Monday, July 22, 2019

Finding New Directions

There are two research lives led by the genealogy-guinea-pig-turned-blogger. One, of course, is the observed life of the writer, the research conquests documented as they occur, unfolding on the virtual page, warts and all, in real time. This can make for the thrill of what-happens-next, a by-product of not knowing what to expect at each research turn—but it can also make for some dull, repetitious, and-then-I-tried-this flops as posts.

That is what inspires the second life of such a blogger: the undercover role of the secret research agent, doggedly pursuing the unfindable, while all the while not saying a peep about any discoveries because, well, minutiae can make for a boring read.

While those now-multiple second-life pursuits are silently grinding away in the background, we need to set a new course for the public discussion of what's next on the research menu. I thought I'd take a cue from my dilemma about this time last year, just after I had signed up for SLIG 2019 and the course on Southern Research.

Back then, knowing I had been remiss at researching anything on my mother's southern roots, I was virtually staring at a blank page when it came to deciding how to make amends. So, last year in July, I figured it would take me nearly the rest of the year to get the running start I'd need to at least ask knowledgeable questions in class, so that's when I started working on those maternal southern lines.

Well, it's July. Again. And I've just signed up for another SLIG class on a topic about which I know very little. Perhaps it's high time to follow my own lead from last year, and start researching my Virginia roots, since it is Barbara Vines Little's course on Virginia research I'm about to take next January.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if I start work right now, I'll have enough time to get a running start before the beginning of that new year.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Letting Learning Opportunities
Slip Through my Fingers

Lately, some of my genea-friends have been posting on social media about their summertime learning excursions. For instance, one friend just returned home from GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, full of ideas—and blog posts—on how she was going to put her newly-acquired learning to work, making me wish I had some learning opportunities lined up, myself.

To make matters worse, today marks exactly one month from the start of the Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conference. I went to last year's FGS conference in Fort Wayne and enjoyed it immensely. This year's conference, however, is being held in Washington, D.C., a wearying trip entirely across the continent from my home—something I'd be less than inclined to tackle at the end of August. Besides, we've already missed the early-bird deadline for registration, doubly clinching my woes over not being able to participate.

Perhaps I've hit the learning doldrums because our own society has gone dark for the summer, or because my favorite genealogy conference—Jamboree in southern California—will be taking a hiatus until 2021. And yes, I know I can still tap into webinars through several different resources—some of them for free, some because of my membership in the host organization—but watching a webinar at home is just not the same experience as the energy and high-touch aspect of face-to-face events. It's nice to be able to say "hi" to a fellow attendee without having to type the message quickly enough to include it in the right space at the right time.

So...if you are going to FGS this summer, or any of the state conferences or other institutes, blog about it, won't you? I promise I'll read your post and try to feel like I'm seeing it through your eyes. Maybe that will be enough of a dose to hold me over until SLIG rescues me in January.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Now Indexing:
More New York Records

Not only has last week been a hectic week, but now that I think of it, it feels like a million years since I last indexed any records at Sure enough, checking my progress, it's been almost six weeks since I last volunteered to help get any online records search-ready. Time to get back to offering some regular help and giving back to the community.

Sometimes, when I've just gone through a busy work week but want to do my part with regular volunteer work, I look for an indexing project that is light and easy—something requiring little brain power on my part, but still needing the hands and effort to finish the work. This time, I returned to my home state of New York and found some World War II draft registration cards from New York City that needed some indexing help.

Once the drill is down—where to fill in what information, what rules apply to the process—the routine goes smoothly. Each batch of records contains about ten—or sometimes fewer—individual files, and clicking through each one can move quite quickly.

In this case, I opted to do two sets. Not a heavy load, admittedly, but my theory is to do a little bit of volunteer work on a regular basis, rather than to give my all in one huge push. That way, I'm sure to come back for more, over and over again. I won't let myself get burned out with any saintly sacrifices. Being realistic helps keep volunteers in the game for the long haul. And over that long haul, I'll have contributed, cumulatively, much more than I could in one grit-your-teeth-and-hold-on marathon volunteer day.

That's the theory I've learned to run with when working with volunteers in the organizations I've served, and the principle remains the same, when I switch roles and become the volunteer, myself. Taking in the big picture—, after all, has multiplied millions of records which still need that indexing transformation to become searchable online—that's the most realistic way to achieve such an enormous dream: one record at a time, one volunteer at a time. When we all come back to do what might seem to be our "little" part, it adds up to something impressive for all of us.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Across the Strewn Research Path

Help. This is your local genealogical guinea pig speaking, and I've just taken a glance behind me. Don't look now, but what lies behind includes the horrifying aftermath of several brick-wall-encountering research casualties. And it's time to take stock of the situation and engage in some remedial clean-up action.

To recap, I've been on a wild research spree over the past six months of 2019. Starting in January, I began my research journey into my maternal southern lines, launched from a class in Southern Research Techniques at SLIG. I followed up that invigorating week of instruction with some field experience in northern Florida, home of my third great-parents, George Edmund and Sidney Tison McClellan, when I discovered a DNA match with descendants of an enslaved family having connections to the McClellan line. Trying to ascertain the identity of that one particular enslaved family—turned out, it was King Stockton and his mother Hester—the search took us from Florida to the Tison plantation in coastal Georgia.

Encountering the last of any documents which could be located online from that Georgia county, that search got put on hold while I explored another southern line—Broyles in South Carolina—which tied into my heritage from a different direction. With rich reading material to amply supply my need to know more—I'm still absorbing all I can from that vein—I set that pursuit on a back burner, as far as the reporting aspect goes, to write about yet another DNA discovery: the possibility of another hitherto unknown branch of my husband's Irish-Canadian Tully line. When I exhausted all I could locate in the records on that family line, another DNA match popped up to tantalize me over another possibility: discovery of my own grandfather's mystery origin.

And now? Unable to proceed further without additional documentation—and unable to obtain that documentation without going to the paper source, I'm afraid—I'm stuck.

When I look back at the aftermath of all these research trails, I see pathways strewn with the clues of so many unfinished quests. Such is often the case with genealogical pursuits. We go as far as we can reach with the resources we have at hand, pushing as far as we dare go, until there is no more wind in our sails, or gasoline in our engines. And there our good intentions sit, littering the trail until we can replenish the go power to move onward.

Of course, the standard advice would be to take one research question, run with it as far as we can go, then push beyond that research limit and press on toward the answer. That, however, is only as practical an option as the resources we have at hand to address it: no further resources, no further action—let alone arrival at an answer. I can't, for instance, drop everything and fly to Poland. Not even to Ireland. Or Canada. The practicality of the situation is that I can only go so far as my research resources let me stretch. And then, I need to keep track of where I got stuck, the reasons why, a hypothesis for continuation when fair sailing conditions allow me to continue the course—say, with newly-available record sets online—and a tickler file to help refresh my memory when that day arrives.

This makes me wonder about setting up a spread sheet with reminders of each specific research course, a bulleted list of what I already found and a list of where I think I ought to check next—all ready to wrap up and tuck away some place where I can find it when the occasion arrives to revisit the journey again. That way, I'll be ready to hit the ground running when the opportunity presents itself, instead of losing time to re-acquaint myself with the particulars of how I got stuck, last time I tackled the issue.

Included in that spreadsheet, I'd add possible next steps to take in follow-up, and contact lists of people with whom I'm working, in cases such as these DNA matches. It's a research plan with a caveat: I'm limited in progress only by the availability of the resources I need to clinch the relationships or proceed to the previous generation. And those resources, as we've all seen, can pop up at any moment online—or, frustratingly, keep themselves just out of reach of the long-distance researcher for far longer than we'd like to see.

It's the researcher's life, isn't it? For some, it adds up to too much frustration and a solid reason to quit the chase; for others, it seems only to goad us on, doggedly determined to not cave to stubborn roadblocks along our research path.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Creating Community

Despite all the energy and enthusiasm I like to display when I am teaching or meeting people, my days most often get off to a rugged start. I don't do mornings—not well, at least. I usually need a generous dose of "quiet time" before I'm ready to face the world—an alarming constraint today, considering I decided to spring for an impromptu morning coffee meeting with members of our local genealogical society.

