer, and end up finding this entry here. Who knows what that person might be able to share about what became of Albert and Mildred?

That realization brings to mind one other detail. Scenarios like this—more specifically, the in-laws of one’s in-laws—have been euphemistically dubbed “outlaws” by some in my humor-loving family. I’ve written about this before—in fact, starting with a post shortly after I started this blog, nearly four years ago.

What I’m reminded of, as I revisit our family's habit of using this label of “outlaws,” is exactly who it was who first introduced me to both the label and the outlaws: the very cousin whom reader Intense Guy recently found mentioned in a newspaper report, while discussing the marriage of my aunt just before the marriage of her cousin Frances.

All this goes to remind us: when it comes to genealogical research, it isn’t about keeping it all in the family. Those outlaws can come in handy, too.
HOYER—LOUIS H., November 26, 1946, aged 60 years, beloved husband of Meta; dear father of Mildred A. Lasko and Walter A.; brother of Frank Hoyer. Service Friday, 8:15 p.m., at George Werst Funeral Home, 7141 Cooper Avenue. Funeral Saturday, 2 p.m. Interment Maple Grove Memorial Park. Member of Yew Tree Lodge, No. 461, F. & A. M.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bit by Bit

It was a good thing I had those newspaper archives to rely on, when trying to piece together the story of those ten Laskowski grandchildren and their wedding days. Since most of the ceremonies fell within the decade of 1930 to 1940—with one even occurring afterwards—it was hard to track such details as maiden name of those brides marrying into the family.

One marriage I had been alerted to, thanks to the 1940 census, had shown me the first name of grandchild Albert Lasko’s wife—Mildred—but, of course, did not reveal her maiden name. For whatever reason, I had not been able to locate the record on The Italian Genealogical Group’s website—remember, this site is not just for Italians!—but with some perseverance, the day was won with a simple search on historic newspapers.

While there are several subscription sites that may entitle the persistent to search to their heart’s content through the archives of major newspapers—and even some small town titles—I try my best to seek out those free sites first. When searching in the greater New York metropolitan area, that means relying on the portal at the Brooklyn Public Library, and the donation-based site, Old Fulton New York Post Cards.

Yes, a “post card” site can deliver newspapers to your digital front door.

So, off to hunt for any sign of Albert A. Lasko’s wife Mildred, I was successful in a roundabout way. While I never found any wedding announcement in any of the available New York City or Long Island newspapers, I did find an entry for a Mildred A. Lasko in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

In the November 27, 1946, edition, amidst the death notices buried on page nine, there was an entry for a Louis H. Hoyer, who had died the day before. This, it turns out, was the erstwhile Heinrich Hoyer who had entered life in Brooklyn sixty years prior. Now, husband of Meta (also showing as Mary and Mamie in census records) and father of Mildred and her brother Walter, he had just made his final exit.

Since the 1940 census had shown the young couple, Albert and Mildred, without any children, I wondered if there were any arriving after that point. I headed over to to do a blank search with nothing entered but the fields for father’s and mother’s last names: Lasko and Hoyer. Sometimes, that tactic will help flush out data for me, but in this case, it did not work. Perhaps the lack of any mention of grandchildren in Mildred’s father’s obituary was not just an editorial oversight.

While I’m still unable to find anything more on this unknown cousin of my father—other than a Social Security Death Index record showing last residence for each of them being in Columbia, Maryland—finding this one additional piece of information will suffice for now. Genealogy is definitely a process of adding a little bit here and a little bit there. This research is not a sprint—even though momentarily, we can seem to be overpowered with an avalanche of discoveries. It is more often a slow and steady meander through the wild woods that camouflage our family tree.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where’s That Wedding?

With the wedding of Frances Laskowski’s cousin set to eclipse her own special day in August, 1929, it got me wondering just where that earlier wedding was held. After all, since the July bride was a resident of New Hampshire, not New York, perhaps the event in question was not even close to home. Though six weeks before Frances was set to marry Philip Hanlon, the McCann-Hennessy wedding may have entailed some extensive travel, thus making aging grandparents too exhausted—or even unavailable—for Frances’ subsequent big day.

