Thursday, April 30, 2015

What They Told Me

When I was a kid—you know, those early years when I knew I was “born wanting to do genealogy”—I asked my dad where he came from. Like, where his parents were born. And their parents.

His answer—as I’ve often mentioned—was “Aaah, you don’t wanna know that.”

My mother, always ready to fill in the blanks, recited the party line for me, possibly in hopes of placating me and making this genealogy stuff all go away: my dad’s father was Irish and his mother was German.

End of story.

Of course, I didn’t stop trying. But I wised up to other ways to find these things. I learned about research. Paper trails. Census records. Newspapers.

Alas, all these things were only accessible to those willing to travel to the appropriate source, and in many cases, considering my age and stage in life, this was not possible.

And so, the story languished. Until.

Until changes happened in the family. For one thing, I left home and moved across the continent to attend college. People grew up. Attitudes changed. Possibilities opened up.

And people died.

One of my cousins—actually, a cousin once removed—was tasked with the inevitable “Family Tree” homework assignment at school. About that time, I had headed south to L.A. on some business and ended up visited my brother. We got to talking about that mysterious family tree—he being quite a bit older than I, and me thinking perhaps he would remember stuff from the relatives he knew from his childhood.

He mentioned the upshot of our cousin’s homework assignment. “We might be Polish,” he said with marked incredulity. Being Irish was a big thing for my brother.

It was in that conversation that I first heard the surname Laskowski. Before that, I had had no idea. My brother floated a few more possibilities—some that yielded results, some that turned out to be bum leads.

A bit later—perhaps, mindful of our conversation about family roots—my brother flew back east to attend a gala event thrown in honor of my aunt’s seventieth birthday. He managed to bring a tape recorder with him, and sweet-talked my aunt into letting him interview her as the guest of honor. She obliged.

During the interview, he deftly led her back down memory lane—mostly about special times in her own life. But then, he slipped in some prompts about remembering other family members. My aunt talked about her favorite cousin—the same Francis Laskowski whose wedding was eclipsed by my aunt’s own—and some of the times they shared together. When her memory seemed to falter, my brother would gently prompt her for descriptions and names. Nicknames. Married names. Details about relatives, drawn out oh so gently.

Tenderly, he walked her back down that memory lane until she was talking about the previous generation. And then, unexpectedly, my aunt mentioned that her father had a sister.

The tendency to grab at details of this kind can be overwhelming when you know absolutely nothing about a family’s background. But an over-eager reaction can breach the mood—and in an instant, the interview can be aborted.

My brother tried to coax more information from his reminiscing subject. She was able to remember that this woman was married more than once. Thankfully, she remembered one of the married names, but the other one slipped her mind. It was simply not there to recall.

It was such a gift to receive a copy of that taped interview—not only because of all the treasures of family history it contained, but because within the decade, my aunt, herself, passed away, taking all those memories with her. Even though I was subsequently able to return back east to visit with her once, before her passing, I could tell her memory was fading. In conversation, she would confuse people’s identity. By then, it would have been unlikely that her recollections would be reliable.

Shortly after this time was when most of our family entered the computer age. Instead of letters, phone calls, or those infrequent transcontinental visits, we could connect by email or chat. I started to compare notes with some of those cousins-once-removed (the virtue of being the child of someone so removed in age from me is that my contemporaries in family circles were all the children of my cousins—handily equipping me to have no difficulties whatsoever grasping those once-removed labels that cause so many such confusion).

Two of these cousins were daughters of a woman who had died early, as a result of cancer. They had been going through their mother’s—my cousin’s—papers after her passing. They noticed some unusual documents, which brought an odd episode to mind. Once, her daughter had caught her with some music of the Polish national anthem or other patriotic music from Poland. It had been hidden away in the piano bench—never taken out when others were present. When questioned, the woman wanted to change the subject and even began shaking. Why? What was there to cover up?

My cousins now think that this was one way their mother was attempting to connect with her roots. Somehow forbidden to do so as a child, she couldn’t deny the pull of that basic question: who am I and where did I come from?

Other stories came out—about my father and his sister being strictly told never to reveal their roots. This would result in awkward scenarios for this younger generation. My aunt could never, for instance, invite her high school friends home with her, after school, for fear they would realize her mother had to speak to her grandmother in a foreign language.

The story that got told to family was that the switch of names was to allow their father to get a job. There was much prejudice against the Poles at the time, but favor was turning toward the Irish—so the story went. How a Polish immigrant was able to pass himself off as an Irish-American, I’ll never know. I would think the accent would get in the way of such a ruse.

At that time, I had not yet discovered the paternal surname, Puhalski. But even when I did learn of that possibility, it did not permit me to gain any traction in furthering my research.

Oh, you can be sure I tried—I poked, I prodded, I massaged the data gleaned from governmental documents, but without any success at discovering the identity of this paternal grandfather.