What I usually do to coax myself into the inevitable "awake" state of mind most mornings is to stay in bed and read. Yes, my days are built backwards; the most productive times arrive long after the lingering freshness of the morning glow has fizzled. In my world, the sun and the horizon formally acknowledge each other's existence but once a day.

Among the reading selections I use to gently ease myself into the morning are thought-provoking blog posts. Top of the list is a daily thought piece by marketing guru Seth Godin. As if by special delivery, yesterday's post seemed to speak directly to me in this current state of mind:
The best way to contribute to a community...isn’t by complaining. It’s by making things better.

Remember, it was barely a week ago that I was complaining over the loss of the sense of community which once built the many organizations enabling genealogists to come together and share mutual concerns. This, itself, had been followed by a front row seat only a few days later, when I witnessed a languishing group snatched, eleventh-hour, from the decision point of disbanding.

Events of the day—once I arose yesterday from my morning fog to join the land of the living—seemed to second that motion I had just read. Another board member and I met with two librarians from our local branch regarding next year's schedule for the workshops we provide at their venue. Along the way, the conversation turned to the role libraries can play in creating community.

Libraries, if you haven't noticed, have reinvented themselves—at least in the places where they are still in existence and haven't been dismantled by the trustees of their local government budget—and are now thriving places addressing a multitude of community service opportunities. In our case, our genealogical society contributes toward that evolution by helping library patrons to more effectively access the family history assets the library provides. Just talking with these librarians about that vision of more effectively assisting in community building was energizing. We each shared about tools and outreach ideas we found to be helpful.

Leaving that meeting, I stopped at the unsuspecting coffee shop where I and fellow society members plan to convene this morning, just to say hi to the familiar faces there and warn them of today's plans. Since I have a longstanding date with myself to do some reading on specific books I've selected for the summer—yes, I am still plowing through Emmala's diatribe about her jilting lover, Robert Broyles, brother to my second great grandfather—I decided, once at the coffee shop, to stay a while and read.

Again, that turned into a reminder about creating community when I spotted the book the woman at the next table was reading. Since The Art of Slow Reading pretty much embodies my theory about absorbing new information—I already have another book I value by a similar title—I had to reach out of my introverted self and beyond those furtive glances to ask this stranger if I could see the author's name.

Reaching out and connecting—as I'm sure you were able to predict—precipitates the first token of community building. After a pleasant conversation with this book owner—learning not only her name, but sharing ideas on that subject with a person who turns out to be a college instructor in English—I realized how reasonable it would be to find as-yet-unknown like-minded believers in such key topics at a place like a coffee shop. Like attracts like...but we seldom have the guts to reach out, even when we are surrounded by people with whom our interests would most strongly resonate. Yet creating community only starts when we take those chances to reach out and connect.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pondering the Leap

Making the proverbial leap "across the pond" is usually an exciting milestone for genealogical researchers. Having diligently followed the generally accepted sequence of finding evidence and properly analyzing it, when that trail leads logically to that ancestral hometown across the ocean, it feels very rewarding. That sense of accomplishment, however, comes to those who have duly followed the sequence.

What, on the other hand, is the plight of the researcher who did not earn those wings to fly across the continents? After all, in researching my mystery grandfather's origin, I didn't exactly start at the beginning of the trail; there was this impenetrable brick wall in my face. And then, suddenly, I was handed the final step in the process: a conclusion to the matter, thanks to the results of six individuals' DNA tests. All of a sudden—and at warp speed—I've been transported backwards in time possibly two or three generations prior to any paper trail I've assembled. Where does "step by step" fit into this scenario?

Of course, if I hadn't been so insistent on taking a trifling class in Virginia genealogy at SLIG next January, I could have tackled this problem with (Broyles distant cousin) Karen Stanbary's course, "Meeting Standards Using DNA Evidence." Then, I would have known what to do. Instead, I'm left feeling like the genealogical floor has just been yanked from under my feet.

Instead of starting from the present and working my way backwards in time, I've been instantly transported to a village of four hundred people in Pomerania where a woman with almost the right maiden name has married a man with almost the right surname and produced a son with the Polish equivalent of my grandfather's given name in the same month and year which he, later in New York City, claimed was the time of his birth. It's almost too much to believe.

And yet, there is the proof: the DNA matches, with pedigrees stretching back to this exact village and the sisters of this same mystery parent. I'm just lacking the paper trail.

So how do I fit this into the Genealogical Proof Standard? First I have to find the records that would qualify as acceptable sources of this person's existence. Then, through diligent search, I'd need to demonstrate the true identity of this mystery baby—was he, indeed, my grandfather? Or was he another person with the same name who just happened to be born on the same date? I'd also need to clarify those incidents of similar but not exact surnames, finding any explanations for the variances. This would likely lead to examining Polish customs on name changes, which apparently happened enough to come with their own terminology.

Finding some of these sources of information will be challenging. After all, those DNA cousins all landed up in Wisconsin, not New York—and I am unaware of any connections between the families post-immigration. No letters between the families, no clippings of a sibling's faded obituary tucked in the back of a jewelry box, no other trail leading me back to convincing proof of a connection—but if I could find any, the GPS would demand that I cite those sources. Oh, that I could find sources to cite!

You know I've been worrying this research problem like a dog with a bone. I keep coming back to gnaw on the dilemma. The biological proof has already been presented to me; it's the genealogical proof that requires a convincing write-up. Once again, I tell myself to set this one aside—no one likes watching genealogical research get dissected any more than watching sausage being made—but then I find myself picking the subject back up again to write on the agony of not finding the answer.

Let me put this one to bed yet another time. Hopefully, the subject will remain under wraps until I uncover enough of significant value to drag it out again and gloat over the discovery.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Getting Quicker About "Quick and Dirty"

There's a problem with doing those "quick and dirty" trees we build when we run into an unexplained DNA match. Genealogy has instilled in the serious adherent the respect for properly citing—after doing due diligence to find—supporting documentation for each step of the way. Each branch of the tree, each leaf on that branch, all need to be properly sourced.

Until, that is, we move from ascertaining the proof of the argument to exploring the much more shaky hypothesis.

I get that, in doing genetic genealogy, a researcher sometimes launches into what seems like a feverish pursuit of possible connections, sketching out branches for each generation in the pedigree until striking upon a reasonable explanation for how two test takers could be connected. I understand the utility of that thumbnail sketch.

But after years of being reminded to take each step of the research way carefully, examining all documentation and addressing each alternate explanation for what seems to be the answer, I'm having a real problem with just chasing ancestors with wild abandon. The two habits seem so terribly opposite.

In other words, I'm finding myself, in this chase to connect with my Michalski DNA matches, bogged down by the details of vetting each addition to my shadow tree. In my real tree—the public face I put forward on my online account—I have a certain routine I engage. I examine each decade's census record to find micro-clues about changes in the family. I read each digitized document to see what else might have been included but not indexed.

As you may guess, that bogs down the process in the DNA-matchmaking world. And I know I'm doing it, but I just can't stop myself. Habit? Perhaps. I really don't want to attach an individual to a tree I'm unfamiliar with just because, at first glance, it seems a reasonable guess. After all, there are a lot of cousins out there with similar dates of birth—all in the same town. But I'd like to connect all the branches of my six—or more—DNA matches with this same surname, and put them in one tree.

Besides, the more I organize this tree, the more surnames I can add—which might explain some of the other unconnected matches in my various accounts, and could help connect those matches who match my brother but not me on that same paternal side.

Slow and steady may finish the course for some races, but in the case of figuring out dozens of mystery DNA matches, the essence of the task comes down to the skill of quickly assembling viable family tree proposals. Grin and bear it, I suppose; I'll have to learn to get quicker about doing those "Quick and Dirty" trees.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Snowball in July

Perhaps you've heard of Christmas in July. Well, I'm not talking about that, but I do want to talk about snowballs. In July. Metaphorically. So don't think of how quickly they would melt; that would spoil the comparison.