With that in mind, I did some further searching in newspaper archives. Fortunately, there was a record of the July wedding published in the Brooklyn Standard Union. The Wednesday, July 10, 1929, article wasn’t very helpful, though. Besides lacking that tell-all guest list that cousin Frances’ wedding had included, an enigmatic entry noted the bride’s parents resided in Manchester, then listed the church as “the Blessed Sacrament Church, Euclid Avenue.”

Okay: Euclid Avenue in Manchester? Or somewhere in New York? I had to find this out!

Pursuing genealogical research in this Internet age certainly can spoil a soul. Googling “Blessed Sacrament Church” and “Euclid Avenue” led me to a self-styled Catholic Church history blog, and a page featuring the establishment of a church by that same name and address. Of course, I gave no thought at the time as to the possibilities that there might be scores of churches by that name on all the Euclid Avenues of the world. Fortunately for me, one of the first search results pointed me to Brooklyn, and I snatched it up.

So, as it turns out, there was no long journey for the Laskowski grandparents to New Hampshire to witness the marriage of their oldest grandson in his bride’s home town. If  they were in attendance at all, it involved a trip to a ceremony not far from their own New York City home in Brooklyn. Perhaps, after all, their absence from the guest list for granddaughter Frances’ wedding was simply a matter of the weariness of old age, not any snarky retort to imagined family rifts.
Miss Viola Patrice Hennessy, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. George N. Hennessy, of 78 Norwood avenue, Manchester, N. H., was married recently to Valentine J. McCann at the Blessed Sacrament Church, Euclid Avenue. The ceremony, which was performed by the Rev. John Keely [sic], was followed by a reception. Miss Mary Conway was maid of honor for Miss Hennessy and George Hennessy, brother of the bride, was Mr. McCann's best man. Mr. and Mrs. McCann will make their home in Manchester.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Overbooked Social Calendar

It would not be considered unusual to see a young bride with a social calendar full of obligations. Between appointments to prepare for a wedding, parties, showers, and personal meetings with friends leading up to the big day, there is much to do.

It wouldn’t be quite so expected to see the social calendar of the bride’s grandparents so fully packed. But perhaps that was what happened, back in 1929, leading up to the marriage of Frances Laskowski to Philip Hanlon.

Face it, between three children, Anton and Marianna Laskowski had ten grandchildren to attend to. And several of those children were of a ripe, marriageable age at just the same time as Frances.

We’ve already learned of the marriage of Wilbur Lasko to Ruth Plocher. That, as it turns out, was the outlier among the multiple Laskowski descendant weddings, not occurring until September, 1941. But his older brother claimed his bride—someone I know now, but only as Mildred, thanks to their entry in the 1940 census—two years after the wedding of Frances and Philip. I wonder if the Laskowski grandparents were in attendance at that event.

Four of Frances’ siblings’ marriage dates stretched from that point to the date of their cousin Wilbur’s wedding. Following the Albert Lasko wedding, Rita was the first of Frances’ siblings, marrying Robert McAnally sometime in 1932. April 18, 1933, was Frances’ twin sister’s date, when Severa wed Joseph John Kingsley. The next year saw Walter marrying Mary T. Vesneski in November, 1934—the only Laskowski ceremony occurring outside the New York metropolitan area. Ironically, oldest sister Elizabeth was last to marry, finally willing to say “I do” to Thomas Ladka in June of 1936. The only one of Frances’ siblings not marrying within the decade was Blanche; actually, she never married, choosing rather to become a nun.

There were, however, two other grandchildren not yet taken into account: the two children of John Laskowski’s sister, Sophie. These, as it turned out, had wedding dates occurring before Frances Laskowski’s special day.

The first of those two events was for Sophie’s daughter, Anna Mae. Her big day occurred on November 7, 1928—for the only daughter of the senior Laskowskis’ only daughter. Not only that, but it was the first wedding of any of the Laskowski grandchildren.