But…he had a sister? Perhaps this was my key to bypass this genealogical enigma. I could start a new research trail: finding out about Aunt Rose.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Two Men—Or One?

Trying to determine which of two names represents the man who was my paternal grandfather has been challenging. Not only do I know nothing, personally, of Theodore Puhalski, but no one else in my family knew anything of the man, either. In fact, that name was a total surprise when it was first presented to our family.

As for John T. McCann, however, I have older relatives who knew him personally. Of course, these were the memories of young children and teenagers who, before his 1952 passing, once called him Grandpa.

I never met the man, of course, as he was gone before I was born. But every time I stare into my bathroom mirror, his face is looking back at me. How do I know? His photographs tell me.

As for the similarity between this man and my own father, it is unmistakable. The two are assuredly related.

How could that be, though, if the 1905 census shows the father of my father to be a man named not John T. McCann, but someone with a surname like Puhalski? Wouldn’t that be the actual blood relation?

All I know about John T. McCann is what I’ve found in government documentation—plus the few stories family members have told me. I know—at least according to a copy of his death certificate—that he was born in Brooklyn on August 7, 1876. And that he died, seventy five years later, in Queens, on April 12, 1952.

Though I can see from census records that he was a machinist by trade—the 1925 New York State census showed he advanced to the level of foreman—I know, thanks to family stories, how talented he was at crafting custom-designed adaptive devices to allow his elderly wife, by then a diabetic amputee, to continue attending to such activities of daily living as washing the dishes or cleaning the house.

I also know he worked at a printing concern. Judging from the impressed tone of my older sister when she’d recount the fact that he worked for “Mergenthaler,” I’d gather that it was a big deal kind of place to work.

But that was just it—that big deal kind of job. As it turned out, when we cousins and siblings put our heads together to figure out just what it was about this big, mysterious story about our heritage and why it was hidden, it all seemed to center around this chance for a job.

At least, that was the best we could figure…

Above, top left: Photograph of John T. McCann, from the McCann family personal collection; below: Logo from the 1896 stock certificate of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, courtesy Wikipedia, in the public domain. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The New Neighbors

It’s the first of June, 1915, and the state census enumerator, George A. Hofmeyer, is making his way up and down the streets of Queens borough in New York. While almost everyone who comes to the door in response to his summons declares that he or she was born in the United States, each one offers up a decidedly German-sounding surname: Nunsdorf, Boeringer, Hoenig, Ohrlein, Feist.

And then, just as the enumerator is about to fill page thirty two of his report on ward two of the thirty first election district, the litany is broken by a lone Irish surname: McCann. The respondent reports that the head of household is named John. He is joined by his wife, Sophie, and two children. Apparently, Mr. Hofmeyer stumbled over the name this Irish-American chose for his firstborn son—recorded as “Valitine”—but completed his task at this household by adding the youngest child’s name, Anna, and moving down the street to the next German-sounding surname, Schneider.

If you’ve been following along as I struggle to document my father’s family history, you will recognize at least the last three of that string of names to be our Sophie Laskowska’s family. We’ve already found Sophie, her son Valentine and her daughter Anna in her parents’ Brooklyn household for the 1910 census—along with Sophie’s husband. While we’ve struggled with determining the correct version of Sophie’s husband’s name—Thomas or Theodore? Puhalaski or Puhalski?—at least we can verify that we have the right cluster of names.

All except for Sophie’s husband, that is. Formerly someone going by a Polish name, Sophie’s husband is now reported to be John McCann. What happened to Thomas? Or, um, Theodore?

The easy answer—at least, for us children of the sixties onward—would be that Sophie got fed up with him and threw the bum out. She found someone to love her who was much more the type she deserved. Right?

Not necessarily. Back before 1915, there was an entirely different attitude toward divorce. Not that it didn’t happen; it did. Before we rush to that conclusion, however, let’s take a serious look at the data. There may be something else unfolding here—and not just the alternate possibility that Sophie was a widow.

For one thing, checking the marriage index for New York City during the years between the last time we saw Theodore documented (1910) and the time Sophie showed up sporting that brand-new Irish-American surname (1915), there is no record to verify that anyone named Sophie—regardless of surname mangling—had married someone named John McCann.

Let’s take a different approach on this. Could there be any similarities between the entries—1910 in Brooklyn, 1915 in Queens? Better yet, let’s get a running start by turning back to that 1905 state census where we found Sophie’s husband listed as Thomas Puhalaski, and stretch this exercise out to the 1920 census, as well.

In 1905, we find Thomas Puhalaski listed as twenty nine years of age, born in Germany, marked as an alien, in this country since 1887, and employed as a machinist.