Imagine, for a moment, that we are magically transported to the side of your favorite mountain in the thick of winter—which, if you are in New Zealand or Argentina or anywhere in the southern hemisphere, would actually be right now. Think, on that hillside, of scooping up some snow in your mittened hands, pressing those flakes tightly together, and then rolling that tiny ball downhill in the snow.

As you may remember, that first small wintertime step led to something much bigger. That's how we kids used to make a snowman.

Something quite similar is what is happening with my metaphorical snowball of DNA: I've scooped up one genetic sequence on a handful of chromosomes. It glommed on to the exact pattern from some other people's DNA, leading to some hints from those genealogists' trees. And before I knew it, that hodgepodge of names I couldn't recognize became a runaway blockbuster, breaking through some impenetrable brick walls in the process.

Of course, I'm elated.

The main reason I'm mentioning this right now is that, thanks to the DNA links to several Michalski lines—including those in Wisconsin, a place I've never been—those hits just keep on coming.

I've been going back to some old correspondences from earlier DNA connections—you know, the kind which say something like "I don't know how we are connected, do you?"—and doing the "surprise!" routine (and instigating a few genealogy happy dances in the process).

This weekend, I reconnected with a DNA match I hadn't contacted for two years—ever since we both admitted being thoroughly puzzled about how we could match. It turns out she, too, had connections to this Michalski name—a name which, finally, I recognize.

Actually, to be clear, she wasn't a match to me; she matched my brother, whose DNA account I administer. Although we could plainly see that the connection had to be on my father's side—specifically, his father...oh, groan—we had never been able to push the line back to any convincing nexus. And gave up the chase.

At this point, it would be a good time to emphasize the helpfulness of even testing siblings, for one brother may carry genetic material that wasn't passed down to another sibling. That is the case here. If I hadn't asked my brother for his kind indulgence in doing both the autosomal DNA test as well as the Y-DNA test (after all, we both were wondering where our grandfather really came from), I would never have discovered this particular DNA match.

This match, as it turns out on second glance, contains a branch of that Michalski line which didn't end up in Wisconsin. I'm curious to learn the timeline of this ancestor's journey, because it did, for a brief span of time, end up in the vicinity of New York, where my family settled. Could my mystery grandfather have known that he did, after all, have relatives who lived nearby?

Of course, telling those of my siblings and cousins complicit in this quest for my grandfather's roots evoked more memories. One of my cousins shot back an email upon receiving the news, to tell me he remembered that my grandfather's best friend always called my grandfather by the name Teddy, even though his name was supposed to be John—at least, according to all the records I've found under the name we all knew him by. Teddy, I'm guessing, is a throwback to my grandfather's prior existence as a man by the name of Theodore J. Puchalski.

Between re-reading old correspondence with DNA matches, testing siblings as well as those more distant relatives, and keeping up-to-date those relatives interested in the results, I'm gathering more and more details to confirm my original guess of how my grandfather's descendants connect with a surname whose descendants ended up in Wisconsin. Like that snowball rolling downhill, each fact that gets packed on to the original assumption is adding weight to what's turning out to be a viable hypothesis.

While that's all well and good—and exciting—there still are some additional details that need to be heeded before I fall head over heels in love with what is really still just a hypothesis. I need to mind my Ps and Qs about decently constructing a proof argument for this case.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Back to the Count

It's been a long four weeks since I last counted my research progress. Perhaps I've had too much fun, out attending conferences. But now that I'm home, settled back into a vanilla state of mind, and have re-tabulated my progress, I'm ready for a genealogical accounting.

All told, over the past four weeks, I've added 159 researched names to my mother's family tree of 18,744 individuals, but what else I've managed to accomplish is the real story, as I've shifted from focusing solely on my maternal side for this second half of 2019. Thanks in part to discoveries of recent obituaries of distant relatives and part to the arrival of new DNA matches, I'm now back to adding information to the other three trees I've been keeping on hold. Now, my mother-in-law's tree has advanced 87 to total 16,416. My Irish-American father-in-law even gained 27 to total 1,541.

But the real news is that I'm finally finding names—and the documentation to support them—on my father's side of the family. That, if you recall, was the mystery for the longest time, with a paternal grandfather who insisted he was Irish, when he really was born somewhere in Poland. With my latest DNA discoveries, I've found 35 more people to add to his family tree, which now has made it to 573 individuals—a feat I never thought I'd achieve.

The biggest result of making those discoveries—and building a tree to connect all these genealogical dots—is that I now have created a new private, unsearchable tree which totals 90 people. I likely won't continue counting my progress on building that tree, for its use is only to inform me (and my matches) how we connect on paper in support of the tale told by our DNA. But in the process, I've finally realized how some other mystery DNA matches connect, adding two more people to the "finally answered" column in my tally. That it turns out to be a breakthrough on this paternal grandparent's side of my family is nothing if not awesome. I'm so appreciative of this set of DNA leads that pointed me in the right direction.  

Speaking of counting, on another account, I did make it through the SLIG registration process this morning. Of course, it would be the very class I chose which closed after less than ten minutes of live registration time, but thankfully, I'm in. Next January, I'll be heading to Salt Lake City to take in Barbara Vines Little's course on "Virginia from the Colonial Period to the Civil War." But don't despair if you missed out. SLIG 2020 is offering fifteen other courses which might be of interest to you. Learning comes in so many different flavors!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Off the Shelf:
Encyclopedia of Diasporas

Some books spend less time on the shelf than others.

It was only last week when, puzzling over my mystery grandfather's roots and piecing together the pedigree charts of six different DNA matches, I ran across the possibility that the erstwhile Theodore J. Puchalski might have been born in a place known as Pomerania. While that might have been a fun discovery—in my sister's post-college season, she became the dubious owner of a dog who was the runt of a purebred Pomeranian litter—it didn't really inform me about our heritage.

Being one of those researchers who has to learn everything about the topic I'm studying, I wanted to delve deeper into Pomerania. This is where the newly-acquired habit of reading footnotes once again served me well. Just from tapping into the Wikipedia entry for Pomerania and following some links, I learned that not everyone who lived in Poland in the 1800s was technically Polish—like, for instance, the Kashubians. Considering that Poland was once under the rule of the Germans, perhaps that idea would not seem unique. But just as Polish people in America used to have to report their origin as "German" in some census records because they were then a people without their own country, there are other ethnic groups in the area who faced the same dilemma.

One of those groups was, as you've now guessed, known as the Kashubians. Curious to know what group that might have been, I clicked through to read up on yet another aspect of my new genealogy discoveries. In fact, the more I clicked, the more I realized I needed to learn, resulting in a wild and unrepeatable trail through the ether as I discovered more about the various ethnic people groups I never before had heard about throughout eastern Europe.

Somewhere in all my wandering, I ran across a footnote which mentioned a fascinating title to a book. Thankfully, I immediately copied down that title—mainly because I have yet to replicate my wandering path—and looked up the book.

It was a two volume set entitled Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Here was the key to learning more about those ethnicities I had just discovered—those people groups without a country.

Lest you leave off reading here to rush off and do the same, pause a moment to learn the rest of my discovery. First of all, consider this Encyclopedia a two-part tome quite capable of competing with many of the complete dictionaries used, in days of yore, as door stops. Then, too, there's the possibility that the information contained in its covers could be outdated; after all, it was published over ten years ago.

And then there's this small matter of price. The 2005 edition can be had for a hundred bucks. But an ad on that page conveniently mentions that there is a "newer edition" of this very same book. Clicking through to that page, I discover it could be mine for a cool $733, if I order through Prime.

After that breath-taking experience, I opted for the more humble option of buying the used set, and for less than twenty five dollars, became the happy owner of both volumes of the book. How a book can go through so many price gyrations is beyond me. I heartily recommend thinking more like a starving student in this case.

Meanwhile, my mind has opened to the possibility that there are many people groups out there that we may not even be aware of—and if some of those groups were part of our ancestry, we'd want to learn more about those groups just as much as we'd want to know, if we turned out to be German, or Japanese, or Russian. In fact, many of those countries whose names we easily recognize did, themselves, contain many ethnic groups which, to our uninformed American eyes, were invisible.