Oh, how I wish I could have found a newspaper report of that occasion! While there were several newspaper mentions of the name of her groom—George DeMilt Eggert—he was not the only one to claim that name, nor was the wedding the focus of any reports linked to that name. Whether the occasion for this first grandchild merited the inclusion of the entire guest list in a newspaper report, I guess I’ll never know. One would hope Anna’s grandparents would have been in attendance at that special day.

Pushing disturbingly close to Frances’ big day, though, was the next grandchild’s wedding. Barely six weeks before the Laskowski-Hanlon event came the wedding of Sophie’s son—my father, who claimed his bride on July 7, 1929. Were his grandparents in attendance at that event?

That Anton and Marianna were not mentioned at the Laskowski-Hanlon wedding the following August 24 may not have been such a surprise, considering the extensive lineup of social engagements for so many grandchildren.

Then again, if estimated dates of birth can be believed in family history pursuits, by the time of Frances’ 1929 wedding, her grandmother, Marianna Laskowski, would have been seventy six years of age. Grandpa Anton would have been nearing eighty seven years of age. Perhaps they were both just partied out.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Doing the Math on DNA

After having sniveled and complained about my research progress in yesterday’s post, with the receipt of one email, I may have to change my tune.

Just before writing my statistical report for yesterday, I had scrolled through my DNA test results, double checking those numbers I was about to report. Among my most recent matches on the autosomal DNA test was a person who showed up in the predicted range of second to fourth cousin.

While that may seem like a distant relationship to most people, you and I and anyone dabbling in genealogy will know that we are far too well equipped to be fazed by a label like “fourth cousin.” We’ve done our due diligence and we are prepared!

When I replied to that potential match, I realized her email address was exactly the same as another candidate I had just received in that same range. What was going on here? Program malfunction?

No, as it turned out, one person was serving as administrator for DNA test results for two people. Not unusual—I do the same for my brother and my husband. As my husband is so fond of saying, he doesn’t “do” genealogy—he just carries the bags.

I wrote this two-for-one party at the other end of the duplicated email address, and in less than twenty four hours, I had a reply. Not only was this person doing double duty, but she was actually shepherding four DNA tests through their paces. And I was a match to every one of them.

As has so often happened in this project, the other party was stumped over how we might connect. This is head banging, hair pulling frustration. I cannot tell you how many times I go through this exact scenario: we share trees, we look through each other’s data, and not one mutual surname can be found. The only encouraging aspect of the routine is that I usually undergo this reaction when trying to match up with people predicted to be at the range of fourth cousin—or worse. This time, I had a chance at connecting at a mere second cousin ranking.

How hard would that be?

So I rev up my old harangue about how calculating the connection between two second cousins would require finding a mutual relative at the level of great-grandparent. Remember, the most recent common ancestor for first cousins would be a grandparent. At the second cousin level, it would be first great grandparent. For every increase in level of cousin, you can minus that count by one and tack it onto the label of great grandparent. In other words, n cousin equals n – 1 great grandparent. See? Simple math.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to inform us that, at the outside chance that this new match and I are related at the farthest level—fourth cousins—this worst case scenario would require us to identify a most recent common ancestor at the level of third great grandparent to confirm the proposed match. Of course, only a devoted genealogist would be prepared to serve up information like that. But we are up for this game—at least, if it involves my maternal line.

If, on the other hand, the connection is on my paternal side, well…you’ve already seen how little research I’ve been able to accomplish on those camouflaged Polish immigrants.

Not to worry, though: I have a handy trick in my back pocket. By comparing any unknown person’s results with a relative I’ve already tested on my father’s side, I can eliminate any matches linked to that side by using the “not in common with” function at the Family Tree DNA website. With one click of that button, I magically remove from my list anyone whose DNA also matches the near relative on my paternal side—well, all twenty two of them.