Five years later, for the 1910 federal census, we see Sophie’s husband now entered as Theodore Puhalski. He declared that, for six years, he had been married to a woman whose eldest of two children was now five years of age. On the date of this census enumeration—April 15—he gave his age as thirty three, not quite the five years difference between this census and the last, but perhaps his birthday occurred between April 15 and June 1. He stated he was born in Germany—as had each of the members of Sophie’s Laskowski Polish family, Germany being the then-geopolitically-correct designation. He claimed arrival in the United States in 1884, and assured the enumerator that he had been naturalized. For employment, he indicated simply “machines” and that he worked for a printing press.

The 1915 census is when we saw the family move from Brooklyn to Queens. Suddenly, Theodore is gone. In his place is this man named John McCann. He reported his age to be thirty nine—five years later than the thirty four that Theodore would have been. Only John asserted that he was born in the United States—obviously a citizen. For his employment, coincidentally, he mentioned that he was a machinist.

Predictably, this John McCann shows up in the 1920 federal census claiming his age to be forty three—once again, possibly a function of the early date of this enumeration on January 22, 1920. He reported his place of birth to be New York, and indicated that that was the case for his father, as well. However, he did insert the fact that his mother was born in Germany. For his occupation, he stated he was a machinist, working in a machine shop.

In this span of time—from 1905 to 1920—we see Sophie with a spouse whose age advanced routinely by five year increments. We also see a man whose employment was consistently listed as “machinist” or someone who works with machines.

On the other hand, with the shift from the Polish surname to the Irish surname, we see a change from a man who declared himself to be an alien, to someone who claimed he was a naturalized citizen, to someone insisting he was a natural-born American.

Well, of course, there’s that one small matter of the name change, as well.

But if John McCann was Sophie’s second husband, where was his marriage license? And why didn’t he claim Valentine and Anna were his step-children?

While I have no idea who Thomas Puhalaski or Theodore Puhalski might have been, I do know a few things about John T. McCann, thanks to the helpful recollections of family members who knew him and the photographs they have shared with me. Perhaps it is time to take a break from struggling over the sterile documentation of governmental records to take inventory of the personal anecdotes I’ve been collecting over the last two decades.  

Monday, April 27, 2015

Comparing Notes

Sometimes, when we aren’t certain of our recollection of an event, we can check out our memories with others who were there by comparing notes.

When it comes to figuring out my paternal grandfather’s story, I don’t have that liberty; I wasn’t around yet—not even at the point at which he died.

Of course, I’ve done my due diligence in plying my older relatives with wearying questions—questions which, thankfully, my brother and my cousin have been patient enough to do their best in answering.

But I still want more. So I’ve agonized over every spot and blot jotted down in census records of the era in which Anton and Mary Laskowski lived—and, in particular, those years in which they took in their married daughter Sophie’s own household.

There was just a brief window in which to capture this household, actually: in the 1905 New York State census, and five years later in the 1910 federal census. After that, not only were Sophie and her family moved out of her parents’ Brooklyn apartment, but gone also was any trace of that married name—whether Puhalski, or Puchalski, or any of the other poorly-rendered versions of that Polish surname.

To compare notes in a case like this, then, all I've got to muddle this one out is the documentation left behind by impartial third parties. It all comes down to the detail-capturing prowess of state enumerator, John F. Lupien, and federal enumerator, Charles H. McMahon. Or, more likely, to their handwriting perseverance in the grueling course of their duties on June 1, 1905, or April 15, 1910.

That, however, introduces some problems of its own. While I can be certain of Anton and Mary’s daughter Sophie in the 1905 state census, it isn’t exactly clear what Sophie’s husband’s given name actually was. Whatever it was, it was evidently marked out and, in a different handwriting, the name Thomas was inserted.

Why the change? It’s not that the Polish version of our English Thomas was that challenging; according to one handy Polish-to-English name chart, the Polish version of Thomas would have been rendered as Tomasz—not much different than other European versions of the name.

What makes this difficult for me is what we find when we compare these 1905 notes with those of our 1910 enumerator. In that subsequent document, gone was the Thomas. In its place was inserted the given name, Theodore—the English equivalent of what, in Polish, would have been Teodor.

How could Thomas be mistaken for Theodore? Even rendered with a thick foreign accent, Tomasz would not be easily confused for Teodor.

It’s what followed that given name, however, that causes me the most concern. I guess I should have presumed that the ears which heard “Thomas” in one case and “Theodore” in the other, would never have gotten it right when it comes to Polish surnames. For, in the case of the 1905 record, the verdict was delivered as Puhalaski, while the 1910 decision was rendered as Puhalski—or, maybe, given the strategic placement of one frustrating ink blot, Pukalski.