Sometimes, those of us in "immigrant nations" such as the United States or Canada might think we are the only place on earth made up of multitudes of other people, when the surprising fact is that that is the story for almost every place on earth. People have moved around since the dawning of civilization allowed us to trace such details; that aspect of human nature is not confined to modern-day America.  It informs the very ethnicity reports we receive from our DNA tests—and yet, even those reports are masked in that many people groups, both modern and historical, remain unknown by the average avocational genealogist.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Getting Ready to Sign Up

The year of 2019 has been a productive year for me, when it comes to expanding my genealogical skills and reaching out into previously unexplored research areas. Though the year is certainly far from over, it gained a powerful boost by starting out with a January class in Southern Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy—followed by my own personal practicum when I traveled to Florida to explore my third great grandparents' history.

While we are far from SLIG 2020, we are closer than you might think. Especially close, if you are considering attending one of next January's sixteen course offerings, as registration for the January 12-17 week opens up tomorrow morning, promptly at 9:00 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time. If you think that translates into plenty of time to sign up for the course of your choice, think again: one course last year filled up in a mere six minutes. People in the know would be wise to be seated at their computer before 8:59 a.m., ready to push the button for their first choice.

Of course, being forewarned means having the twenty-four hour luxury of exploring the website of the Utah Genealogical Association, the host organization behind this twenty five year run of educational excellence. It gives the prospective attendee a chance to prepare for Saturday's mad dash by setting up your registration account ahead of time.

I'm already up and running, including the hard part: selecting which of many enticing course offerings I want to focus on for next January's learning opportunity. Since I've started the year with delving into Southern research, I plan to launch the next year with a similar pursuit—only this time, instead of focusing on my Florida roots pre-statehood through the present, I'll travel back in time and up in direction to Virginia, as I pursue my colonial roots in Old Dominion. I certainly have research puzzles needing further guidance, and this will be the opportunity to come to Salt Lake City equipped with questions, especially on the line which leads back to my Mayflower roots through the route of colonial Virginia.

Course Six, coordinated by Barbara Vines Little, will be my choice for SLIG 2020—if, that is, the class doesn't fill up before I can get myself logged in and registered. Otherwise, you can be sure my name will be on that waiting list—a place I've been before I learned the secret of signing up at the opening bell.

Disclaimer: While I am certainly honored to be designated as an Ambassador for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy 2020—and have shared about their impressive offerings for several years now—this year's designation comes to me with receipt of a modest discount to the upcoming registration fee. Nevertheless, my focus is on objectively sharing what aspects of the Institute readers at A Family Tapestry would likely find helpful, and I welcome the opportunity to continue serving as eyes and ears on site during this event for the benefit of my readers.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Coming to Terms With Social Media

When it comes to getting social, I'm all about the "-ize." And I'm concerned that we have begun using social media as an excuse for not actually going out to, you know, socialize.

Yesterday, a fellow genealogical society board member and I went on an idea-gathering mission and visited a neighboring society. After the meeting concluded, we had a chance to visit with the leaders of that group. Talk turned to discussion of yet another genealogy group whose leadership was frankly worn out from years of uninterrupted service and who teetered on the precipice of shuttering their operation.

Situations like that always invite comments on succession planning and other administrative oversights, of course, but another possibility for languishing organizations could have been the current trend away from in-person meetings and towards online connections. Everything from computer-based access to digitized records to online "hangouts" to social media sites hosting "groups" online seemingly have conspired to displace the face-to-face meeting.

On our hour-long drive home, I couldn't help but think of all the younger genealogy researchers I have met over the years. Most of them are working moms whose family and careers rightly demand more of their time than any spare moments they can afford for genealogy. Some of them are teachers or business owners—people for whom spare time comes, well, sparingly.

The thing is, of all these people I enjoy having met and talked with, not a one of them was a person I would have otherwise met than through one specific nexus: we made each other's acquaintance at a genealogy meeting. Not a one of them are people I've met face-to-face after having met them online. It was thanks to that apparently dying breed—the genealogy conference—that I've met all of them.

Face to face meetings grant us something that I've seldom seen in "social" media venues: time to socialize. Granted, yes, I suppose I'll eventually learn to entirely substitute a phone or a laptop for an actual face looking into mine, but I'm pretty sure I will miss out on all the people who I could have met, if we all kept up the habit of gathering ourselves together. Perhaps the social media habit is just something we'll have to learn to do just to get by—if, that is, genealogy conferences and even local meetings become the extinct entity trends seem to predict.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wanderings Through
a New Research World

It's been thrilling finding a new area to research in that mystery branch of my paternal grandfather's family tree. But you know what I say about such genealogical endeavors: I add genealogy to the group that belongs with politics and sausage-making. Watching genealogical research unfold can be a boring—perhaps outright disgusting—process. So I won't be taking much time to continue the story, until I do find something of significance.

Before then, you can be sure I've gone back to square one, retracing my steps through making the acquaintance of online resources, much as a beginner would do when starting out on family history research. I've gone back and revisited Cyndi's List, pulling up the links for finding Polish records—though I notice, clicking through to suggested foreign sites, I'll often get a warning pop up about site security, causing hesitation in this journey into new territory. I've poked around at Geneteka, where I noticed just how many spelling variations I could find for the Puhała surname which might be in my history.

Not only have I tried to push ahead in finding the right records, but I've also attempted broadening my knowledge of how to pronounce those Polish names and words, which look like such tongue-twisters—until, at least, I learn the secret behind the phonics of those diacritical marks. I also tracked down the information on Czarnylas, that tiny village where Aunt Rose may have come from, locating background information in a gazetteer from the Prussian time period. And, of course, I'm continuing to absorb as much information as possible on the realm of Pomerania, the designation of the village at the time Aunt Rose's family once lived there.

While I've been working on Poland, I also went back and reviewed some of the Polish websites I had used when researching Theodore Puchalski's wife, Sophie Laskowska, adding a few more details from site updates since the last time I visited.

This is the kind of time when there is more to chase after than to write home about—and, if I even try to write about it, I can safely say there isn't really anything exciting to say at this point. Sometimes, research turns into that hit-or-miss, try this and try that, dull routine. We really need it to make any progress. And when we're done, the story can sure sound scintillating. It's just that the grunt work itself doesn't make for full length feature film glory.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

May the "Schwartz" be With You

In seeking to discover any information on my paternal grandfather's origin, we need to keep going back to that mysterious woman named Rose, supposedly my grandfather Theodore J. Puchalski's sister. Today is one of those days.

I've been agonizing over Aunt Rose for years, ever since I learned that there was such a woman. I've written about my search for Aunt Rose on this blog over four years ago, and have kept up the chase ever since. You know how it goes: sometimes, the search seems to rocket on into new territory; other times, it languishes.

At one point, I had found one of those serendipitous discoveries which, though it shouldn't have been there, remained long enough to grant me the clue I so desperately needed. Such was the case with the other side of my father's family in my paternal grandmother's roots, as divulged in a census enumerator's error in 1920, when I learned that the Laskowski family originated in the region of occupied Poland once called Posen by their German rulers.

The same thing, thankfully, also happened in the case of this Aunt Rose and her husband George Kober. Whoever the enumerator was for that neighborhood of New York City, she made the mistake of writing exactly what the reporting party said about Rose's place of birth. Instead of writing what would have then been the politically-correct answer of Germany, she entered the word, "Schwartzwald."

As you can see from this excerpt provided from, the middle line—that was the entry for Rose—had the original entry "Schwartzwald" lined out and replaced by the letters "Ger" for Germany.

I couldn't have been more grateful for a mistake made. I copied that word "Schwartzwald" into my search engine to see what I could find. Of course, I found the predictable, with the spelling adjustment of Schwarzwald. Schwarz, of course, being German for black, immediately led me to the fabled region we know in English as the Black Forest.

While it was exciting to think that my ancestors might have hailed from such a picturesque land, once I sat down and thought this whole thing out, I realized it produced some conflicting information. Schwarzwald couldn't have been farther away from the place in Poland I have recently been researching, based on these new DNA match discoveries. When I had tried to make any progress with this discovery back in 2015, it is no surprise to see the search was cut short in its tracks. Complicating that was the subsequent discovery of Rose's mother's unexpected surname of Kusharvska—not a very German-sounding surname. With all those conflicting details, I had no choice but to put this puzzle on a back burner. I was stymied by what appeared to be unresolved leads heading in opposite directions.