Small numbers which work hard can still be our friends, however. And when I put my data through their paces in that manner, I see those four related matches from my new source still remain. I can safely assume they connect somewhere on my maternal side.

Granted, that side holds the preponderance of my test matches. But if I can isolate even one additional match and confirm that it belongs to a specific surname on my maternal side, I can play that reduction game once again: find out who is in common with that other party. Surname by surname, I can eliminate those lines among the sixteen third great grandparent candidates on my maternal side that don’t connect with these four related matches. Yes, I’m chipping away at this monolith with a toothbrush, sweeping away the residue, but eventually I’ll be left with some rock-solid results.

Once again, numbers are not only my friend, but they show me just how far I have to go and how long I have to hold on before I hit pay dirt. You can’t pace yourself without measurements.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sadly Neglected Statistics

I’ve discovered one thing about keeping count of research progress: if you split your attention between two projects, suddenly everything seems to go more slowly.

Adding a goal of discovering my paternal roots may be an invigorating proposition—not to mention, a challenging one—but it doesn’t help my progress on my maternal line. And that is the one which will not only yield greater payoffs, overall, but also bring me closer to finding the missing link in my mtDNA connection with my mystery cousin, the adoptee.

Part of this is due to one glaring fact: of my now 812 autosomal DNA matches, only twenty two of them can be positively identified as coming from my paternal side. Talk about lopsided. Then again, this is the result of attempting to be a trailblazer on a line that hasn’t, apparently, been researched by much of anyone.

Can you blame them? With non-existent immigration information, impossible Polish surname spellings and arbitrary name changes, those ancestors and their kin did not make it easy for anyone to find them.

With the addition, in the past two weeks, of this paternal quest, I’ll start tracking the counts on this new line. Here are the benchmarks for getting started on this new paternal focus.

So far, I have one hundred forty three people in my paternal tree. I don’t see that number growing by leaps and bounds in the next few weeks, mostly because this line doesn’t come near the amount of data available on my overly-researched maternal lines. Perhaps that comes of having a mom whose roots were deeply planted in this country, in some cases, back in the 1600s.

Then, as I mentioned, my current paternal DNA match count is at twenty two. Since the newest addition to that count is nearly two weeks old—contrast that with my latest batch on my maternal line arriving on April 15—I don’t expect to see that count overflowing any time soon, either.

However, progress has been slowing on the maternal side as well. There are only twenty four hours in any given day, and when they are distributed among two goals versus one, well, the results are predictable.

So, how did it go, these past two weeks? When we last left off counting those maternal relatives, I had 2,834 in my maternal tree. I’m now up to 3,059. Yes, that’s only a paltry increase of 225 names, about half my usual progress. Now you can see those telltale signs of the dual-goal focus.

As for my current DNA matches, I’m up to 812—an increase of seventeen more names since April 4.

Every weekend, I like to set aside time to contact potential matches. If I don’t schedule time specifically for that purpose, I start to get that feeling of being awash in a flood of data. Somehow, if I set a goal of contacting five a week, even though in the face of such a huge number overall, I still get the sense of making progress.

I’ve decided that is another category I should start keeping tabs on: how many contacts per week I initiate, how many have responded, and how many yielded positive connections—in other words, I and my match have mutually agreed upon a correct connection and have noted it in our respective Family Tree DNA files. This week’s count for contacts is up to six, but none have helped me make any headway yet. I and my “matches” are still as baffled as ever as to how we connect.

Oh, for a breakthrough on some of these matches! I don’t mind the overall number—hey, at least I have some matches—but the contacts I’ve made have returned with more questions than answers. Frankly, not that many people seem willing to put the kind of energy into the task that it would take to dig up convoluted answers.

Proportionally, of course, it will be more likely to find answers on the maternal line—after all, that’s where the preponderance of matches lay. Correspondingly, even a small number of matches on the paternal side would be cause to celebrate. Hey, I’d take even one!

Meanwhile, keeping track of the numbers helps me keep at it when I’m lagging. And that, of course, is what accountability is all about.
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