Friday, December 4, 2015

The Sparseness of Those Northern Lines

While there are so many resources with which to track my mother's Southern lines, heading up north to reconstruct my father's family history has not been successful. For one thing, this line includes fairly recent immigrants, confronting me with the challenge of reaching across an ocean within less than one hundred fifty years. Coupled with that is the immigrant's penchant, in hoping to blend in, of changing names—often unexplained and without legal documentation.

Still, for the sake of this exercise and to provide a surname summary, I'll play along.

The best chance of finding anything on this extended family lies with my paternal grandmother's line. It was with the Laskowskis that "going home" often meant ending up at their place.

My maternal grandmother, Sophie Laskowska—the female form for the surname, in Poland, took on the "a" ending—came to this country as a child, sometime shortly after her 1885 birth. All I have to go on, for her parents' own histories, was the documentation left on their death certificates in New York City. If that is correct—and I make that a very tentatively qualified if—it means her father Anton was son of Mateusz Laskowski and Elzbieta Gramlewicz, two Prussians who likely never left their homeland as their son had done. Other than having one gratifying email contact with a Gramlewicz descendant who had found me thanks to Google, I have found no sign of the roots of that family, on either side.

Not as if that were enough to keep me puzzled, Sophie's mother has given me a research challenge, as well. I suspect that is partly owing to my hunch that someone got the information wrong when reporting it for a family death certificate. I have one record indicating her father's name as Francis—or whatever the Polish form for that is supposed to be—Jankowsky, but another record shows Sophie's mother as having a surname Zelinski. I toyed with the notion that she might have been previously married, but haven't yet found any corroboration.

One thing I do know: Sophie's maternal grandmother was an Aktabowski—a name I was exceedingly thankful to stumble upon. That was the ticket I was hoping for: a name that was not too common, giving me hope that anyone I would find would likely be a relative. Not that that has borne out steadily in my favor—sometimes, it became a little too hard to trace—but it has helped me flesh out the cousins in this sparsely-populated family tree.

As for the other side of my father's family tree, well, there isn't exactly even a tree to show. That was the domain of the mysterious "John T. McCann" who turned out to really be Theodore J. Puchalski—or maybe Puhalski—whose origin and arrival in this country I've yet to discover. Even doing the Y-DNA test (thanks to the willingness of my brother) has not helped uncover the story, nor has the autosomal DNA test helped much, either. There simply aren't that many cousins closer than the level of fourth cousin to trace—and, in my experience concerning this messy family line, there isn't even a way to bring the documentation back enough generations to engage tentative cousins in a meaningful dialog.

While I hope to plug away at this mystery line, I likely won't find any more key discoveries. But I'll keep trying. After all, maybe another English-speaking paternal distant cousin from Poland will once again Google her family's surnames and land at my electronic doorstep, willing to compare notes.   


  1. I wonder how hard it is to learn Polish? It doesn't look easy!

    1. Well, I have been tempted. There is a language-made-easy program online that claims success with other languages. Mostly, the languages it offers in this training program are the ones everyone wants to learn: French, Spanish, German, Russian, even Italian (for those hopeless romantics among us). But no Polish. Yet. They are promising a program for Polish soon. And I am considering...

  2. As long as the names are out there you may have results someday:)

    1. Yes, I'm continuing to assume faith in the ability of Google to lead others to my cousin-seeking door. Someday...


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