Now that I'm mulling over these new DNA connections which lead me to a Michalski family with roots in the historic region of Pomerania, I'm addressing this question about Aunt Rose again from every angle. I'm studying local history, trying to build timelines which might reveal reasons why a family might leave their homeland for a new start so far away. I'm studying geography, seeking any hints that might align with these hopelessly enigmatic story lines—at least, the few hints my grandfather reluctantly divulged. Any possible clue, any weakest of hints: I'm following them.

And so, poking around that newly-found online resource for transcribed Pomeranian records, I exhausted every search angle I could think of—and noticed something. It seemed the parish location with the most records fitting the parameters of the Zegarska maiden name which connected with those Michalski DNA matches was for a place called Czarnylas. Where on earth would a place with a name like that have been located? A name I had never heard of before, I had to look it up.

I found some very interesting details on this new-to-me town. For one thing, it was small: a village of less than five hundred people. In current-day Poland, it is located in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. Its provincial capital is a city called Gdańsk, a port on the Baltic Sea. Perhaps those story my grandfather told of being an orphan put to work on a sailing vessel may have had a reasonable basis, after all.

Every time I am confronted with a new term or topic in my genealogical journey, I head first for Google, and ultimately to a generic source of information like Wikipedia. In this case, Wikipedia granted me an unexpected gift in its very abbreviated entry on the village of Czarnylas. At the very top of the page, after the name of the place and a pronunciation guide, was an entry informing the reader that this Polish place had also gone by a different name during the years of German occupation. That name—makes me cry to see it—was Schwarzwald.

Why the Germans would name two different places on entirely opposite sides of their country by the same name, I have no idea. I certainly would otherwise have had no way of knowing this fact. If it weren't for DNA testing, I never would have started looking at trees of people claiming the surname Michalski in their heritage. If it weren't for spotting a wife's maiden name of Zegarska in one of those Michalski trees, I might not have looked up this new-to-me Pomeranian website, nor spotted the name of the parish where the most promising entries led me. I certainly would have had no reason to look up any further information on such a tiny place as Czarnylas, if the path hadn't led me in that direction. But step by step, ignoring no clue, our research can coax us along into predicaments where we have no choice but to ask—and then answer—our own questions.

Above: Not the right Schwarzwald: Arnold Lyongrün's 1912 painting "Spring in Black Forest" depicts the scenery in the more widely known Schwarzwald, not my apparent ancestral village in Pomerania; image courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Ur . . . Fluffy ?

The problem with serving as the unofficial genealogy guinea pig is that the scribblings of such a lab rat are often noted as events occur. In other words, the story is being written as it unfolds. Sometimes, that can make for glacially slow progress. Besides, not knowing the way, the path often unfolds in unexpected directions. Not helpful for developing plot arcs. Learning can be awkward, when observed in real time.

As soon as I realized that six different DNA matches point me in the direction of uncovering the origin of my mystery paternal grandfather—with a new surname of Michalski and a new location in Milwaukee—I've been messaging the most promising contacts. Over the weekend, I was thankful to realize that not all DNA matches ignore their messages. I didn't think this one particular Michalski researcher would do so, since her tree seems so well documented, but experience can teach some hard lessons, and I was prepared to accept disappointment.

Thankfully, the worst never happened. This newly-discovered researcher and I have begun a lively partnership in trying to figure out the connection between my New York paternal side and her family's Milwaukee kin. This is where my fellow researcher shared a useful online resource.

Dubbed—predictably, for a Polish website—Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne, the site contains transcriptions of baptisms, marriages, and death records for the region known as Pomerania. There, as both my correspondent and I realized, there are records for a woman surnamed Zegarska who married a man named—painfully similar but not exactly the same as I'd wish—Puchała. They had a son named Theodor, whom they had baptised in 1876.

This is exceedingly good news for someone like me, searching for the roots of a man who insisted that he was an orphan and refused to tell his grandchildren much, if anything, about his ancestry. We knew him as John T. McCann, but the inquiring minds of many cousins in this grandchildren's generation have unearthed the secret identity he once claimed: that of a man reported in New York City to be Theodore J. Puchalski.

And now, DNA matches point me to a connection with families named Michalski—all of whom have a female ancestor whose maiden name was Zegarska, very similar to that of John T. McCann's mother's reported maiden name of Zegar.

Naturally, now that I have this website's access at my fingertips, I took a look around to see what else I could find. First discovery was that searching on a Polish website for a name spelled Puchala would yield me nothing; I needed to use the proper diacritical mark and render that name properly: Puchała.

Once I did that, I learned that a woman named Anastasia Zegarska married a man named Thomas Puchała in 1868.

But when I went to the section for searching baptismal records, hoping to find a list of their children, the entry for their son—named Theodor, a discovery to make me ecstatic—contained no name for the father. The space for that entry was left blank. And for the woman's surname, I found a curious entry: "Puchała ur. Zegarska."

Well...what does "ur" mean?!?!

By now, I've learned to keep a tab open and set to Google Translate. I've been doing a lot of jumping back and forth lately, trying to figure out what all those Polish words mean. So I plugged in the phrase, "Puchała ur. Zegarska," to see what that "ur" might have meant.

I got the result:

Fluffy? Not what I was expecting.

At least, I found out what the abbreviation "ur." meant: born. Don't ask me how to pronounce it, but now we both know it stands for "urodzony." Now I can add that to "vel" in my lexicon of Words In Polish I Never Expected to Encounter.

As for Puchała, it goes the way of all genealogy research: one discovery creates an additional question. In this case, what happened to Thomas Puchała that he was not listed as the father?

In the process of trying to answer that question, I've already come across something that grabbed my attention and made me cry. I'm hoping I'll be able to take this as a confirmation that I'm on the right track.

Above image: excerpt from search results for Zegarska marriage entries on Pomorskie Towarzystwo Genealogiczne; image below from search for phrase "Puchała ur. Zegarska" on Google Translate.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

D N A :
Getting Tactical

Sometime last week, far too long after the great neighborhood blackout to go back and make amends, I realized I hadn't posted my traditional biweekly research progress report. If you heard that big "oops"—yes, that was my outside voice—you now know why it didn't show as planned on June 30. After spending six hours at a local cafe so I could glom on to their wifi and get some work done, I had written a brief post and headed home for the night. The whole difficult weekend had blown the thought of a missed post entirely out of mind.

What to do now? Two choices: post the tally now (and blow the entire yearlong sequence out of kilter), or wait another week, getting back on track so I don't have to rework my entire spreadsheet setup. I opted for the latter and, barring any unexpected upheavals in the week to come, will get back in sequence with next Sunday's post.

In the meantime, I've been getting tactical with the DNA albatross hanging around my neck. I've been working my way through a routine which has turned out to brighten the light at the end of the DNA tunnel. If you are like me, looking at all those thousands of DNA matches and wondering "Who are these people?" then you may benefit from this simple tactic to cut a clear path through your matches, as well.

First, a caveat. If you are one of those fortunate people who turn me green with envy, bragging about all your first- and second-cousin matches on your DNA readouts, you will not relate to my research agony. (Did I say I envy you?) This technique may not work for you because, of course, you are perfect already know who all your DNA matches are. You have this perfectly organized family tree with slots just waiting to be filled—the kind that already boasts a bronzed name plate above each waiting spot on the pedigree chart.

Uh uh. Not me. With a dad whose father boasted that he was an orphan—alone, with not a relative in the world—matches on my paternal side are few. So naturally, there aren't that many chances for random distant relatives out there to decide to take a DNA test. Hence, matches who mostly are fourth cousins or beyond—if any on that bereft side of the family.

Every now and then, a third cousin will pop up in my results at the five DNA companies where I've tested. But not often. Still, it helps to work with data which is organized, and that is what I set out to do this week.