Granted, the ears of English-speaking enumerators never did seem to mix well with foreign accents. And it’s not, necessarily, the issue over whether that surname was Puhalaski or Puhalski. What I really need to know is: was Sophie’s husband Thomas Puhalaski one and the same with Theodore Puhalski? More to the point, which one should I be pursuing, when he—or they—are mysteriously replaced by one John T. McCann? For that, my friend, becomes the next quest, once Sophie and family move out of Brooklyn and into their new digs in Queens in time for the 1915 state census.

Above: Excerpts from the 1905 and 1910 United States Census records showing the Brooklyn, New York, household of Anton and Mary Laskowski. Images courtesy

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Difficulty With Non-Paternal Events

It’s almost DNA Conference time again. Come June, I’ll be down at the DNA Day at Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree. And on that day, I’ll brace myself for the inevitable cracks about “non-paternal events.”

It’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge time again at the genetic genealogy roundtable. Why is it that everyone seems to get so much entertainment over blithely brushing away Y-DNA research difficulties with such glib responses? It is simply not so that we can load every paternity mystery into a box, label it “infidelity” and dismiss it onto a shelf in the research hinterland.

You and I and everyone else who have spent any serious time puzzling over our ancestors have run across those brick wall candidates who turn out, in retrospect, to have unexpected left turns on the path from the present to paternity-past. Sometimes, it’s outright adoption—including those heartwarming cases where the second husband chooses to adopt his bride’s children from a previous deceased or absent spouse. Sometimes, it’s the case of abandoned children taken in, literally, from the streets of the city, as in the case of the Orphan Train movement.

There are probably as many reasons why a person’s father isn’t who we think he is as there are people out there, making choices—or, worse, succumbing to the stark realities of life. It’s just hard, in retrospect, to retrace the steps that lead away from such events. We can make assumptions—but later, need to be prepared to discover that our assumptions were inaccurate.

No matter what we do, however, we can’t just sit there and join the frivolity and laugh away at the possibility of a “non-paternal event.”

I’m particularly sensitized to that possibility, right now, because I feel absolutely stymied by the identity of my paternal grandfather. As I mentioned yesterday, he very likely was a person who, for whatever reason, felt compelled to disguise his identity.

Whether it was he who showed up in the 1905 New York State census as Thomas Puhalaski, and in the 1910 federal census as Theodore Puhalski, I can’t say for certain. But his surname shows up on the birth certificates for both my father and my aunt.

Who was this man? He was someone for whom I have very little information. Including all I’ve been able to glean from those relatives who knew him personally, there is precious little to give me any leads.

One disturbing clue was his assertion that he was adopted. But was he? He claimed to have a sister—the family knew her as “Aunt Rose”—but was she a blood relative? Or sister by adoption? It doesn’t help that her various marriages help obfuscate the detail that her mother’s married name doesn’t seem to match Rose’s maiden name.

The fact that we can now do DNA testing gives us power to leap over such genealogical brick walls. That does not necessarily mean we’ve been given the keys to the kingdom of genealogical mysteries. In this case—that of my paternal grandfather, whoever he turns out to be—I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with a male descendant of this man to obtain results of his Y-DNA test. The only male descendant, as it turns out.

And yet, as much as I hoped to find some answers through that opportunity, I’ve not really found anything. There are no exact matches. There are no recognizable surnames among the more distant results. Even putting our quandary to the test through the autosomal DNA approach, there hasn’t been any light shed on this puzzle.

So, back to the paper trail I go. You are welcome to join me as I twist in the wind—or at least joust at windmills. My hope is that, with every subsequent year in this digital age, we have access to more and more documentation. Perhaps something will send a clue our way to help determine the true identity of my paternal grandfather.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

When the Fallout of Email
Rocks Your Research World

Every so often—at least, if you’ve been at this genealogical paper chase long enough—you’ll get one of those email letters that starts out tentatively enough, but by the time you finish reading it, it has changed everything.

That was the way it was when a certain stranger—I’ll just call him Louis—contacted me, years ago, about the identity of my paternal grandfather. If you could read between the lines at the beginning of Louis’ letter, it would have started out,

Also not on the page—but flashing through my mind as I read his note—were all sorts of incredulous thoughts. Since it’s the beginning of baseball season, I’ll borrow some phrases:
            Out of left field…
            Threw me a curve…

What he did, this stranger called Louis—who, incidentally, ended up being an outlaw to one of my father’s cousins—was to suggest that my father’s surname wasn’t actually his real name.

For those of you who, like Far Side, are astute readers, you may have already picked up on that. You see, when I was struggling over whether Sophie’s brother Michael was really the same Michael Lasko from Brooklyn who married Mary Hecker, I used a census record to identify the Laskowskis’ address in 1910. While Michael had already moved out of the Laskowski apartment, his sister Sophie’s husband had moved in.

The only problem is: Sophie was married to a guy whose surname wasn’t the surname I grew up with. So…was this my paternal grandfather? Or not?