Starting with, where out of nearly fifty thousand DNA matches, I have only 1,657 who are fourth cousin or closer, I started sorting each of those "close" matches into four categories. Each color-coded category stands for matches who connect through a specific grandparent. That way, not only did I separate my maternal matches into my grandfather's Davis line versus my grandmother's McClellan line, but I also tried my best to split apart the few Laskowski matches I have from those of my mystery grandfather on my paternal—maybe Puchalski?—side.

I chose one confirmed close match from my mother's side to get started. It helps to have a little encouragement to get the ball rolling, and I already have a solid paper trail for that maternal side. I had this one McClellan relative who is a second cousin, once removed—someone I already knew about from family reports.

On my DNA Matches page at Ancestry, I clicked on "Add/Edit Groups" and chose the option, "Create custom group." I gave the new group a name and assigned a color to code the future members of the group. Then, because the option doesn't provide any place to actually label what the group is, I clicked on the individual match's page and added a note there so I could see right away what I had named that group.

After setting up that color-coded surname group for my maternal grandmother's line, I clicked through to that specific cousin's DNA entry, the one which shows a sketch of the match's family tree. My purpose now was to click on the choice labeled "Shared Matches."

Clicking on that choice, "Shared Matches," shows me all the matches I have in common with this close McClellan cousin. Since I don't have any pedigree collapse in this line for several generations, I can fairly safely assume that anyone who matches me and this known McClellan cousin will also be related to us through the McClellan line.

Thus, I work my way through all those DNA matches who show up as matches to this cousin, labeling each one just as I did this first one: with a color code, followed by entering a note stating the name of the group.

From that point, I am ready to start looking more closely at all these matches, divided out by each of four grandparents' lines, and see where I need to fill in my own tree. Of course, with 1,657 matches at the level of fourth cousin or closer, I still have a lot of work yet to do. But this way, that pile of 1,657 is now whittled down to four groups of much easier size, making the task a much less daunting challenge.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Not my Fault

...but I felt it anyhow.

This may sound crazy—after all, considering how head over heels I am about family history—but there I was last night, hot on the trail of another unidentified fourth cousin, when a disorienting feeling at the back of my head made me look up to regain my bearings. Don't think it was because I had lost it to genealogy. Sure enough, we were having an earthquake.

It started. And rolled. And kept going—longer than I remember these things carrying on. It's been a while since I last experienced an earthquake, despite being a California resident for decades now. The first time, at least, since being on social media.

So what did I do? Drop, cover, and hold on? Of course not. I watched the venetian blinds sway away from the window sills and the rocking chair begin rocking—with no one in it—and promptly posted my observances on Facebook. And Twitter.

Half an hour later, I still was chatting about earthquake observances with friends and family I hadn't talked to in months, and reading all the hashtag-identified earthquake comments of strangers near and far. Apparently, the government website dedicated to real-time mapping of earthquake occurrences must have crashed, because there was no access, so we Californians collectively did what anyone would do in an information vacuum: create our own news on social media.

Meanwhile, my research quest to organize my closest DNA matches took a back burner, as did the time to spend on today's post.

This has not been the only event this week to sabotage my writing and research, as I'll be discussing tomorrow. The week started off last Sunday with a tree cracking and falling on a power line, taking with it the juice to supply the work of an entire neighborhood for the next six hours. Guess which time slot was slated for blog writing that day?!

And we close the week—almost—with a second earthquake, one which garnered "I felt it" remarks from people as far away as Nevada and other places 350 miles from the action.

Perhaps the moral of such a story is to write my blog posts earlier in the day—I do know someone who would appreciate that strategy—but who's to say there wouldn't be another unexpected upheaval? After all, we certainly don't live anywhere near the infamous San Andreas Fault. How could someone like me have predicted such an outcome?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Dropping the -ski

Sometimes, those frustrating family history attempts at breaking through impenetrable brick walls result in getting lost in the minutiae. In this case, making little to no progress on the story of my paternal grandfather has led to musing about the many ways an immigrant can drop the last portion of his surname. After all, that's what my paternal grandmother's brother did. Could that have held true for her husband's side of the family, as well?

I already know my grandmother's maiden name was Laskowski. Though the family kept that as hidden as possible during the years when my father and aunt were growing up—remember, that's the grandmother who willingly went along with her husband's decision to switch his name from Theodore J. Puchalski to John T. McCann—my Laskowski great-grandparents only briefly attempted to report their surname as Lasko (in the 1900 census).

Just knowing that fact, however, tells me the family was willing to, let's say, look a little less Polish. Could that have been a more widespread temptation among their immigrant relatives, both close and more distant?

I'm entertaining such a question lately, owing to the discovery of several DNA matches who seem to connect specifically with my paternal grandfather's side of the family. The trouble is, they all seem to connect with each other through a surname I don't have in my family history: Michalski. However, since most of these connections are from at least a distance of third cousin, the nexus between all these Michalskis and my grandfather's line could be through one or more of the women in each generation.

And there's where I hit the snag that prompts me to wonder about those Polish -ski names. Could there have been someone else who also decided to drop the -ski?

In one particular Michalski tree, I encountered this pedigree assumption:

Keep in mind, not all of this line is documented on this match's tree, so I will have to contact the researcher and ask about the paper trail leading to this conclusion. However, I'm doubly interested in this pedigree chart. Of course, the obvious reason is that the other DNA matches' trees also have a Michalski married to a Czechorska (or Czechowska). But while the other trees name two people different than the ones in this line—and this line seems equally unaware of the relationship in those other lines—this particular tree pushed the generational diagram back one more step, showing the names of the Michalski wife's parents.

Note that Veronica Czechorska's parents were listed as Andreas Czechowski and Pauline Zegarska.

Now enters the instigation for my question: what do you suppose might be the chances that another Zegarska—say, one who landed in New York instead of Wisconsin—might have chosen to drop that pesky -ska for a more streamlined American-sounding surname? Could my Anna Zegars, mother of the inexplicable "Aunt Rose" and possible relative of my own grandfather, have been a relative of the Pauline Zegarska in the Wisconsin Michalski family?

It's a stretch, I know. But genealogy is often about formulating hypotheses and then examining the evidence. One thing is sure: somehow, I and several Michalski descendants have the same runs of genetic material in our DNA. We've got to connect somehow. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

We may be fascinated to view the rundown of ethnicities in our personal DNA reports, but when it comes to the American holiday of Independence Day—more simply known as the Fourth of July—rather than retreating to our disparate ethnic roots, it is recalling the common values of an American way of life that keeps us blended together. E pluribus unum was not some clever slogan developed for that purpose, though it has been in use since adopted by Congress in 1782. The thirteen-letter Latin phrase reflected on the thirteen colonies and their resultant strengthening by combining into one nation. We can still profit from that lesson.

That process evolved from a declaration issued six years prior—the same event we celebrate today with picnics, parades, and pyrotechnics at parks. The price paid to bring us to this point may seem to recede in this light-hearted atmosphere. All too soon, we're launched back into the workaday grind of political forces which seem to want to tear us apart as a nation. Perhaps taking the time—at least in this twenty four hour respite—to refocus on what has brought us together as a country will serve to strengthen any resolve to recall that out of many, we arose as one. It's a memory we badly need to regain in our national consciousness.

Above: Independence Day Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia; 1819 painting by John Lewis Krimmel; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"Vel" is to Polish as "Dit" is to French?

Attempting to research the family history of my mystery grandfather—the man known by his grandchildren as John McCann who turned out arriving in New York with a name far more Polish than Irish—has been a challenge. A hopeful sign that I might soon break through that brick wall is the recent arrival of a handful of DNA matches which can only connect with the line of the erstwhile Theodore Puchalski.

All of those DNA matches to my paternal grandfather's line happen to contain the surname Michalski. As I mentioned yesterday, knowing that fact—even the documentation showing they all landed in Wisconsin—is not entirely comforting. After all, once I tried my hand at the Polish search engine called Herby, I realized that the Poles really seem to like the surname Michalski. As of 1990, there were over fifty thousand people all over Poland sporting that surname.