Thanks to what looks like an ink blot on the 1910 census, the surname appears to be Pukalski. I know, from other documents I’ve been able to obtain for both my father’s and my aunt’s birth, that the name should actually read Puhalski—or, if you want to be particularly Germanic about it, Puchalski.

When Louis first crashed my world, it was well over twenty years ago—back before easy access to digitized records. That was the time when documents only came to us via snail mail.

I’ve tried my best to discover the narrative to explain away this oddity, but anywhere I tried to get any feedback on this quandary—especially on those old genealogy forums—the consensus was: Sophie remarried.

Somehow, deep inside, I can’t convince myself that that is what happened. For one thing, the accuracy of census enumerators—especially when coming face to face with Polish immigrants—leaves much to be desired. While the 1910 census is a case in point—writing Pukalski when the name should have read Puhalski—even the 1905 New York State census came up with a different result. For that one, the surname was written Puhalaski.

But even there, we can spot other discrepancies. Notice, for one thing, that Sophie’s husband shows as Thomas in the 1905 record, while in the 1910 report, he was Theodore J. Applying the kind of logic offered by my forum respondents—different name means different man—would that mean Sophie married a brother of the man she was married to in 1905? I don’t think so; it was likely an enumerator error.

Notice, also, the children listed in the 1910 census. We’ve spoken about my aunt, Anna—and there she is in the 1910 census, listed as granddaughter to the head of household, Anton Laskowski. Along with her is her brother, my father, Valentine. How often do you run across a name like that?

While Anna was too young to have been in the 1905 state census, my dad was there. Because he was born that year, his age was given as a fraction, 4/12. Since the census was taken in June, 1905, that would mean he was born in February—which he was.

So, if we know we are talking about the right children, and since we know we have the right Sophie—she was, after all, living in her parents’ home—then what about this guy, Theodore a.k.a. Thomas?

I’ve been trying to answer that question for well over twenty years. Of course, with the research advantages we have now, this time, I may find a way around this brick wall. Considering how secretive the family seemed to be—at least, those of that generation—perhaps I may never figure it out.

At any rate, it’s a new season of research, and I’m game.

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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

What I Think I Know

Back in 1929, would it have been considered unusual for the bride's father's parents to be absent from her wedding? In the case of the wedding of the daughter of John and Blanche Aktabowska Laskowski, that is apparently what happened.

In trying to figure out why Frances Laskowski’s paternal grandparents weren’t in attendance at her wedding, I have to return to the things I already know about the couple. These things, as you can imagine, are precious few.

When I first began this quest, decades ago, one of my oldest cousins shared a childhood memory of hearing this man being called something that sounded like “Joshja”—but then we wised up and realized that was probably the Polish word for “Grandpa.” Sure enough, if you enter the word “Grandpa” into Google Translate now, one of the choices coming up, in Polish, is “Dziadzio.” Clicking on the speaker icon allows you to hear what that word sounds like in Polish. I’d say “Joshja” was a pretty close approximation for a little kid to remember.

Now, I know that Frances’ paternal grandfather’s name was Anton. It has also shown up in census records—at least the ones legible enough to read—as Antone, Antony and Antoni. The best I can figure, so far, is that he was born in what is now Poland, sometime in the early 1840s.

When Frances’ grandfather came to this country from “Posen” is hard to determine. While I’ve recently been ecstatic about finding passenger records for Anton’s wife and children, I still come up empty-handed when it comes to his own immigration.

Likewise, it has been difficult to trace his wife. I have two conflicting reports about her maiden name—and that of her parents. In American census records, she always was listed with the simple American name, Mary—but as we discovered upon finally locating her passenger records, her name was more likely Marianna.

The trouble with her records is a discrepancy between her own death certificate and that of her daughter, Sophie. On her own death certificate, her father was listed as Frank Jankowsky. Since she died in 1939, four years after her husband’s passing, the informant on her records was her daughter, Sophie.

However, when it came to Sophie’s own records, her mother’s maiden name was listed as Zelinski, not Jankowsky. The informant, in that case, was Sophie’s husband, so granted there was a possibility that he wasn’t well versed in all the fine details.

Interestingly, that Zelinski surname surfaces in another family member’s history: Sophie’s brother John’s wife’s mother. (There: confused yet?) Her maiden name was also Zelinski—although on her death record, it was spelled Zielinski.

So, if Frances Laskowski was doubly related through both her grandmothers, why wasn’t Marianna Zelinski Laskowski at her granddaughter’s 1929 wedding?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Honor of Their Presence

While it may seem somewhat unusual to include an entire guest list in a published wedding announcement, that may be me superimposing my modern “sensibilities” upon a near-century-old gathering. After Mr. and Mrs. John Laskowski sent out their invitations for the marriage of their daughter Frances to young Philip J. Hanlon, they saw fit to include the list of attendees in the 1929 newspaper article.