Herby, however, left me a parting tidbit. In addition to the entry showing me the forty nine provinces containing residents with that Michalski surname, there was a second entry. This second line showed me that there were a mere twenty two additional people in one solitary province who all had a special form of the surname Michalski: it was called Michalski vel Michalak.

Perhaps that name may sound like gibberish to you, but I perked up when I spotted that second line. I had seen something like that before, in a Michalski tree of one of my DNA matches. When I had first seen it, I thought maybe it was a mistake, or a researcher's way of saying, "I'm not sure which one is the right surname." The entry had two names: Michalski and Michalek.

Similar names, admittedly, and one could have been the result of a documentation error, or the effect of reading sloppy handwriting. That, at least, would be the type of assumption an American like me might make. But here it was now—at least a similar version in the entry for "Michalski vel Michalak"—and I couldn't just walk away from it. Perhaps if only because of the virtue of capturing that family location in one specific province—Łódź—I had to pursue the reason why it was showing up.

Just in case there might be something to this, I ran the thing through Google translate. Perhaps "vel" was a specific word in Polish. And there was a result for my efforts, but all the screen told me was "aka." Written just like that.

Of course, by this time, you may be screaming "A. K. A." for my lack of insight, but you know me: I have to make sure of things. So I kept plodding along, looking for answers.

I wondered whether "vel" in Polish might be a way to handle names the same way the French in Canada would use the convention, "dit." In French, "dit" means "called," and "dit names" could signify two different surnames, both of which might be used by a family (or sometimes, alternately used).

I put my little hypothesis to the test, and searched for information on how the Polish use "vel" names. Along the way, I found a wealth of details on how very differently the Polish handle the use of surnames—much more than the little factoid I already knew about the masculine and feminine form of Polish surnames. Eventually, that led to the answer to my question about "vel." Yes, as it turns out, you can think of "vel" names much the same as a French Canadian of the 1800s might have used "dit names." "Vel" apparently comes from the Latin, and signifies an alias—for instance, if a soldier having participated in an uprising wanted to evade authorities, yet otherwise retain both identities.

Of course, you know finding a detail like that will not help my research progress. Now I'll have to figure out just why those Michalski vel Michalak scoundrels had to assume a double identity.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Stupid Research Tricks

Do you ever get so desperate for answers that you strike out and try something so crazy, it's guaranteed to not work?

The other day, frustrated with the lack of any forward momentum on the search for my Puchalski roots, I decided to see what I could find by just entering the name of my paternal grandfather in the search bar at My thinking was, if I could find a tree where someone else was working on those same names, perhaps their work could guide me back to the place where the Puchalski family originated.

Laughable idea, I know; that was how desperate I was to play around with the possibilities. However, I found one tree which happened to contain a Theodore Puchalski.

The idea is not really all that far-fetched, after all. Unlike modern-day America, where people move from place to place—sometimes even criss-crossing the continent—our ancestors from a century ago were more content to stay put in one village. For generations.

Indeed, there is a Polish record set which I learned about decades ago. Back then, when I was participating in a Polish genealogical forum on the old Prodigy system, I remember Fred Hoffman mentioning a website called Herby. The concept behind it was to gather all the surnames of people living in Poland in 1990 and organize the data by province. The hope was that your particular surname would be one—unlike the American Smith or Jones—in which the family was resident in a cluster of just a very few provinces.

Herby—and even that original explanation by Fred Hoffman—is still there to search. You have to keep Google Translate close at hand, of course, for the whole thing—with the exception of the site where Fred Hoffman's explanation is posted—is in Polish. And the site demands proper use of all diacritical marks, a challenge for those who haven't memorized the codes to conjure up all those ł and ń and ż characters necessary to navigate our way through these foreign-sounding names.

Unfortunately, the predictable happened when I entered Puchalski into the Herby website. My search resulted in the information that Poland had—at least in 1990—well over seven thousand people using that very surname. Worse, they were scattered all over the country. So much for staying put in the ancestral village.

My silly research trick at Ancestry wasn't much more profitable. I was tempted when I noticed that one particular family tree which had a Theodore J. Puchalski showed that his father's name was Joseph. That, in fact, was my own father's middle name. Knowing that there were several ethnic European cultures which tended to name children after their elders, I wondered whether this Ancestry researcher might have any connections to my own line. She was researching a family from the greater New York City area, after all.

I sent her a message. I confessed my stupid research trick and admitted that we probably have absolutely no blood connection, but that I was curious about one detail. On her tree, she had posted the baptismal certificate for her Joseph Puchalski. It was all in Polish. Did she know where her family came from in Poland?

The answer came back just the other day, down to the village—a place near Białystok which today has a population of only ninety residents.

Meanwhile, it was back to Herby to play around with all the new surnames I had discovered with the clue of all those Michalski DNA matches. This attempt seemed more productive. Though Michalski is apparently a surname widespread in Poland—not quite the Polish Smith, but well over fifty thousand throughout many of the provinces—the Herby search engine brought up a funny detail which I had noticed when examining the family trees of my Michalski DNA matches. That detail happened to be a surname variant which, on Herby, zeroed in on a mere twenty two people living in just one location: the province of Łódź.

Those are numbers I can play with.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Alfabet Polski: Not Sure I'm Ready Yet

In puzzling over the Polish surnames I'm encountering in tracing my DNA matches—and the many ways they seem to be misspelled—I wondered whether the cause for such abundant variety might be the fault of the average anglophone's ear. After all, considering the diacritical marks abundant in the Polish language, just how would those sounds be represented in the English language? More to the point, how can I deconstruct the surnames I'm finding among those supposed DNA matches in the Milwaukee Michalski line and recreate them in their original Polish appearance?

The one name I have in question right now has been rendered different ways in American records. It is either Czechorska. Or Czechowska. Knowing how the letter "w" in Polish can represent a sound more like the English "v," I sometimes wonder whether the true pronunciation might more likely be a melding of the two possibilities into Czechorvska.

The suffix -ska, of course, means we are talking about a woman with that surname. For those in America who didn't know that Polish custom, the surname sometimes showed up in our records ending in the masculine, as in Czechowski. That did not concern me as much as the other issue: how to handle what the true spelling might have been in Polish—or whatever eastern European dialect was originally used by this Michalski family.

That was what inspired me to go looking for a quick way to learn Polish phonics. And I found a couple resources—but don't be too sure I've arrived at my answer. Not just yet.

There is, thankfully, a Polish Alphabet website for English-speaking neophytes—hence, lesson number one: "Polish Alphabet" in Polish is "Alfabet Polski."

Perhaps this leap into foreign languages won't go so badly, after all.

I thought.

Then I got into the diacritical marks. While that will prove useful in finally being able to pronounce the region where my paternal grandmother once lived (Poznań), and the town where she was born (Żerków), it still will take plenty of practice to convince my brain to properly pronounce such words. While the Polish Alphabet site was accommodating for those who prefer listening to recordings of the sounds, I found a second online entry to be helpful in that it provides a written description of the sounds.

That still doesn't explain why so many record-keepers wrote the surname with either a "w" or an "r."  Were both sounds audible, yet somehow the combination stumped the Americans? More important, how would a Polish person write that pronunciation, whatever it was?

The real reason I'm looking at this question reaches beyond mere pronunciation, though. It's the identity of that woman named Czechorska—or Czechowska—that I'm wondering about. You see, while that was her maiden name—and thus the surname she got from her father—her mother's maiden name happened to be Zegarska. A name precipitously close to my Anna's possible maiden name of Zegar.

Could it be...?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top Secret DNA Mission:
Creating Your Private Tree

Sometimes, a researcher just needs a sandbox to play around with those genealogical experiments. No, I'm not talking mad scientist here; just a tucked away spot where we can test our hypotheses about those DNA matches we never knew were part of our family tree.

Before I get into the specifics, let's look at a few reasons why a public tree is usually a good option. Prime purpose, of course, is to serve as cousin bait: to attract those distant cousins out there who might have inherited all the "goods" from great-great-grandma Smith. The idea is collaboration and sharing, something many avocational genealogists are delighted to do. Besides that, think of public trees as a way of sharing that contributes toward the greater genealogical good, whether as a trailblazer on an obscure line of your family, or to feature an overlooked document which supports your case about a certain ancestor.