Whether the custom of the time or not, the announcement, published on the front page of the second section of the Daily Star on Tuesday evening, August 27, provides us an excellent opportunity to examine, in minute detail, who might have been the relatives among those festive attendees.

For one thing, the article provided the names of the groom’s parents (well, at least in the “Mr. and Mrs.” format) as well as those of his siblings. Thomas Hanlon and his wife apparently had just as large a family as had the bride’s parents. We now know of Philip’s brother, Thomas junior, as well as their sisters Mary, Margaret, Gertrude and—possibly causing a need for creative nicknaming—Frances.

The announcement also provides us a listing of the bride’s siblings. Of course, thanks to his entertaining talents, we’ve already been introduced to Frances’ brother, Walter Laskowski, as well as twin sisters Severa and Elizabeth. In addition, the list also mentions daughters Blanche and Rita.

While I’ll include a transcription of this part of the article below, let’s cherry pick a few more names here. I had offered my guess, the other day, that entertainers “F. and Z. Hork” might well have been members of the Atkabowski family—the elder Blanche Laskowski’s siblings—who had chosen to shorten their surname for stage purposes. The guest list mentions them again: Mr. and Mrs. F. Hork, and Mr. and Mrs. Z. Hork.

In addition, there is one more Hork couple: Mr. and Mrs. G. Hork. I am guessing that would be Blanche’s brother Gustave. It is here that I feel the frustration of that socially-acceptable naming device, for I have yet to discover the name of Gustave’s wife—let alone the fact that he even had one. Perhaps this is a clue for me to start searching under the shortened name Hork, as well as the alternate spelling Hark that I had been told about, years ago.

Interestingly, in the midst of naming all these Hork couples, there is a mention of a Mrs. Aktabowski. Perhaps this would be their mother, Aniela Zielinska Aktabowski, who often went by the nickname Nellie. She is the lone mention in the guest list of the full version of that surname.

While there are many names I don’t recognize, a good number of them sound like fellow Polish-Americans. Those are the ones with names like Cordelski, Fialkowski, Sokolowski and Kordecki. Are they relatives? Who knows!

I spy my aunt—my father’s sister—amidst the guests, listed as Mrs. D. Eggert. Why her husband was not with her, I don’t know. However, I know nothing would have kept her from attending Frances’ wedding. I have a copy of a taped interview my brother did with her before her passing, in which her reminiscences included a mention of Frances as her favorite cousin.

Along with my aunt’s name in the guest list was that of her mother, Mrs. T. McCann. That would be Sophie, John Laskowski’s sister, in her sleek new, Americanized image, complete with Irish-sounding surname. She, too, had attended without the company of her husband.

Rounding out the guest list—at least among the names I recognize—was one additional curious entry: Mr. and Mrs. M. Laskowski. Could that be John and Sophie’s brother, Michael "Lasko"? Was that a dig by the more-traditional John to remind his brother of his true roots? There is no other M. Laskowski in the family that I know of, other than their mother, Mary Laskowski—but she, if attending, would have been listed under Mr. and Mrs. A. Laskowski.

Which brings up a good question: where were Anton and Marianna Laskowski on the day of their granddaughter’s wedding?

            The guests at the reception were: Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hanlon, John Larrity, Thomas Hanlon, Jr., Misses Mary, Margaret, Gertrude and Frances Hanlon; Edward Gilhooley, Frank Connors, Patrick O’Dea, Mr. and Mrs. Esposito, Philip Duggan.
            Mr. and Mrs. John Laskowski, Walter Laskowski, the Misses Severa, Elizabeth, Blanche and Rita Laskowski; Mr. and Mrs. Cappadona and family, Mr. and Mrs. M. Laskowski, Mrs. Aktabowski, Mr. and Mrs. Z. Hork and family.
            Mr. and Mrs. G. Hork and family, Mr. and Mrs. F. Hork, Mrs. Adams, Miss Adelaide Cregan, Louis Schauer, Matthew Cordelski, Angelo Cappadona, John Foley, Mr. and Mrs. Devine, Mrs. Fialkowski and son, Edward.
            Michael Berto, Mr. and Mrs. George Ebinger, Mr. and Mrs. F. Sokolowski, Mrs. D. Eggert, Mrs. T. McCann, Mrs. P. Bailer, Mrs. M. Kordecki, Mrs. W. Maus, A. Parry, Miss E. Herlihy, Mrs. E. Bortell, M. Deir, Joe Wissie, P. Strack and C. Deir.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Got Taxes?

Today is one of those days Americans love to hate: Income Tax Day.

No matter which country you reside in—or which country your ancestors hailed from—if you pay taxes, you likely descend from a long line of taxpaying grumblers. You are in good company.

Here in the U.S., our income tax paying roots would have stretched back to the War of 1812—but for the fact that politics being politics, the tax, proposed in 1814, couldn’t get itself implemented before the end of hostilities in 1815.

Wars and taxes seem to have gone hand in hand, however, for by the time of the American Civil War, Congress introduced what was to become the country’s first personal income tax. It was, however, not to be long-lived, for it was repealed and replaced by a different wartime income tax in the subsequent year.

The first peacetime income tax in American history didn’t arise until 1894. If your roots included those fortunate enough to earn at least $4000 for the year, your ancestors would have had to pay two percent on that amount. Not to worry, though: incomes of that level were only achieved by less than ten percent of American households of the time.

I suspect my husband’s great grandfather, Chicagoan John Tully, was not among those fortunate few. Though he likely was pleased to be more financially successful than he would have been, had his Irish parents chosen to leave him in the County Tipperary townland of his birth, he still showed signs of great concern over his financial status—and, regarding which, what the government considered their rightful claim.

How do I know this? He left his records of tax payments among his most important papers—which, of course, meant his record-hording daughter Agnes Tully Stevens felt it her duty to carefully store those records for future years, just in case. Which meant her son Edward accepted the responsibility of preserving them for…for…well, who knows what. But when Uncle Ed passed away, who should the family think would be the appropriate person to step into the role of family records archivist? Why, the gal who peppered Uncle Ed with all those genealogy questions, of course!

When I look at the pages of those old tax records—receipts from April 23, 1889, for example—I can’t help but see John Tully’s taxpaying ledger from the perspective of the tax history timeline of our nation. While he certainly wasn’t eligible to be taxed at the national level at that time—and by the time the Federal Income Tax, as we know it, was instituted in 1913, he was long gone—he did, however, have to pay his due to local taxing authorities.

Being almost a civil servant, having served in the South Park police force of the era (before it became part of the Chicago Police Department), John Tully faced a two-edged sword: what he hated paying for in taxes, he most certainly needed as salary to meet his family’s own financial needs.

Perhaps his concern over such taxing matters was inherited by his daughter, Agnes. Maybe that is why, preserved among that stash of tax receipts, was a chart illustrating the ubiquitous “Where Your Tax Dollars are Spent” topic fielded by most local governmental entities. This must have been quite important to them—or maybe no one knew to throw it out, after Agnes died. For what it’s worth, I know—and now, you do, too—how the City of Chicago spent its residents’ hard earned money in 1917.

Taxes couldn’t have been too outrageous, however, judging from a historical perspective. Though John Tully was no longer there to pay such rates, by the time federal income taxes were implemented, the top rate was only seven percent—on incomes above five hundred thousand. In case you’re wondering, that would be well over ten million in today’s money.

An interesting set of charts at Wikipedia delineates the history of federal income tax rates—and then adjusts them for inflation—in case you are curious about what your American ancestors did have to pay. Handily, the chart extends to the year 2010, giving us a bird’s eye view of how much the government could “feel your pain” in any given year. It certainly shows which years were designed to “stick it to the rich”—the war years of 1941-1946 and again in 1964-1965—and which ones really did deliver the “taxpayer relief” various Acts purported to provide.

Still, history buff that I am, there is nothing about April 15 over which to be enamored. While we history types like to imagine simpler days of the past, those tax woes used to stress out our forebears just as much as they do us. And though we can take heart that, after the close of financial reporting for Fiscal Year 2014 today there will come an April 16, we can’t help but realize it’s but the first day of the rest of a new taxpaying year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Family Entertainment

Weddings—at least in “The Old Country”—must have been quite the festive occasion. In examining the 1929 newspaper report of the wedding of John Laskowski’s daughter, Frances, it wasn’t lost upon me that the New World celebration of these children of Old Country emigrants started early in the morning, and lasted not only through breakfast but all the way through dinner, as well.

The article in the August 27 Queens Borough Daily Star reported every detail, it seems—down to the names on the guest list, which is fortunate for a genealogy researcher like me. I stumble upon my greatest finds, sometimes, while poring over the slightest details.

Before we proceed to that promised review of the guest list, however, I’d like to pause at the next paragraph in the report. After all, what would a whole day spent with family and friends be, if not filled with entertainment? And entertainment is exactly what was in store for the guests of the bride’s parents, John and Blanche Atkabowska Laskowski.

Though the newspaper gave no indication of exactly what kind of entertainment was in store for the guests, I have my guesses. Ours has traditionally been a musical family, and it’s likely that those named in the article were not just sharing their talents among family, but may have played gigs about town, as well.

The way I know this comes to me in a roundabout fashion. Years ago, while researching the surname of John’s wife—and you’ve got to admit, Aktabowski is not your everyday sort of surname—I discovered that some of the brothers had played professionally. One of the more recent Aktabowski descendants I discussed this with had mentioned that, due to its length and awkwardness, his musical relatives had chosen to shorten their surname. Let’s just say that Aktabowski wasn’t exactly a tidy fit on a marquee.