It's no surprise that companies which serve the genealogical community are strong advocates for sharing trees publicly. After all, that's what likely inspired the start of their business. And it's the choice given to subscribers as a default on sites like

Public trees, however, are not always the best choice for the individual subscriber. I have heard fellow researchers mention that they have switched their tree from public to private, expressly for the purpose of luring those cousins they've baited into divulging their interest: if a tree is viewed publicly, who's to know it has been seen at all—or by whom? A private but searchable tree still can alert other researchers to the presence of a possible cousin, but doesn't show the goods without sending a message to contact the subscriber, requesting the tree to be shared.

Some trees include sensitive information that the researcher might not want to share with everyone. That reason can be behind the choice to make a tree private for a wide variety of reasons—everything from just preferring to be a private person to being someone needing to experiment by plugging in alternate choices for names and relationships, like an adoptee seeking birth parents. The thought that, in the midst of this experimentation, another researcher can come along, spot the (mis)information, and replicate it in her own tree may be alarming to a conscientious researcher.

In the case I discussed last week, I had a similar reason for wishing to create a tree and make it private—and unsearchable: I have a set of DNA matches in whose trees is shared one particular surname, one which I have never encountered in researching my paternal grandfather's own family history. Obviously, I want to build a tree so I can play around in that genealogical sandbox and experiment with relationships; I think so much more clearly about such things when I can draw diagrams and pedigree charts. But equally as obvious, I certainly don't want someone stumbling across my family history scribblings and lifting those notes as gospel truth. That would instigate replication of error, something I certainly wouldn't want to cause.

So, the question is: just how do we go about setting up such a tree? Here is a quick demonstration of how to do a private, unsearchable tree on for those who might want to do this someday. Keep in mind that any Ancestry subscriber can set up several trees—I certainly have done so, especially in my photo-rescuing projects—but just realize that the default questions asked along the way often point the subscriber to setting up a public and searchable tree. In this case, we want to do exactly the opposite.

First step in setting up a new private tree: sign in to your Ancestry account and head to the home page. There, look at the header bar across the top of your screen. It looks something like this:

Then, hover your cursor over the second choice on that header: "Trees."

Click on "Trees" and it will give you a drop-down menu. Scroll to the very bottom of that menu, looking for the choice, "Create & Manage Trees." That's the one you want to click.

Once again, that choice will give you a list of trees. If you have just one tree, that's fine—others like me might see a list of more than one tree in their list. The point is to once again look toward the bottom of that list, where you will find the choice, "Create a new tree."

Once you click that "Create a new tree" option, it will lead you to a box labeled "Start a new tree." Inside the box is the outline of a pedigree chart—only there aren't any names included in the chart yet. That's where you start entering the details.

When you click on the brown box on the left, it will open up another page where you can start entering information on your "home" person. If this were your own family tree, of course you might enter your own name and start working your way back to your parents, but remember this is a different tree; you are building a tree to answer a question about someone else. In my case, this is where I entered the name of my closest match's deceased mother's name, because hers was the surname which I then found replicated in the trees of my more distant matches.

Notice at the top of this page how a box is pre-selected, stating "I am starting with myself." Uncheck that box if you are starting with another home person. Also note the default choices for gender (set to unknown and needs to be updated) and whether that person is living.

Whether you know a lot or a little about this person you are adding, no matter. Just enter what you can for now. Then click the green button on the bottom left labeled "Continue." The idea is to set up this experimental tree as quickly as possible and get started working on the family constellation. In my case here, even if I hadn't had other matches with that surname, I could have taken what information I already had on this woman and done a search on Ancestry for other supporting documentation. The key is that this was my toe-hold; this is where I could begin my search.

From that point, you can add a second name. Depending on the purpose for your search, that second name could be a spouse or a parent. It really doesn't matter; once you enter only two names, that triggers Ancestry's next step to officially set up the tree.

Once again, in adding this second person to your tree, pay attention to required data, such as the status of the individual, living or deceased. Once you click the green "Save" button on the bottom left of the screen, you are ready to set up your tree.

At this point, Ancestry wants you to name your tree. You'll notice they suggest a name—generally the surname you've already entered—but this is not set in stone. You are certainly welcome to change it. In my case, since I had already entered two individuals with the surname Michalski, that was Ancestry's suggestion for a name, but I changed it to remind myself that this was my Michalski DNA project.

You'll also notice on this screen that, under the tree name, Ancestry has set the default to yes for the option, "Allow others to view this tree." If you are setting up a private tree, you must deselect this option. Just click the check and it will toggle off. Then click the orange "Save" button and voila! You now have a private tree.

But...but!!!...that does not mean your tree is invisible. Not just yet. You need to take one more step: you need to make your tree unsearchable. To do this, you need to return to that Ancestry header—the home landing page where we started all this—and click "Trees," then scroll down and find the tree you just named (you remember, of course, the brilliant label you created for your experiment, right?).

Once you find your tree name, look to the far right of that entry until you locate the phrase "Manage tree." Click on that.

Once you arrive on that new page, you can see the options to change your tree name—in case you didn't like your first brilliant choice—or add a description (for whom? This is for your eyes only), or even set the home person or identify who you are in this tree. You are always welcome to revisit those possibilities later, but for now, let's get to the point: we need to make this tree unsearchable. To do that, you need to look to the header on the top of the page, the place where it says, "Tree Settings."

You'll notice that, directly underneath that phrase, "Tree Settings," there are three clickable choices. You want to head for the middle ground: the choice labeled "Privacy Settings."

When you arrive on that "Privacy Settings" page, you are now able to confirm your wish to make the tree both private and unsearchable. Step one: notice the button labeled "Public Tree." You'll see the default is already selected to make the tree public.

In order to switch this tree from its public, searchable status to its top secret status—so you can build an exploratory tree regarding your DNA matches—to make the tree private, you must scroll down to the bottom of this "Privacy Settings" page, until you find this final important detail.

By clicking on "Private Tree," you will notice the "Public Tree" green circle (above on this page) vanishes. Your tree is now private. But don't forget this important second step: to make your tree unsearchable. Look for the check box on the bottom which states, "Also prevent your tree from being found in searches." This is where you need to add your final check mark. Then, once all is done, click the orange "Save Changes" button on the bottom left, and you are finally finished.

From this point on, you are free to build your exploratory tree without worrying that you will set off a spate of incorrect copied entries in multiplied trees around the genea-universe. If you wish to share your private, unsearchable tree with a DNA match, or want to discuss your conjectures with someone else, you can always go back to the "Manage Trees" page and invite specific individuals to view your tree. And, of course, if you want to scrap this top secret mission and make the tree public—warts and all—you can always repeat this process in the reverse. Or take the nuclear option and blow up the entire tree. It's all in your control.

Once you have your private, unsearchable tree set up, keep in mind that even though you may want to start working on hints immediately, with a brand-new tree, sometimes those hints might not show up immediately. I found myself just venturing out bravely and locating my own documentation among the digitized records at Ancestry. The hints will show up eventually, once the system picks up that you are researching this surname.

One last observation: I'm not one to copy other subscribers' trees, myself, but in a stage like this, I am not beyond using the reliable work of key others to serve as trailblazer while I work on this unfamiliar family. After all, while I know a lot about the surnames and geographic locations of my own family, these DNA match families are total strangers to me; it helps to test the waters by looking at well-sourced trees of researchers who are closely related to this family. To determine that, I often look at the pedigree chart of a tree, look for the home person, and see how closely related to my target individual that home person is—and how many documents that researcher has used to support those research contentions about their close relatives.

This is definitely an experimental process, a time for research caution and much testing. In this DNA match case, where I have six different trees linked to this same, previously unknown to me, surname, there is still quite a bit of work before I see my way clear to just how each of these DNA matches are related to each other. From that point, the even larger step will be determining where my tree intersects with theirs. Likely, I'll be following a paper trail leading me back to Poland—or perhaps another Baltic state. Time will tell. I just hope it will be sooner, rather than later.

Above: All images used in this tutorial are from with editorial red arrows and marks added to the original images by the author. 
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