One Aktabowski descendant had told me that the name had been shortened and altered into a new creation—the stage name “Hark.”

While researching a family in New York with a name like Aktabowski has been a challenge—between handwriting atrocities and spelling variations, I’ve yet to locate anything more than the 1900 U.S. Census plus state census records for 1905 and 1915—I think it’s safe to say the family was a large one. Blanche Aktabowska apparently had twelve siblings—although I wonder whether some were duplicate identities resulting from a switch to Americanized names.

Among Blanche’s siblings were two brothers, one named Zygmunt, the other opting for the more Americanized Frank. While I’m not sure—at least, not at this point—whether these were the brothers indicated in my discussion with the family’s descendants, perhaps Frank and Zygmunt were the ones calling themselves by the shortened surname Hark.

Taking a look at the newspaper article—you know there has got to be a reason I’m belaboring this point—featured among the wedding entertainers at the Laskowski home happened to be two people listed only as “F. and Z. Hork.”

Could Hork be Hark? Could this be Frank and Zygmunt?

While I can’t be sure about any connections with the Irish-sounding or Italian surnames in the list, it is easy to tell that part of the day’s festivities were kept all in the family. Miss E. Laskowski was likely Frances’ sister and bridesmaid, Elizabeth. Walter Laskowski was their brother.

Who knows whether the bride and groom graciously stayed to the last, as the evening and dinner came to a close. While I have no idea what there was in the Hudson valley village of Rhinebeck that drew them upstate for their honeymoon—perhaps to gawk and dream of the various historic mansions from the “Gilded Age” of the previous century—I rather suspect the two young lovers made their escape from the celebration’s cacophony rather early in the proceedings.

            The ceremony was followed by a breakfast and dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski. Entertainment was furnished by Patrick O’Dea, T. Esposito, Miss E. Laskowski, Mr. Deir, Mr. Cappadona, F. and Z. Hork and Walter Laskowski.
            After spending their honeymoon at Rhinebeck, N. Y., the couple will live in Eighty-third street.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Given in Marriage by Her Father

When Frances Laskowski met Philip Hanlon at the altar of Saint Adelbert’s Church on Saturday morning, August 24, 1929, she became both the first and the last of the daughters of John Laskowski who were given in marriage by their father. Just before the new couple was able to celebrate their first anniversary—and two days shy of his fiftieth birthday—John breathed his last.

None of this, likely, was foreshadowed during the festive event in 1929—not even the broader historical perspective of the financial debacle about to envelope the nation had yet inserted its foreboding that year. This day—August 24—was simply a day for family and friends to join together in wishing the newlywed couple a lifetime of happiness.

Thankfully, for those of us wanting to look back upon this event from our vantage point of eighty five years in the future, the details of the day were carried in the Queens borough edition of the New York City Daily Star. The article included all the expected descriptions: names of both sets of parents (well camouflaged within the socially acceptable format of “Mr. and Mrs.” husband’s-name-only), location of the ceremony, details of the bridal gown and bridesmaids’ outfits.

The report also alluded to requirements of the event that would only be familiar to those practicing Catholics who remember how things were done in the old days: a morning ceremony celebrating mass, by tradition requiring both the bride and the groom to fast prior to communion that morning—thus explaining the custom of the breakfast meal immediately afterward.

What was most valuable about reading this report in the Daily Star, however, was not in its gift to us in sharing a glimpse into the ambience of the festive occasion, but in the long list of names that was to follow the ceremony’s description. As much as the later newspaper report of John’s passing didn’t reveal those significant names we researchers long to see, this wedding announcement made up for in every minute detail.

The guest list, in fact, was so long as to require me to save it for another post. Tomorrow, we’ll see what can be deduced from the list left waiting for us in the August 27, 1929, edition of the Daily Star.

            Miss Frances Laskowski, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski of 54-42 Eighty-second street, was married Saturday morning, 9 o'clock, at a nuptial mass at St. Adelbert's R. C. Church, to Philip J. Hanlon, son of Mr. and Mrs. T. Hanlon of 94 Woodhaven boulevard. Father Bernard performed the ceremony.
            The bride wore a gown of white satin, trimmed with lace, and a cap-shape veil, and carried a bouquet of roses and lilies-of-the-valley. She was attended by her sisters, Severa and Elizabeth, who wore maize satin dresses and carried bouquets of tea roses. The best man was Thomas Hanlon, brother of the bridegroom.
            The bride was given in marriage by her father.
            The ushers were Archibald Parry and Walter Laskowski.
            The altar was decorated for the occasion with white flowers and the home was prettily decorated also in white.
            The ceremony was followed by a breakfast and dinner at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. Laskowski.
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